Dear Mr. Aamir Khan and fellow Indians,
Having lived and worked around the world for the last twenty-five years, I recently retired and was debating whether to settle down in the shadows of Uncle Sam or “return home” to the sunshine of Mother India. Before “return home” gets translated into ghar wapsi, let me reassure that is not what I meant. Aamir and Kiran’s anguished fear that their children may not be safe in incredibly intolerant India got me thinking to search for my options.
I thought we were a very tolerant country: we tolerate rape of young women in broad day light in our metropolis; we tolerate filth on our streets; we tolerate inhuman existence of our poor; we tolerate our daughters being killed before they are born; we secularly tolerate abominations of gender, caste, and garbage; we tolerate politicians who are willing to auction their integrity but not coal mines and spectrum; we tolerate criminals in politics and corruption from cradle to cremation. Ah, but I digress since none of these topics are sexy nor do they get one into the news. So let me turn to “communal intolerance”.
Even if I submit to Donald Trump’s demand for registration of aliens, you may not be able to visit me in the US after this winter if this hair-mousse, reality TV, real estate billionaire becomes the President. I thought of moving to Paris but unfortunately, I am brown-skinned and look somewhat Asian, North African and Parisians have not yet recovered from the compassionate killings of Charlie Hebdo and sinful music lovers of Bataclan. Germany was an option due to my old work connections and friends but Angela is no longer willing to baby-sit me after the asylum seekers misunderstood New Year revelry of German and Nordic babes as an open invitation to rape. Ah, stupid Europeans do not understand that if they invite asylum seekers home, they must ask their women to dress up modestly. So Europe is out.
Closer to culture of Asian values of modesty, I thought of Turkey. Lots of historic waterfront properties are going cheap all along Bosporus but I am afraid I could be mistaken for an Armenian since I have lots of close friends in Armenian quarters in Kolkata. I was even friends with some Kurdish beauties while living in Europe and that may not go down well with “terrorist-hating” Turks who love smuggled oil of ISIS but hate being mentioned for their Daesh-Prem (you did not misread the spelling of desh, Daesh means ISIS). Iraq and Syria are temporarily out of reckoning since the UN tells me ISIS has more than 18,000 women slaves who happen to be from minorities; ISIS has a weekly competitive market for these women- blue eyed get a premium. ISIS may not tolerate me. This part of the world seems a bit risky at the moment.
I called a friend in Kuwait and enquired if I could get a residency. I was told that normally they do not allow it but could make an exception if I have ever painted some goddesses in the nude. I can already see many intellectuals on the un-reality TV in India questioning my secular credentials and accusing me of being wright-winged (I love flying, so please tolerate my slip). I agree. I cannot shake that off since I was unfortunately born a Hindu and am guilty as charged. With so many friends in Riyadh, I made a few phone calls. No problem at all, they said but I will have to give up my evening scotch and love of pork-vindaloo. Pork-vindaloo also ruled out more than 50 countries with Islamic majority as well as Israel. I was willing to make small culinary sacrifices but my wife simply refuses to see through a two inch wide slit and to have to wait for a husband-son-brother escort to drive her to buy groceries. She is very intolerant and insensitive to other’s religious beliefs and customs. My ancestors had fled as refugees from the northwest frontier of what is now Pakistan. Why not go back to Murree, I thought. My daughter is an admirer of courage of Malala and is willing to move to Pakistan when Malala is able to. But my biggest problem is that my daughter has acquired a bad habit of using a cuss word “Oh Jesus” when she gets frustrated. I am seeking an advance ruling from Maulanas whether this would be considered blasphemy – I hate capital punishment through stoning. I am waiting for a response. I also love Hilsa fish from Padma, which made Bangladesh an option. Not wanting to get lost in the cacophony of Bengali tolerance, I wanted to check if I would have enough company of minorities in Bangladesh. For some strange reason, the population of minorities has come down from 22% in 1951 to less than 10% in 2011. My math has gone intolerably wrong. My last refuge was Brunei. Being an oil expert, I could also get a job there. I understand that if I go Christmas shopping there I would be jailed for five years since celebrating Christmas would hurt the sentiments of the majority population in Brunei. My daughter loves to see the lights, music, and all red and bearded Santa. No luck in Brunei.
I thought I would give India another dekko but it is a big country. Kolkata, the city of my childhood romance with the literature of Sarath Babu and Malda mango, pulled at my heartstrings. Didi was willing to extend a warm welcome if I promised not to draw her cartoons. I would have refrained from cartoon making or facebook-likes in the name of freedom of “her expression” but I was afraid I might get fake currency when shopping for Hilsa in Malda and may not be able to figure out well in time if any one intended to open a sutli-bomb making cottage industry in my neighborhood. I thought I should also check with Didi Tasleema Nasrin whether or not I should settle down in Kolkata- she is waiting for “ghar wapsi” to Kolkata and hopes some literatures would return awards against the Fatwas issued by secular All India Minority Forum and get an assurance of security from elder Didi. Until then Tasleema is filled with lajja and had decided to stay under the protection of Uncle Sam. Bihar, the land of Buddha’s Nirvana, and venerable JP with whom I worked in my exuberant youthful days, sounded attractive but if I criticize NaMo I may get dispatched by the frenzied fringe to Pakistan. Verdant valley of Kashmir was calling but setting up a pilgrim serving structure would destroy the ecology of Amarnath and secular character of Kashmiriyat. Farooq Saheb recently told all Kashmiri Pandits through Barkha Dutt that they should not wait for the last gun to stop firing. Should I take a chance even if the last bullet gets stuck in my skull as a mark of love, brotherhood and compassion from god’s warriors?
Why forget the new smart cities the government is promising. Dame Nayantara Sahgal told Barkha Dutt in an NDTV debate on award wapsi (everything in India seems to be on a wapsi mode) “one of the priorities (of this government) is to make what they call smart cities. What is the use of a smart city if it has got stupid people living in it who believe that Ganesha’s nose was grafted on by vedic surgery”. Hurray, I qualify since I am a modern Indian intellectual educated in Macaulay’s brainwashing, self-esteem eroding, heathen native-abhorring system and my cultural refinement is certified by my old Das Capital debating hostel mates with whom I shared loads of Charminar cigarettes and thirty-five paise coffee in Indian Coffee Houses.
Amchi Mumbai, the smartest city in mother India, it is. I could even act in films, produce films to make fun of the gods of retrograde, right wing, intolerant zealots and the forces of communalism who have made India such a dangerous place to raise children. An old Mumbaikar, and now a famous resident of Karachi, said “arrey shane, kaye darta re, “PK” mast raho”. Bhai has even promised to help finance my films and assured priority release as long as I includea large-hearted villain, wearing a locket with number 786,who ultimately dies saving the old mother of faltu-ka-hero.
I refuse to let my motherland and civilization be defined by the venom spouting frenzied fringe or by Macaulay’s intellectuals. Amir bhai, you may dream of Kiran strutting around children in the suburbs of Riyadh but I see my asha-ki-kiran in amchi Mumbai.
(Mohinder Gulati is a former international civil servant. He can be reached at [email protected])