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Monday, December 08, 2008

India 5: An Uncanny Tale - The Epilogue

Well, not quite. Just sharing a few things.

The response to my Gupta Cha posts (Part 1 and Part 2) was overwhelming and completely bowled me over. And having them featured on ATP was fantastic, given the number of visitors who visit that remarkable site. Then, just as Indian and Pakistani comments and emails about it began to understandably dwindle with time, the dreadful Mumbai Massacre struck. I blogged on the morning of December 2nd about it. The post got a few visits and drew one comment by the end of the day. After all, it wasn't a unique post. Millions were - once they got their eyeballs off their TV screens - reading the news, live accounts, conflicting reports, seasoned analysts, and far better blogs than mine. The sole comment had come from a Sarah Islam, who, I think was a first-time visitor to my blog. This led to an exchange in the comments section that ended on a warm note. The next morning, I received an email from her ... and the few exchanges that followed are being reproduced here - with her permission (she probably succumbed to my 'threat') - as I think her story is worth sharing and contains much food for thought.
==================== Dear Mr. Kidvai I have just read your blog entry entitled 'An Uncanny Tale...' about Gupta cha. This is absolutely beautiful! Are you seriously working on your novel "Ships and Shoes and SealingWax"? Are you then looking for a publisher or have you already spoken to someone? I could help you look for one here in India. You keep saying that you are a non writer, but I assure you that your writing has really touched me. I am dying to read the rest of your story and I am sure that a couple of thousand other people would be too :) I was born in Libya in 1971 to a Punjabi mother from Lahore and a Bangladeshi father whose family had fled to Dhaka (Dacca as it was called then) from Calcutta (now Kolkata :) ). My family and I lived in Lahore in the 90's and moved back to Dacca in 1998 after the death of my father. I met my husband there and now I am happily married and live in Calcutta! So you can say that life has now come full circle for me! My husband Sukhendu and I struggled with all the prejudices that people in all the three countries live with and also certain opinions that we had been brought up with. Now I am proud to say that we have reached a peaceful stage where the blinkers have literally been taken off of our eyes :) Sukhendu and I read your story about Gupta Cha together and cried when we reached the end. Please let us know if we can help in any way for you to finish your book and publish it so other people can also read your story. Peace! Sarah ==================== Dear Sarah (and Sukhendu) I am very touched by your comments and also thank you for sharing your own past, briefly, with me. Ships and Shoes and SealingWax is not intended to be a novel - I would not even dare undertake such a venture. It is being written, mainly, in response to pressure from my daughter, Ragni, and my almost-adopted daughter, Sabeen (both of whom you will encounter if you go through my blog archives). The book will, in all probability, be almost blog-like: anecdotal and all over the place! Though I hope to bring some continuity into it. Do write back and tell me more about yourselves and your family. Where do you live? What do you do? Why not share stories on a blog about your own unique experiences and difficulties that you defeated to reach today's peaceful life? Peace! Zaheer ==================== Dear Mr. Kidvai I am so happy to hear back from you! We live in Lake Gardens which is beind Jodhpur Park in South Kolkata. I wonder if you know the place? My husband and I both worked in advertising, he is now creative director (art) at Ogilvy & Mather and I used to be a copywriter but am only writing freelance pieces for magazines now. We met in 1998 in Dhaka where we both worked for McCann Erickson. I had a huge chip on my shoulder as I had just returned from Pakistan and him being Indian was enough reason for me to contradict everything he said ... hahaha :-) My family had returned from Libya in 1989 and decided to settle down in Dhaka. But after a few years, my mother packed off my brother Amber to Aitchison College in Lahore and my sister Reema and I to Lahore. So that is how we landed up in Pakistan. My parents joined us for a while but for most of the time, my sister and I lived with my nani amma on Nisbet Road. After we got married in 2004, my mother was very unhappy with my decision as she had seen the carnage in Amritsar and, later on, on the train to Lahore. She was only 6 at the time but she can recall certain events very clearly. I can understand that, as the events must have been pretty horrible and must have been burnt on her brain. She met my father Dr. Nurul Islam in Benghazi (Libya) and their marriage in 1970, too, was quite controversial as there was talk of East Pakistan asking for independence from West Pakistan. Anyway, I was brought up in a house where both cultures, Punjabi and Bengali, were very much in evidence and I was very happy as a child and most of my time was spent chasing after butterflies, making mud pies and reading from the ancient books that my grandfather had left us and the newer books that we bought every now and then. My mother was adamant that we should learn Urdu as she is of the opinion that having Urdu as our first language would help us speak beautifully and articulately. She was and still is a stickler for the right pronunciation:-) So we went to the Pak Libya School that was run by the Pakistani Embassy in Benghazi. For nurturing our Bengali heritage we were dutifully packed off for singing, dancing and Bangla lessons at Hafiz uncle's house. So at school we spoke in Pidgin Italian, a bit of Arabic and Punjabi/Urdu, at home we spoke in Urdu and English and Bengali for some of our guests and in front of my father (especially when he was cross) :-) I was brought up in a liberal household but after my father's death in 1998, my mother suddenly discovered her Pakhtun roots (my grandfather had settled in Lahore but was originally from Swat) and started attending Quran classes and sympathizing with the radical Islamization of Bangladesh. This was a shock for me and I rebelled. Over the years my distance from my mother and her views became considerable. Now we are talking again and things are getting better :-) In the beginning, I would get very defensive with Sukhendu whenever something like the BJP used to come up in conversations but then I was reminded of a story that I think has largely shaped my thinking. At school I learnt from textbooks that one Rashid Minhas was the recipient of the Nishaan-e-Haider and a brave and valiant soldier who had grappled with the Bengali flight Instructor, Flight Lietenant Matiur Rahman who was a traitor. I grew up hero worshipping Minhas. When I came back to Bangladesh, I was shocked to learn that for the Bengalis it was Matiur Rahman who was the hero and not Rashid Minhas, who they considered the enemy. I realized then that the history of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh is so intertwined and so full of passion and extraordinary circumstances that it is impossible to take sides. Both men as I see it today were heroes and valiant soldiers who just happened to be on opposite sides of the cause. It was an accident of birth. This realization has, on one side, liberated me and, on the other side, saddened me beyond imagination. This means that we will always be at each other's throats and no one will see the person but only the flag that he is wrapped in. Of course I am exagerating, but I am telling my story fully for the first time. I think you will understand the confusing identities that I live with and also that there will always be people who will rise above pettiness :-) Thanks for listening to me. God bless! Sarah ==================== Dear Sarah Wow! And you want me to write [down] my stories? Blog this just the way you've written it to me. At the moment it's a request but can be used as threat by saying I'll publish it on my blog ;-) It's real tales such as yours that will ensure that the only things we all really need to burn is not each other's flags but our own if peace is what we want. All the best. Zaheer PS: I hope you won't be offended at my saying this, but as an anti-nationalist, I would not accept that both RM & MR were heroes. They were just simpletons, brain-washed into committing such acts. But that, of course, pre-supposes that the story, itself, is true. There are some in the Air Force[s] who have, since, cast doubts on the veracity of the entire tale and think it was a crash that the PR-minded in Pakistan decided to use to advantage and the BD people, naturally, made the best of it. Who knows. So it goes ... ====================
I just LOVE the technology that has made all this possible, so here's to Doug Englebart, Alan Kay, the two Steves, Bill (huh? who he?), Tim-Berners-Lee, and hosts of others. May the FSM bless you all. Oh, and Sarah now has a blog :-)

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Blogger Sidhusaaheb said...

Hail internet!

BTW, I read an interesting blog-post about all that goes into creating conflict between India and Pakistan and some ideas about how to put things right at:


09 December, 2008 02:44

Blogger Quizman said...

Good Lord! What a story!

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

09 December, 2008 09:06

Anonymous Ghazala Aziz said...

What a beautiful story - @ Sarah And ZAK , both of you write so beautifully that I'm willing to take on the job of transcribing (as a very willing volunteer) whenever you decide to write your books.
Thank you ever so much for 'windmills'.

09 December, 2008 17:10

Blogger Bystander said...

Epilogue to uncanny tale couldntve been better! oozes out such warmth that its unbelievable. Yes technology needs to be thanked profusely for making it all possible. But more than that people like you need to be thanked for enriching our lives with your windmills. Im always and ever looking forward to new posts here. this is one rare blog where each post is worth reading. If you compile only these blogs in book form, it would be a best-seller.

11 December, 2008 16:05

Blogger Zakintosh said...


many thanks for your kind words. i have often been asked (as I mentioned in this exchange) to compile these. and, i admit, i do feel good when people say so. but the task is difficult. my blog is often interspersed with urdu. there are links that, in printing, would lose the 'feel' and the external ones would pose copyright and other issues. there is audio (mainly urdu) that would get left out.

i am, and always have been, a bit of a storyteller among family and friends and, as some of them say, i speak in hyperlingo, detouring from one thing to another -briefly - to make a point. so the hypertext form of the blog is what seemed a natural course to take. however, bestseller or not (and that is certainly not an incentive), i have decided to come up with something next year, if i stay around.

keep peeping in. it provides reason to go on writing.


11 December, 2008 16:34

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sarah, Do you know remember any of your Indian classmates in Pak Libya School Benghazi?

14 September, 2009 15:05


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