Extract 02 from Reporting Pakistan: In Islamabad, a journalist craved the bindis women wore on TV…

14 Jun,2017

By Meena Menon


While we were in Hyderabad city in Pakistan (during my visit in November 2011), Aishwarya Rai, Bollywood actor and model,had just given birth to a baby girl. That was the day we had ameeting with business leaders, and at lunchtime while we triedto get interviews, TV crews hounded us, the women in the delegation, asking our views about this event which they thought was breaking news and momentous. I asked them why only the women were questioned and they, the breathless, bright-eyed andbushy-tailed (that’s definitely something we have in common) TVreporters said they were wondering if we would be upset if it wasa girl and would we say so on camera! We were speechless within dignation! That didn’t earn us too many brownie points and forsome moments Indo-Pak relations tottered on the brink!


In Pakistan I found that even the most serious journalists, and there were many, would take the trouble to come and introduce themselves and ask you about the political scene quickly before launching with great deliberation on their favourite subject. Not being a big Bollywood fan and not even clued into filmi gossip, I would dread these encounters and fob them off by asking about things that interested me in Pakistan. Two years later when adelegation of the Karachi Press Club visited Mumbai, a meetingwas arranged with actor Aamir Khan. One of the journalists saidafter the meeting that he didn’t have anything more to wish forin his life! (‘Bas ab aur koi kwaishnahinraha!’) This amused meno end, as I hadn’t suspected this serious sports journalist of sucha weakness.


Indian TV serials are popular and the dresses the women wear in them are much sought after. In Islamabad, a journalist craved the bind is the women wore and I gave her the only packet I had. My husband’s encounter with a security officer when he was returning home via Lahore was enough to make him swear off that route again. He was buttonholed by the officer while he was locked up in a room in transit waiting for the next flight to Delhi. No fancy transit lounges there.


On learning that he was an Indian, the officer spoke of how addicted he was to Indian soaps and he was in a hurry to go home to watch the next episode of some TV serial which Venkat had never seen. In fact, he had rescheduled his shift in such a way that he would never miss the episodes. He was anxious about what would happen and when Venkat was non-committal and couldn’t conceal his lack of interest, the officer asked him, first, if he had been to Salman Khan’s house and then why he and the whole country couldn’t prevent a breakup between Salman Khan and all his girlfriends.


He felt no one in India was doing enough to ensure that Khan got married, and beseeched Venkat to seek the highest intervention. Salman Khan’s wedded bliss being of little or no interest toVenkat, the conversation petered out into a monologue which only ended when the flight to Delhi was announced—a period which my husband said felt like a decade. Traumatised by being locked up in that stuffy room, smoking with an official droning on about Bollywood, TV serials and broken love affairs of stars,the next time he visited, Venkat returned via Karachi where he could stay in a hotel.


Extracts republished with permission from the publisher, Penguin Random House India

Reporting Pakistan

By Meena Menon

344 pages, hard cover

Price: Rs 599 (Kindle: Rs 254.50)


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