Today I want to talk about the dynamics of being an Indian-Pakistani couple.
The story is long, 30 years long to be specific and deserves a book, as many friends keep telling. But here I will share some of the very initial stories, from the first year or so.
Fasih was, as everyone knows, a very mild natured emotionally super intelligent person. I was the extreme opposite, reactionary, easy to be provoked and stand up to argue on what’s right.
In the early days of our marriage, even small little innocent questions triggered me.
I will share a few examples here:
As Fasih and I were sitting on the stage in our reception in Karachi in Feb 1990, an old lady, from extended family, obviously height of ignorance, sat to get a photo with us. She was sitting on my side, and while the cameras were flashing she asked me softly, “India mein Video camera hota hai.”
I replied, as Fasih later pointed, very loudly, “Haan, bilkul hota hai.”
After the photo session, I actually began howling in my bridal attire and Fasih softly patted me and told me to relax. Someone noticed it and asked, “Kya huwa, kya huwa, kyun ro rahi ho.”
Fasih smiled and replied, “Ilmana ko Dilli aur Ammi Papa yaad aa rahe hain.”
From then on, my meltdowns and Fasih’s calming down became a routine.
Once we were invited to another extended family a dinner. There the head of the family, who was my father in laws age remarked, only to hurt, or maybe not. He said in a very intellectual tone, “Dr Sb aapki bahu Dilli ki hain?”.
My father in law,, Dr. S M Sabihuddin, was a beautiful.educated soul. He replied, “Jee. Ilmana ke abba Delhi mein professor hain. Bahut achey educated khandaan se hain.”
The gentleman replied in a typical Bihari tone, “Hum ek baar Pachna se Delhi parhne aaye the, mager humko nahin pasand aaya. Humko Dilli ke log bahut ghamandi lagey.” Then he praised how lucky he is to be a Pakistani now.
Now imagine me in Feb 1990, and my reaction as a new bride. I could not hold back.
I replied to the old man, “Delhi mein bihari bhare huwe hain. Aur ek bar parhne aate hain tou waapas jaane ka naam nahin letey.”
This crisp reply was probably enough that he never commented on me ever in life again.
Fasih sat quietly. Probably embarrassed.
However, my father in law came to my defence and told him, “Tou aapko Pakistan mein kya mil gaya? Main tou isko choristan kehta houn. Jisey dekho haath phailaker rishwat mangta rehta hai. Choristan hai yeh.”
I just waited to get back to my room, and when back threw a huge tantrum at Fasih on why did he not come to defend me.
He was calm and told me one lesson which he repeated a million times in years to come, “If you hear people talking ignorance, pity their brains. No point getting angry and wasting your energy. They are symbols of ignorance.”
In my anger I told him, “Why did I even marry a Bihari?”
And he replied with a tongue in cheek tone, “I am not Bihari. I have never been to Patna or Munger. I was born in Lahore.”
Me: “But your Papa is Bihari.”
Fasih: “Papa was also born in Jaipur. He never went to Bihar either. Dada Abba was Bihari. Let him be.”
He argued these are meaningless fantasies that old men cling on to for sentimental reasons only.
In another dinner, the hostess asked me, “Ye dish kya hai bataao?”
I could not recognize the dish and then she asked me, “Kabhi Nihari khaayi hai?”
I was scandallized and screamed, “You are asking me Nihari? I am from the city of Nihari’s origin and btw what you cooked is not Nihari.”
Ofcourse, the aunt didnt like my bluntness.Fasih just smiled without a comment.
Fasih’s family being a Syed, and me not being one also popped up gazillion times in the extended family.
And again Fasih’s father defended me vehemently each time it came up. To one of his younger brothers who popped up this question, he said, “Tum Syed ho ker pichhley 30 saal sey ek dafter mein clerk ho. Ilmana ke baap, dada, per daada, Delhi ke aalim family sey hain.”
A point came when his extended family stopped using this taunt in Papa’s presence. Fasih’s own family and siblings were sensitive enough to never bring up these conversations , and he told me this was all that is more important.
Most of the times, Fasih just told me to ignore the ignorant, the insignificant, and feel sorry for them. And I kept whining that “You should fight for me too.”
But Fasih’s way to make a statement was very different. More action, less verbal.
Then when our son Ismail was born in Makkah, the natural family tradition was to name him Syed Ismail Fasih. But Fasih put his foot down and said, no, he will be “Ismail Fasih”.
“Syed naam likhne se kuch nai hota. Apne amaal hone chahiye. Sirf naam aur lineage ka takabbur kerna arrogance hai.”
I am so proud of Fasih how he would not even let his patients from deep interior Sindh touch his feet because he was a Syed and would actually get angry at them. He would tell them instead, “Mere liye dua kerna, ke Allah mere haath mein Shifa dey.”
Similarly as we visited India, a few in my extended family members bullied Fasih on being a Pakistani. But the dignified calmness with which he handled them was something of an eyeopener for me and my folks. This is one of the biggest reasons, my father, mother and brothers respected Fasih the most.
Like we were sitting in an family dinner in a relative’s house and Fasih picked up the water bottle to read the name “Bisleri” and my uncle remarked, “This is Indian. In India we have everything Indian.”
Fasih just smiled.
Then a bit later, the same uncle recieved a call and he picked up his Blackberry. And Fasih very softly asked, “Yeh Blackberry bhi Indian hai?”
The uncle did not react or even look into Fasih’s eye.
Here, I would like to make a special mention of a sensitive and caring person ( my father’s cousin’s wife), Tanzeem Chachi who was my rock solid support, ‘mayeka’ and go-to person in the early days in Karachi, and it meant a big thing to spend a day at her place. Unfortunately she departed too soon too and is no more.
Over the years, as our extebded families from both Pakistan and India visited us when we lived in Makkah, they all came to realize how futile it was to stir India-Pakistan petty politics in our home.
Down the years, I mellowed with millions of calm lessons from Fasih and I stopped reacting to triggers. And life became beautiful.
A point of time came when I dediced to rise above borders and petty matters, and look at India and Pakistan from a humanitarian lens. And that was another turning point, when it was about humanity both sides, more than patriotism- mine or theirs. Humanity was common to both sides.
Another very important lesson I learned from Fasih was how important it was to be kind & polite instead of being right and arrogant all the time.
Below are some of the pics: From our Valima, Honeymoon to Simla and at Fasih’s younger brother’s wedding.
Azaadi Mubarak to both Indians and Pakistanis. May we all learn to be #azaad from hatred, bigotry and prejudice. ❤