Pakistan’s Ghost in the Indus

Today a father and son walked into the shop. They were chattering in Hindustani and the son was being super deferential to his dad.

There was something about the father and son pair that screamed Pakistani. The father had the heavy-set ruddy gruff behaviour that characterises so many Punjabis middle aged men and his youngish son (who was interviewing at Cam for MechEng undergrad next year) just looked salt of the earth Pakistani. I had clocked the father’s gold bling but I disregarded it.

After a while I threw in an Urdu word just to signal I was Desi too. While in other parts of the country this would go unnoticed & rather unremarkable, Cambridge is defined by the white-Chinese dynamic. They were a bit startled and then I asked if they were Pakistanis. The father was like no we’re Indians. Furthermore that they were from Gujarat, which I was rather taken aback from since Gujaratis have such a different feel to them.

I felt a bit upset with myself for the faux pas and by way of subtle apology I mentioned that my wife is Indian and from Chennai. That in itself is not a big deal because Muslims marry across the border constantly so as to defuse the awkwardness I mentioned she was a Sindhi (a Sindhi from Chennai automatically denotes Hindu etc).

As Vidhi likes to quip I’m constantly the dialling the Muslim up when around them and dialling it down when I’m not.

He then said how lovely and asked if I spoke Sindhi to which I replied no. After that he told me a Sindhi phrase and then after a minute or so he told me they were Sindhis as well.

I told them that made a lot of sense because I had such a strong intuition that they were of the Indus (I’m paraphrasing I actually said Pakistan) and he proudly turned to his son and said that his face was straight out of Pakistan.

This is true, a bit like the Turks, Pakistanis are such a mixture and motley of people that at times they can make for powerful looks.

I was so taken aback by how strong my intuition was. My Pakidar was screaming but it also registered some hesitation because I just felt something was off; I had taken an educated guess that they were Pakistanis.

I’m not a fan of the “Mehran man” theory but the People of the Indus just have a feel to them. I remember a friend (Shi’ite from Hyderabad) telling me that initially he thought I was a Sindhi (Hindu) when he first saw me. It’s as though that being a Pakistani is the Indus identity then overlaid with a distinctly Urdu-speaking (Muslim) one and one without the other leaves people to grasp at Ghosts. Like Indian Muslims, us Pakistani Kafirs/Dhimmis are proto and unformed Paks in a perpetual grey area.

Incidentally a little bit later a Bangladeshi family walk in (he made a point of asking me if it was non-alcoholic) where their daughter is also interviewing with one of the colleges (medicine the father is a doctor). While the father and young son look Desi, the rather striking daughter & mother pair look Thai or some exotic South East Asian variety. The diversity of what it means to be Desi is always fascinating..