Thursday, November 24, 2011


Manto’s Toba Tek Singh is probably one of the most extraordinary pieces of satire ever written. Ripping into the utter mindlessness that was Partition, the story questions the very concept of sanity in a land where, it could be said, with very little exaggeration, everyone had gone mad. If you haven’t already, you can read the short story here in the original Urdu or a Devanagri transliteration or (only if you have to) an English translation. You can also listen to a reading of the story on YouTube [part I, part II]

After reading the story though, should you want to live the satire, and get a first-hand glimpse of the madness that powered Manto’s genius, all you have to do is get on a train and make your way to Amritsar. At a short distance from the city is the only land border crossing between two nations representing a fifth of the world’s population: Wagah. Of course, being a border crossing between two nuclear states is hard work and it’s unfair to expect it to work for long hours. In deference to this sentiment, every evening at five-thirty, the crossing is closed.

And what a closing it is.

The gates themselves are fairly unimpressive: made of iron and about as big as what you’d get outside any school. What’s to watch though us how they are shut. Watched over by avuncular portraits of Gandhi and Jinnah on either side, soldiers theatrically goose-step up and down the tarmac multiple times, stopping every 5 steps or so to stomp the ground after swinging their legs through an impossibly wide angle. If this reminds you of roosters in heat I suspect that was exactly what was intended. To leave no doubts as to the whole foul theme, both sides have massive rooster-style combs crowning their hats which quiver impressively as and when a soldier brings down his boot from shoulder height to stomp the ground.

Watched on by a crowd on either side of the border, all of this is preceded by an impromptu dance/bhangra performance (only on the Indian side though; the Pakistanis take their border crossings seriously) and the marching was interspersed with patriotic slogan shouting and cheering led by a man on a mic wearing, for some reason, a white track suit. The day I’d gone, the Indian side was impossibly crowded and we so comprehensively outshouted the Pakistanis that I couldn’t even hear their slogans. In contrast to the overflowing Indian stands, the Pakistanis barely filled up theirs; a reflection of the ratios in population between the twins or a general indicator of the lack of enthusiasm of the Pakistanis in Pakistan maybe.

Leading up to the Indian side of the gate was an amateurishly built monument to the Punjabis killed during 1947 which everyone roundly ignores or at best uses as a temporary bench to sit on after all that bhangra. With so many people visiting the place, a soft drinks stall there does brisk business (and suffers from an infuriating lack of change). There’s also a BSF souvenir shop which sells stuffed toys and Monte Carlo woollens at a whopping 40% discount (I liked a sweater but they didn’t have my size)—exactly the sort of stuff you’d like to buy at border crossings.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Naql ke Liye Aql

By now, most of you must of heard of Aliaa Elmahdy after she posted nude pictures of herself on the Internet as an "expression" of her "being".

While I have nothing intellgient to add on the actual act, what I found really funny about this was NDTV's ridiculous piece on the episode. While giving context to this case and trying to explain just how conservative Egypt is, the NDTV news reader, with more than a hint of righteous surprise in her voice says that Egypt is a country where "even kissing in public is frowned upon".

Madamji, pliss to note, your programme is being broadcast in India, a country where, surprise!, "even kissing in public is frowned upon".

By all means, flick from western broadcasts but a little bit of common sense helps even while copying.