During my late night channel surfing last night, I came across a teleplay called Pyar Kahani on one of the local channels. It was a 25 minute long love story with minimal dialogues and a lot of background music.
It all started at John F. Kennedy International Airport where a shalwar kameez clad Pakistani dosheeza (played by a Bangladeshi actor) with no English language skills was wandering around the JFK, looking all harassed (just like the razia jo ke ghundon main phans gayee ho, although no ghundas were in sight). She was keenly watched by a cute guy (we later found out that he was a Brazilian) with a manual camera slung from his neck (giving him the arty hipster look). They starting talking or rather gesticulating as much as they could have, given the girl’s almost nonexistent and the guy’s barely there English. They both then discovered that they had to kill ten long hours at JFK, so they decided to play tourist and hailed a cab to take them to, where else but Manhattan. The cabbie was a desi who gave our heroine killing looks that vary from “humaree larki sharam-o-haya se na waqif hai aur goray ke sath akaylay ghoom rahee hai” to “aur agar ghoomna hi that au hum mar gaye thay kiya.” They were later shown roaming around Times Square, Broadway, streets of Manhattan and of course Central Park where they paid tribute to John Lennon.
After a long day of taking in sights and sounds of New York and of each other, they boarded another cab to go back to the airport. They were quiet on their way back, stealing surreptitious glances at each, pondering about the impending end of the cab ride. Thankfully it was gora cabbie who minded his own business and dropped them off at JFK. They said their goodbyes and parted ways, she sat amongst the desi crowd in the lounge for the Pakistan bound flight while he roamed a different corner of the airport. Just when our heroine was about to board the flight, the Latino hottie realized that he is in love with our desi damsel and ran after her. In true rom-com tradition, the lift was not available and the escalator was not working and our Brazilian hero (who looked fit enough to out run many sprinters) had to run a couple of flights of stairs and vast corridors at JFK to find his dusky maiden. In the end, they meet and confessed their love … and I am sure they lived happily ever after.
The story was ok – a little too sweet for my taste though – and I have nothing against it, but it was a fantasy; a rather childish one at that. In real life, you see sunburned aged Nordic lotharios at Bangkok airport, yuppies yammering into their cell phones at Singapore, cabbies fighting for customers at Islamabad, men of all ages and nationalities staring at women’s breasts in Cairo (I think it is the national time pass activity of men aged 14 – infinity) and just about every human ear attached to an ipod on any of British airports. I have traveled a lot and most of the time I traveled by myself and have never come across a cute and smitten Brazilian man, or any cute guy for that matter. Most of the time, I end up directing aunties from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to the nearby toilets, drinking water taps or their respective gates.
All the four times that I have been to India, I filled an average of 17 ‘entry in India’ forms per visit. Not only did I fill those blasted forms for myself or the odd old aunty traveling alone from Pakistan to see dying relatives in India, I filled up the forms of so many Indians who cannot read and write in English. The Indian government, by some stroke of genius, prints all those entry forms in English alone. May be they want the world to think that literacy is universal in India or maybe they just want the English speaking cool people to come back into the country, but I digress.
If I am not helping old aunties, I end up answering stupid question asked by young and old alike. Once on my way to Germany, I had a four hour long transit (where else but in DO-BUY-EE). I settled in a chair with a book (of course it happened after a facilitation session where I helped two young women from Lahore on their way to Jo’burg to reunite with their respective husbands in finding the usual toilet, tap and gate). They decided that instead to finding a place near their gate, they should hang out with me. Our conversation went something like this:
Lady1: So you are married?
I: No, I am not.
Lady 2: But why are you not married, umar tau ho gaye hai shadi ki.
I: bas ji aisay hi naheen ki.
Lady 2: haw, yeh kya baat hue. Chalo koi naheen, hum karwa dain gay, zaat kiya hai tumharee.
I: (totally taken aback) ji zaat?????
Lady 1: haan zaat, hor kiya?
I: ji who tau naheen pata.
Lady1 &2: (in unison) haw hai … zaat ka naheen pata … tum Karachi walay shadee waghera kaisay kartay ho.
I: bas ji aisay hi kar laitay hain … bagher zaat ke.
Lady1: bas rehnay do … isi liye shade naheen hue tumharee ke zaat paat ka pata naheen.
I picked up my bag and said, “oh my flight is about to leave,” and the spent the next two hours, cooped up in special people’s toilet (my heartfelt apologies to anyone who wanted to use the facility) alternately blistering and reading my book.
Another time, I was mobbed by three sardarnis at Heathrow, screaming Pallaviiiiiiiiii!!!!! and asking for my autograph. Pallavi??? I asked them who is this Pallavi and why do they think she is autograph worthy, but they refused to listen and I actually ended up signing their autograph books with “regards, Pallavi.” I later found out that it was a character in one of the saas bahu Indian telly soap and the sardarniyan thought I was her (my very personal brush to fame).
Other incidents include an Indian guy asking for 5 dollars to buy coffee at Pearson International, Toronto. Once I was glancing through the Indian edition of cosmopolitan featuring Sushmita Sen in flimsy chiffon dress at the airport in Delhi and a Pakistani uncle, who was sitting next to me, craned his neck to the level of disfigurement to catch a glimpse of lovely Sushmita. When I was done with the magazine, he asked if he can borrow the magazine. Annoyed that I was, I said no, you cannot borrow it. He was persistent and asked why? I held up the magazine and said, “The cover says that it is the magazine for today’s women. You certainly do not belong to the present generation and are most definitely not a woman.”
So far, my finest hour has been the conversation with a Chinese man at Schiphol airport who taught me the choice swear words in Chinese. I may not be able to swear in English and Urdu with such profundity, but I am sure I can shame any hoodlum in the streets of shanghai after that tutorial ….
Shanghai, here I come ….
The published version of the article can be accessed here