View from Pakistan

Dear India and Pakistan, can’t we convert our grudges into love?

Let's move beyond the discourse of 'You started it!,' 'No, you started it!'

I find myself increasingly upset at the abuse and hatred tossed from both sides of the border, with little rationale apart from the 69-year-old chips on our shoulders.

These chips have, over time, turned into boulders.

Yet, we have an affinity with India.

When Amitabh Bachchan is in the hospital, we pray for his good health.

When Ranbir Kapoor’s film is a hit, we’re prouder than Neetu and Rishi.

We can’t deny that no one sings about romance like Kishore and Rafi.

When we meet Indians abroad, they’re desi just like us.

Our history is their history. Our language is their language.

But it’s complex, our relation.

Like siblings, we know each other’s soft spots very well.

We retaliate to each other’s provocations like children, impulsive and emotional.

“You attacked us first in Uri!”

“You started it!”

“No, you started it!”

Like trust-fund babies, we feel entitled to demand things from others, yet have no idea how to cope and be responsible for our own actions.

Mistakes on either side

They don’t accept that Muslims and other minorities are sometimes attacked on the mere suspicion of eating beef.

And us? We turn a blind eye when Christians and Hindus are assaulted for eating before Iftar in Ramazan.

They’re occupying Kashmir, we say.

But we forget how we imposed ourselves on the Bengalis. Why did we force Bengalis to accept Urdu as their national language? We never talk about that, do we?

When I think of some of the best moments during the last ten years, most of them include my brothers and sisters from across the border: food, music, laughing, dancing, singing – a refusal to be separated by political boundaries.

I think we are wrong to look to the West for support. In the past, foreigners succeeded in making sure we saw each other as enemies. And boy did we fall for it.

We carry the burden of our past mistakes.

We should look to each other for support. What I find strange is our reluctance to acknowledge that we have each other.

What’s absurd is our blindness to the immense opportunities that lie before us if we work together and the desolation if we continue to be enemies.

What characterises our relation are the ever-changing roles we occupy.

To the world, we are siblings at loggerheads, each trying to get daddy’s attention so that he may buy us toys and increase our allowance.

At other times, we are like a divorced couple constantly bickering over who lost out in the settlement, unable to come to terms with the fact that it’s over.

It seems that the scars of our separation are still so ripe, so painful, that we only find solace in making sure that the other is just as hurt as we are. And so we put in our all our resources, our best efforts, to do exactly that.

When I read that India had carried out a surgical strike inside Pakistan, it felt like a personal setback. The Pakistani rhetoric has been no less disappointing. As we each take the moral high ground, point fingers, and beat the war drums, we forget how much is wrong with each of us.

I hope that very soon, these ugly scenes will disappear.

I, for one, don’t want to remember them.

I long for peace, not war.

Better days

What I will keep in my memory instead are the moments that embody love and respect for each other:

Prime ministers of both countries using cricket as a tool of diplomacy.

Indian players acknowledging that there is no better fast bowler than Wasim Akram.

Shoaib Malik marrying Sania Mirza.

Our tennis players teaming up at international tournaments, calling for us to stop war and start tennis.

What I am saying is that I want Uri to be history, confined to textbooks. I want Uri to be remembered as an event when the cold war between India and Pakistan did not turn into a hot war.

I hope it turns out to be no more than just another episode that provides for good banter with my Indian friends.

But what is not a mere episode is our past, our shared histories and the fact that we used to be one, before we were divided.

And what is comforting is that when I messaged one of my closest friends across the border, expressing concern over the megalomaniac tendencies of our governments, he responded: “it doesn’t matter what they do, you know I will always love you.”

I want to be optimistic and believe that our next generations will turn to our ancient scriptures and holy books. It won’t take them long to see that since time immemorial, there is only one message they have been trying to convey: the message of love.

I truly believe that it’s possible for love to triumph.

This article first appeared on Dawn.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.