It seems that 63 years after Partition Pakistanis and Indians have still more in common yet than they’d care to admit: plenty of ignorance and bigotry, for example.
On one side of the border you will find tribal ‘jahiliyya’ perverting Islam into a Stone Age dogma, on the other you will find a caste system which, though politically and legally banished, is alive and well in the psyche of the common man. And common man came to the fore last week on both sides of the border, burning effigies of Sania Mirza, a mediocre tennis player but veritable Muslim Indian pin up girl from Hyderabad with millions earned in product endorsements, though not prize money. It seems that in both countries there is a sizeable cottage industry attached to the production of effigies: paper mache’ figures, portrait images, pitch forks are readily available at the onset of the slightest ‘moral outrage’. Side by side with sweets and sari shops, ‘Angry Mob Supply’ stores line the streets of bazaars from Rawalpindi to Ahmedabad.
Sania Mirza of course courted ‘moral outrage’ before by wearing tight T-shirts and a pleated tutu - as is par for the course for female tennis players. The TV audience-raising and endorsement contract-inviting hint of nipple under the T-shirt stirred self-righteous souls in both India and Pakistan and further afield the Muslim world. Nationalist Hindus thought that she besmirched the traditional Indian value of not wearing tight T-shirts: apparently she ought to have played in a sari instead, with a tilak on her forehead. The Muslim man on the street - who, in the religious sprit of the Ummah likes to claim everyone else’s daughters as his own and consequently, as their spiritual father, sees it fit to lecture them on proper ‘moral behaviour’ - pronounced Sania’s T-shirt un-Islamic for obvious nipple-related reasons.
This time, the reason for the 'outrage' was that Sania Mirza and the Pakistani Shoaib Malik, a former cricket player, who are both considered role models in their respective countries (by people who consider youngsters who throw balls around for a living role models), had announced their intention to wed each other and live in Dubai. Unsurprisingly this whipped up a huge storm in the water glass that is the UAE print media. The ‘street’ in the UAE may be a bit hot for effigy burning and I doubt the authorities would allow it, so the ‘letters to the editor’ pages had to do.
Whilst some sent letters to the '7Days' newspaper in support of the two individuals’ decision and urged their respective compatriots to respect this as a personal matter, many Indians went on record condemning Sania’s choice of a Pakistani man as un-patriotic and detrimental to Mother India as a whole. Apparently, she should first have tried to find an Indian cricketer instead, as they are better with their balls and bat (and the population growth in this billion strong country seems to prove this argument right). Then, failing to find an Indian cricketer, she ought to have sampled some bright IT engineers in Bangalore, as one man helpfully suggested. And failing that she should have burned herself on a pyre rather than marry someone from the ‘troublesome’ neighbour country. The ‘saving grace’, as one Pakistani commenter put it, was that both are Muslim, as if marrying out of faith was, by reverse definition, somehow disgraceful.
I am watching with interest how this pans out. Perhaps we will see demonstrations of single brain cell creatures in Karama or Deira after all. Effigies of tennis racquets and cricket bats being doused with petrol and stamped on by angry sandals. Pakistani taxi drivers refusing Indian passengers, Indian chefs adding lethal doses of mirchi chilli to Pakistani customers’ take out orders - that kind of 21st century cosmopolitan behaviour.
If Sania and Shoaib thought they’d escape narrow-minded bigotry by choosing Dubai as a place of residence they might want to think again...
Watch: Vettel wins in Australia, Hamilton second
2 hours ago