|This above all||
Saturday, January 9, 1999
ON my recent four-day visit to London I made a new friend, a petite, pretty, little, 21-year-old girl from Attock (Pakistan) named Mahnaz Malik. Apparently without having met her I had written a few complimentary sentences about an essay which had won her an Indian literary award a couple of years ago. I had forgotten about it. She had not. She got to hear that I was coming to London in connection with the showing of Train to Pakistan and found out where I was staying. She was the first to ring me up on my arrival, accompanied me to every function and was there for the farewell dinner arranged for me by Mrs Surina Narula. It did not end there. When saying goodbye to me she handed me a buff envelope and said: "Read this on your flight to Delhi and let me know what you think of it."
I opened the envelope after we were air-borne. It had two short stories written by her and a photograph behind which was inscribed her name Mahnaz Malik with the message: "This is to help you remember what I look like." Such things should happen to men when they are still young not to a man in his eighties at the hands of a woman 60 years younger than him.
I read the two stories and liked them. Both were about middle class Muslim families in rural Pakistan which observe rigorous discipline of five daily prayers and fasting over Ramadan. And revolt simmering in the younger generation against imposed religious rituals.
Mahnaz is a precious young lady with a creditable academic record. After passing her A level from Karachi Grammar School, she won a British Council scholarship to Cambridge University. She took a degree in law from Churchill College and joined a firm of solicitors in London. She found her heart was not in pursuing the legal profession but in journalism, and creative writing. She wrote two books: Hopes, Dreams & Realities(Royal Book Company) and Defiance(South-Asia Publication) which elicited favourable reviews. I suspect she was keen to do a biography of Benazir Bhutto because she told me of the many taped interviews she had with her. As soon as the political astmosphere in Pakistan once again changes in favour of the Bhutto family, Mahnaz will come out with her biography. I also sensed she was not over-eager to return to Pakistan.
I asked Mahnaz about Nawaz Sharifs renewed efforts to re-inforce Shariat laws. She was non-committal in her replies. "Will you like to be put into a burqa when you return?" I asked her bluntly. "When I am in Attock, I wear one of my own free will. It is the way men ogle at unveiled women that makes me feel uncomfortable. I feel much safer in a burqa" she replied.
Mahnaz is also apprehensive that no sooner she returns, her parents will start putting pressure on her to get married.
In many ways Mahnaz Malik represents the dilemma facing young, modernised women in a rigidly Islamic society. If they stick to modernism, they remain outsiders. If they conform to prevailing norms they compromise with their conscience. Either way they lose.
Surrounded by love, hatred
There were many instances of love triumphing over hatred in the hate-filled atmosphere that pervaded our subcontinent during the partition of the country into India and Pakistan. The most heart-warming story was of Boota Singh who saved the life of a young Muslim girl, Zainab, from a gang of abductors and married her. They had a daughter. A year later government-sponsored teams to rescue abducted women and restore them to their parents sported her. This was done at the instance of Bootas uncle who wanted to grab his land. Indian police "rescued" Zainab and forced her to go to Pakistan. There she was forcibly married off to a Muslim. Boota Singh followed her carrying their child in his arms. He was beaten up and then arrested by the Pakistani police. The magistrate before whom he appeared ordered Zainab to be produced in court. She was taken there by her parents, Muslim husband and a group of fanatics who warned her that if she admitted having married Boota Singh earlier and bearing his child, all of them would be murdered. A very frightened Zainab denied knowing Boota, or her daughter.
Boota Singh was served with an order to get out of Pakistan. Instead of obeying the order, Boota took his infant daughter in his arms and jumped before an oncoming train. He was killed but his child was miraculously saved. The true love story of Boota and Zainab spread like wildfire in Pakistan. Their love revived legends of Heer Ranjah, Sohni Mahiwal and Sassi Punnoo. Boota Singhs grave in Lahore became a place of pilgrimage and he became the patron saint of lovers. Pakistanis made a film of the tragic romance. India had to make their own version of the episode. No one would have fitted the role of Boota Singh better than the handsome folk singer, Gurdas Mann. They found an equally suitable girl to play Zainab, the pretty, precocious actress, Divya Dutta of Amritsar, who had played the stellar role in Pamla Rooks Train to Pakistan.
This is Gurdas Manns first appearance as an actor. He has done pretty well: His manly good looks and melodious voice more than make up for his unfamiliarity with acting techniques. The film is aptly named Shaheed-e-Mohabbat, martyr to love. It is somewhat emotionally over-charged, repetitive and song-filled like many Bollywood productions. It is also a powerful tear-jerker. With it Divya Dutta establishes her right to be taken as a serious actress.
Silence is golden
In my school on a board was inscribed in gold letters the message "Silence is gold". In due course of time students added their wisdom to it. One read "Not only is silence gold, it is seldom misquoted." Another read: "Silence is gold, so never miss a chance to keep your mouth shut."
Deft definitions of patience
1. It is the art of losing temper very very slowly.
2. It is the art of concealing impatience.
3. It is something while driving you appreciate in the driver behind you and resent in the one ahead of you.
4. It is the art of waiting for those who come late.
The most discreet letter of recommendation given by the G.M. of the company to one of its employees seeking a job elsewhere ran as follows:
"We have known Mr Ram Lal for some years. When you come to know him as well as we do, you will think the same of him as we do."
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