March 08, 2011

Where the tomatoes cross

The current issue of Forbes India (dated March 11) carries an article I wrote for their "Recliner" section. It's about Major Habib, who returned home to Kapurthala after 62 years to meet his friend from his youth, Rattan Chand Ahluwalia.

Take a look: Major Habib Ahmed's Journey From Pakistan to India. (My original title was "Where the Tomatoes Cross").

The coda that's not in the article: Rattan Chand died last year, just short of his 95th birthday.


seaferns said...

simply awesome, inspiring and incredible

gaddeswarup said...

Reminded of this Shiv Kumar Batalvipoem sung by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Maye ni Maye mere geetan de naina wichch

Vijay Dandapani said...

A truly poignant story. However, your wondering of why human beings are unable to move back and forth while tomatoes and onions can do so prompts my comments below.

Indian bureaucracy cannot be faulted for the barriers that inhibit free movement of Pakistanis into India while there is a state whose raison d'etre is the destruction of India. Major Ahmed, when a part of the establishment, subscribed to that viewpoint and sought to achieve that goal.

That there are many like Ahmed who now see the folly behind that idea does not detract that this is a nation that was founded on a lie; one that Muslims were unsafe and Islam is in danger. As a nation-state it is a reality but one that is untenable at many levels including from the standpoint of the citizenry there who arguably have achieved none of the lofty goals laid out by the Qaid.

From Jinnah to Ayub to Musharaf and now Kiyani, the unremitting thrust of the establishment there is the seizure of territory and weakening of its eastern neighbor. Latter day ex-soldiers like Kaiser Tufail have publicly acknowledged the murderous intent of the military establishment - read his account in the link that follows Incidentally, he has his own story of how his wife visited her grandfather's home in Punjab that is equally compelling.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Vijay D: first of all, imagine my surprise -- a day after reading your comment here I find yours is the sole comment on this WSJ article about McEnroe!

Stritly, I didn't wonder why human beings are unable to move across the border, I wondered why a "degree of peace and goodwill" can't make the crossing. There's difference.

That apart. I am hardly faulting the bureaucracy for erecting its barriers for the reasons it chooses. That Pakistan is a country founded on what I believe is a shaky ground (religion) is hardly in question either. That its military has its murderous elements, I have no doubt.

The point is simple: this man came across and in doing so managed to open some eyes. I'd like to see more of that happening.

But as a final thought, I'd like to offer this. You may think that the impression Pak's founders had about Muslims being unsafe is a "lie". That's your prerogative.

But do remember that plenty of ordinary Pakistanis today look at Gujarat 2002, Bombay 1992-93, and the complete absence of any punishment for those who killed Muslims then. They look at the punishment handed out to the accused for the Godhra train atrocity. Then they look at the absence of even arrests, let alone trials and punishment, for the Gulberg Society atrocity.

They look at all this and they think: it was no lie.

Vijay Dandapani said...

What can one say about McEnroe? He is idolized rightly for his tennis prowess but too often almost everyone gives him a pass on his wanton boorish behavior.

As for your comments, I agree we all would like people from either side to move freely, if nothing else, it will help the Ahmeds and Tufails on either side. However, the idea of Pakistan now more than ever militates against that possibility. In that, it is not so much my prerogative that is at issue but the empirical evidence from over 6 decades. Let's remember that immediately after partition the minorities of that time (hindus and Christians) in Pakistan constituted nearly 20%. Today they are less than 4% with Ahmediyas added to the list as non-muslims(!), all of whom face an existential threat. But more telling and eloquent is MJ Akbar's observation that "were Salman Tasseer" an Indian, he would be alive". In other words, even Sunni muslims of the wrong strain are in peril.

I do agree with you about the uneven dispensing of justice in what we euphemistically and ridiculously call communal riots but here again some perspective is in order. India does after all have the world's fourth largest Muslim population almost equal to that of Pakistan and horrific as Godhra was it is thankfully not endemic and most muslims go about their lives largely without fear and ample opporutnity. I say that having observed it first hand in areas like Moradabad and Bhadohi.

One can't prove a negative but if Partition had not occurred, India would have had nearly 30% of its population as Muslims (instead of the steady 14-15%) forcing a more catholic polity. It also may have weakened the "us vs them" and most certainly would have eliminated the "send them to Pakistan" refrain of some Indians.

Lastly, i must comment on your qualification of the Pakistani military in terms of its murderous nature. I suggest you read Arif Iqbal's "Shadow Wars" and you will come to the conclusion that not only is it a universal trait in the military but one that was there from its inception.

Nikhil said...

Some of us have been saying the same things that you have said for a long time and we have been labelled 'bigots', 'prickly nationalists' etc. Dilip is civil with you as you are a reputed columnist.
BTW Dilip keeps on harping on the same things - lack of justice. First some justice has been done in Gujarat - not much but at least some of it:

About 1992, why not highlight the Radhabhai chawl case where the same thing happened - known murderers got away scot free.

But Dilip - as we all know different strokes for different folks or keep on repeating a lie often.

Highlight abberrations but never mention the positives - the success stories of muslims in India or the fact that they have the power to vote - something that has been denied to them in the country you want us to have eternal peace with.

So eveything as per Dilip is either India's or better still the Hindu's fault.

Not to mention that the key masterminds of the 1993 blasts are safely enconsed in Pakistan. But yet we need to go out of our way to make peace with Pakistan

Says a lot -does it not?

Nikhil said...

is MJ Akbar's observation that "were Salman Tasseer" an Indian, he would be alive".

True - so is the case with anybody who opposes rabid elements like shiv Sena, VHP etc. They can safely do so without fear of being killed. Point in case Dilip himself. He has written against Shiv Sena, Thackeray, VHP and others and is able to go about his daily life without problems. Let him try doing this against similar characters in Pak and let us see what would have happened.
Add to this even minorities in India can speak up fearlessly - again Dilip has to look at himself.

But when Pakistanis say things he has mentioned (lack of justice, muslims not safe in India), he will vigorously agree with them.

Nikhil said...

Please read this especially the last 3 paras. Reflection of you and your fellow travellers.’s-descent-into-barbarism.html

Nikhil said...

Was this a quote from your Pakistani firends?

But do remember that plenty of ordinary Pakistanis today look at Gujarat 2002, Bombay 1992-93, and the complete absence of any punishment for those who killed Muslims then. They look at the punishment handed out to the accused for the Godhra train atrocity. Then they look at the absence of even arrests, let alone trials and punishment, for the Gulberg Society atrocity.

Do you agree with this? How about running some numbers?
Look at number of muslims killed in Pakistan all these years in ethnic strife - I am not even including the 1971 Bangladesh genocide and the Pak backed killings in Afghanistan (there was a record of 4000 killed in a single day - something even Gujarat 2002, Bombay 1992-93 did not manage)and compare it with peolpe killed in rioting in India.
Hopefully one day you will muster some spine to tell that to a Pakistani.

Jai_C said...


Apologies in advance for some criticism.

I've read this before, part of it is there at at "62 yrs" but remember down to the Limcas at the end, so maybe some other post. I skipped saying this before.

I found it awkward that the 2 old friends meeting for the first time in 62 yrs were not given more privacy and you were in the room for that first meeting esp. considering you didnt really know either of them; even after accounting for your influence with the appeal for visa.

That awkwardness continues on the re-reads.

I'd probably have stayed out and waited for them to call me in or joined them later.

I assume just as they gave consent for the story, they must have invited you in as well.

Sorry Dilip. I dont think this will come across well. You could call me very judgmental (or worse) here and you would be right.


Dilip D'Souza said...

Ah yes: the regulation pointer to writing by guys whose reason to live is to bash the mythical "left-liberal". Tells me just how seriously to take people who do such pointing. Which is to say, not at all seriously.

Yes, I have made that point to Pakistanis. While in Lahore, among other times. Frankly, it didn't need much of a spine. Your mileage may vary.

Vijay: the sole perspective on all this that truly interests me is the way we turn our heads away from dispensing justice for the victims of '92-'93, '02, '84. Because lack of justice on such a scale makes all our lives that much more insecure.

Jai, it's a good point. But in my defence, I had the same thought at that point, and I stayed outside while the Major and his son went in. I entered when they and Rattan Chand called me in.

Chandru K said...

The corollary is that there must be great "justice" for Moslems and non-Moslems alike in Pakistan, and that Pakistan is looking at "injustice" in India( Gujarat, Mumbai) from a very high moral perch.

What a sick joke!

Chandru K said...

Posted in another forum, absolutely right on about Pakistan:

"Terrorism and Vulgarity - the two pillars of Pakistan!

When Pakistanis use vulgarity on Indians, one can see how their spirits light up, how the smiles come to their face, how they feel they have done their religious duty of putting down the Kaffir!

Where Terrorism is the language of armed Pakistanis, Vulgarity is the Terrorism of the common Pakistanis! In the end, every Pakistani is a terrorist!"

Nikhil said...

See my point now? Look at how Dilip ignored all the other comments and keeps on repeating the same point. Even when pointing out that some justice has been done in Gujarat, ignores the point completely.
Showing some spine? We saw how much 'spine' you showed in your conversations with Beena. Why did you not ask all these questions in the Conversations? How about raising these questions in places that do matter?
'mythical left liberals?' Nah Nah - I think the term left liberal is too polished and polite. I would prefer 'jholawala', 'pinko'and perhaps the most apt 'useful idiot'

Chandru K said...

"'mythical left liberals?' Nah Nah - I think the term left liberal is too polished and polite. I would prefer 'jholawala', 'pinko'and perhaps the most apt 'useful idiot'"

Excellent. True left liberals would be far more critical and denunciatory of the behaviour and policies of Pakistan and China, than of India. At the very least, they would strongly oppose India doing anything which mimics or reflects the behaviour and pronouncements of those two countries.The idea being that India should not stoop to their awful level. But the Jholawalas as you aptly describe them, go beyond that. They speak spiritedly in defense of Pakistan and China, particularly the latter.

Vistasp Mehta said...

I liked the article - more so with the original title! :)