February 23, 2020
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Quiz Time

Quiz Time
There is always a set of questions you get asked when in Pakistan and it is a good way of judging the popular mood vis-a-vis India. I have been to Pakistan at least a dozen times and look forward to what I am going to be quizzed on. For a long time, questions centered on the ticklish issue of Kashmir. Why was India forcibly holding on to the Valley? For how long will you continue the atrocities against the Kashmiris? Can’t you see it’s impossible to quell a ‘freedom struggle’?

I was there again in May 1998 when Pakistan conducted its nuclear tests and the nation was caught in a wave of jingoism. Even the ordinary man on the street was mouthing the ‘bang-for-bang’ line. On that trip, the conversations often began with "Oh, so you are an Indian". It was the question that always followed you as if rehearsed in a common classroom. It came almost without fail and it went like this. "Are you a Hindu or a Muslim?" That was easy to duck. "I am neither," I would say, for I was born in a Sikh family. On my last day there, I decided to counter the question by asking, "What if I told you I were a Hindu?" Pat came the reply, "Oh, well, then I would have to say that you are a zaalim (tyrant)." This time around, it was neither Kashmir nor my religion that interested them. Everybody I met in the government, on the streets, at the airport, wanted to know more about the Gujarat riots. How could the state look the other way? Are Muslims safe in India? Why was Narendra Modi not asked to resign? Is Advani more popular than Vajpayee? Is Vajpayee only a figure-head? The person sitting next to me on my flight from Islamabad ended our conversation with, "Ah, so you are an Indian and you still think you are secular?" He wasn’t looking for an answer. He had already made up his mind.

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