Where is The Line?

December 14, 2008
The Shiva

OK, let me rephrase. Is there even a line. How should you react to these ghastly incidents that scar not only your psyche but also drive down that a deep hatred which seems to erupt in anonymity? What happened in Mumbai not only leaves us with questions about the relevance of Pakistan in our lives (as Indians) but also the relevance of the normal day Pakistani that you might bump into on the street. Why is there a shadow version of ourselves that tends to bring out the worst in us when hidden in a mob or a group, but as individuals we tend to think differently. I'm sure there must have been a million social experiments done to study this, but why is there no perfect solution to deal with this problem?

I've read and reread many articles on how to hurt Pakistan into waking up to reality without actually firing a single shot, the sort of Cold-War tactics used by the US to hurt a country where it really matters, economically, culturally or even psychologically. But the thing that's different with the Pakis is this deep rooted feeling of brotherhood some of us Indians feel in times of relative peace with our neighbor. I don't think its a religion thing, its more to do with us wanting to take a higher moral stand, of always wanting to be in peace even during times of pain, of utmost restraint, the same restraint that our Government keeps reminding us, the same restraint the Western World urges us to show. But is the price of restraint worth it?

These questions are meant to be asked because for some of us who arent in the crowd, the anger or restraint we show happens more at a personal level. I've had all these questions running through my mind, because as an Indian in the US, I feel the anger and yet I feel anonymous to the cause. How should I react? Should I even react? The day after the happenings in Mumbai, I was in a cab driven by yes, a Paki. I was with my colleagues, each one with their own immigrant stories but I couldnt expect them to understand how it made me feel sitting in that cab. I sat next to the driver, while he started talking to me about Bollywood and how Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai were in his cab when they visited the city. I just smiled and said nothing, when inside me, all I could feel was the rage of being there. I knew my anger had nothing to do with him as a person, he was just a guy like me, trying to find his way through life. But all I could think of were the dollars I was going to pay him, which would in turn find its way to Pakistan maybe as a family remittance, and who knows might end up in the hands of the same group that sent people to destroy my brethren. After all they are all charities right? Maybe I was being simplistic about the whole thing, or maybe I wasn't.

These thoughts made my head spin that I had to ask my colleague for an aspirin in the car. She didn't have one, and so what happens next, yes you must have guessed it, Mr. Cabbie hands over a couple of aspirins and asks me to have it. I didnt know whether to feel relieved or even angrier. I just took the escapist route and fell asleep. The next day I left the hotel room, prepared for my presentation and guess what, my client was a Pakistani. I again, didn't know what to do. I had to be professional obviously, so I just kept it that way. No small talk, but we could feel the tension. What made the equation a bit skewed was us being three Indians to him being one. I couldn't find that surprising though, there are after all a billion of us in this world.

Though I always wonder what goes on inside the head of a Pakistani soon after these incidents. ( they do happen pretty often) there is one thing I have realized though with my countless experiences with my neighbors. One-on-One they are probably the nicest people in the world. Its when they become bigger than a group of 20, that you start hearing the commentary. In any case we went out for lunch which was more or less in silence except for one colleague of mine who was Chinese and couldn't help himself from talking. Though at some point, my Pakistani client did mention that his wife was from India. I again didnt know what to say. I just said, Great.

Great? Who says that.

Some of these questions do have answers. Like the way my friends decided not to go to a Pakistani owned theatre or a restaurant. Maybe it doesn't matter to the business, but it did matter as a set of principles for them. Like the way, my friend decided against buying a pair of gloves though they were perfect, just because they were made in Pakistan. Would it ever add up, I asked them. They said, they didn't care. Its the same petro-dollar argument new energy advocates use here. Less money for the Saudis, less money to blow us up.

They say you cant generalize. Not everyone belongs to the same mob. But isnt the reason we got to this point because we never had a coherent policy on what we should do. We need not hate, but do we need to love? Why shoot ourselves in the foot when almost 100,000 Indian soldiers have died in the Kashmir conflict and yet Atif Aslam signs record deals with Indian music companies. Yes, he didn't kill anyone and yes the soldiers may not have been killed by Pakistanis ( Afghans and Kashmiris also fought in that insurgency) but isn't it better to solve the leakage through one hole before opening up more taps? And note that I haven't even started talking about the religion aspect of this entire conflict.

In the end, I think, all of us are just trying to find our way out for ourselves. So that we need not be the ones making that crucial decision whether to cut the umbilical cord or not. In essence though, I think Pakistan has already done so, a long time ago.

That Saturday night, I ended up thinking what my friends said, on my long drive home through the rainy streets of San Jose. Each one made a passionate argument, not on how to deal with this situation, but how they would deal with a normal day Pakistani. To me, it sounded idealistic, because of my own recent interactions. But they made their case and said they would stand by it. I though could only see two sets of images in front of my eyes. One of the chaos on the streets of the city I would swear by any day and the other of me walking away from the cab, the minute I found out. The problem though, was, one happened and the other didn't.

an opinion on most things human, some supernatural, and anything political. i read, process and spew the residue in my writings, so sometimes i end up being mildly offensive to the 'aam junta'. Hey life's aint fair, why should I be?..:)
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December 16, 2008
02:11 PM

in the pre-globalization days, it was not impossible, but certainly more difficult for citizens of a country to interact or conduct business with citizens of another hostile country (commonsense, but true!). such interactions throw up a whole range of conundrums that you discuss. delicate, subtle issues that cannot always be dealt with as eiher/or issues. such as, you did not day, "heck no way i'm getting into this cab driven by a Pakistani" nor "no way will i meet with this client who happens to be a Pakistani". Yet, you could not just totally ignore the real mix of anger, resentment, frustration etc. etc. that is part and parcel of dealing with the tragic horror of mumbai.

BTW, regardless, "Paki" is not a good word to use...even though, in fairness to you, your bio does indicate that "sometimes I end up being mildly offensive"!

December 21, 2008
03:37 PM

To play devil's advocate here, wouldn't boycotting the economic endeavours of honest, modern Pakistanis hurt us in the long run? There is less incentive to follow the "right" path and more to follow a radical path and fight "injustice".

December 21, 2008
04:25 PM

to add to Prateek, it does not make sense to be hostile to others to whom we impute a certain community membership. Despite strong emotions. It's like if some member of some idiotic neo-nazi gang were to rough me up, me taking it out on some other poor, hapless "white".

December 21, 2008
04:28 PM


India and USA should pour trillions in Pakistan to make everybody rich, so that nobody in Pakistan have any economic incentive to join Jehad. I think billions will not be enough to get the job done - because if ISI were to offer few millions rupees, they will definitely have more than 10 people line up to join the Jehad. So the financial aid should be so big and everybody so rich that nobody shows up to join the Jehad no matter how much financial incentives are offered to the Pakistanis. Lets roll red carpet for Pakistanis. It is the least we can do to punish terrorism.

The Shiva
December 22, 2008
02:20 AM

@ commonsense: I agree with all that you mention, which is why I still don't know how to react. Again, there is a difference between attacking a poor white guy, and avoiding him. I think avoiding him still makes sense till the opposing side comes up with its clear distinction between the problem makers and the so called victims who just happen to look like them.

@ Prateek: yes it should hurt them, and they should realize the fact that it hurts them to belong to the same group. This should at least force them to come up alternate strategies on how to differentiate themselves from the idiots who cause the trouble. If its business as usual, why would they think any of this is wrong?

@ Kerty: There is some truth to what you say I think, but instead of pouring the millions to make them rich, it should be poured to make them fight each other if at all they want to fight. This has been US covert policy for years, you make a country unstable by supporting different factions at different times. All in the name of self interest. Why shouldnt there be an Indian self interest in the region? Why should we be the only ones fighting for peace when the Paki buggers dont want anything to do with it?

There is a macro level response to such actions and a micro level one. What we keep discussing is the macro level response when it really isnt our job to do so. Instead of signing petitions and emailing threads, I think we should spend some time thinking how we should act as individuals.

And I think boycotting Paki owned enterprise is a pretty good way, morally and economically.

December 22, 2008
03:21 AM

Seems like Mr 10 Percent is finally dancing to the tunes of the military and the ISI. He is now denying that Kasab is a Pakistani. And Nawaz Sharif has drawn flak from the Urdu press (read - the common man's voice) for claiming the same.

The average Paki still claims that the Mumbai was a conspiracy hatched by India and Kasab is not from Pakistan. It is ironical that there are dreamers on this website who want an unified India-Pak. Yeah, first get Pakistanis to accept that Kasab is from their country before embarking on your project. One small step at a time. Good luck.

December 22, 2008
01:42 PM

It's like if some member of some idiotic neo-nazi gang were to rough me up, me taking it out on some other poor, hapless "white".

But it makes sense to adopt a cautious approach (different from hostile) towards those who exhibit some of the same characteristics as the neo-nazi gang, or those "whites" about whom we do not know anything and they could possibly belong to a neo-nazi gang. It's also common sense to ask the larger group to solve or contain this problem, which exists within their internal sub-group, by themselves - or help the victim do the same. Unless, of course, one is a masochist.

December 22, 2008
01:51 PM


""Unless, of course, one is a masochist.""

exactly my point! but now my dirty secret is out! thanks :)

December 22, 2008
02:20 PM

There's nothing "dirty" about masochism, and BDSM is quite fun. The problem comes when a masochist wants everyone to be like him and enjoy the pain, or it is non-consensual. ;)

December 22, 2008
11:17 PM


"dirty" was meant to be a rare hint of sarcasm from me, the straight-laced guy, but I forgot the scare-quotes. It was also meant to be a wink-wink, nod-nod towards Kerty, the warrior in-chief against what he calls "sexual anarchy" and the defender in chief of mindless, prurient prudery.

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