Friday, December 23, 2011

Baloch encounters

This article was originally published in Viewpoint Online, here

There are times when life seems a bit too co-incidental. It makes you run into the same thing over and over again. Yesterday, while I was going through my daily newspaper routine, I chanced upon a photograph of a Baloch village. Scrawled across one of the walls were the words Pakistan Murdabad’. The graffiti did not stand out; in fact, the words seemed to merge in with the rest of the photograph. Anyway, soon enough, my fickle brain moved on to other things and the photograph, like the graffiti in it, receded somewhere deep down in my cerebellum.

Today, as I was sitting on a bench at the station waiting for my train, deeply engrossed in my newspaper, this Asian looking guy approached me, and asked me in Urdu“Hello, Aap mujhe bata sakte hain key eh train kab aayegi”. I told him what he about the train and resumed reading the newspaper. However, the guy wasn’t finished. He interrupted me again: “Aap Kahaan se hain?”. Realizing that he was in a mood to talk, I put down my newspaper, and replied “Mein Dilli se hoon, aur aap?”. Realizing that I was from India, he smiled and told me that he was from Balochistan. Before I could ask him anything, he proceeded to tell me about his affection for India. I politely replied that I was quite fond of Pakistan too. At this point, his expression changed and he tersely replied “Mein Pakistani nahin hoon!”.

I was a bit startled by his rather forceful response, but at the same time, I wanted to probe further. At the same time, I was a bit wary of the possibility of him breaking off into a Sunny Deol-esque anti-Pakistan rant in front of dozens of Londoners, who might misconstrue what he was saying. Very cautiously, I asked him “lekin zulm to markazi hukoomat kar rahi hai na”. He replied that it was indeed the army and the central government who were responsible for the mess. He then went on to describe, in uncomfortably explicit details, the alleged crimes committed by the Pakistani state. This was followed by praises of India. I nodded along, the thoughts of Nagaland and Kashmir lurking eerily in my head.

I enquired whether his anger was against Pakistan as a country or Pakistan as a state. His response was rather puzzling. Although his anger was primarily directed against the army, he said that he resented Punjabi domination. That was understandable, I thought. Being a Punjabi myself, I know that as a group we are quite used to regional chauvinism. While he was talking, I was thinking about the level of frustration that this fellow possessed; so much resentment that it propelled him to talk about his anger and resentment to an unknown stranger in a train. As the train chugged along, he was getting more and more vocal, and a few co passengers were eyeing us suspiciously. Interrupting him, I asked “To kya aap Pakistan se alehdgee chaahte hain?”. He replied in the affirmative. He then went on to praise the ‘support’ India had given to the Balochs, while I nodded uncomfortably.

This conversation was arbitrarily cut short by the sudden arrival of my destination. As our ways parted, we smiled and I went my way. On the way to my college, I thought about what he said. I was also ashamed of myself. Here I was, a member of the privileged section of our society, where the coercive power of the state remains largely unseen and a mere phone call is enough to keep troubles at bay. On the other hand was him, possibly a victim, or at the very least a direct observer of state brutality. The difference between us was the difference between him and what he called ‘Pakistan’; it was the difference between haves and have-nots.

A few hours later, as I was sitting on my computer reading an Urdu daily, I noticed the headlines; it read “Altaf Hussain warns Punjab, Balochistan is slipping away”. Unfunny coincidence, I thought.

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