Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Pakistani

The Pakistani
My passport said I’m Indian,
But now it says I’m not.
Can a booklet, stamped, then change me?
Am I Indian still—or not?

I had met a man from Pakistan.
We had sat and talked awhile.
There was laughter and discussion,
And we’d parted with a smile.

But later, at the newsstand,
When I’d bought the Daily Star,
I chanced to read that India,
With his nation, was at war.

So was that man my enemy?
And was I his, as well?
I pondered on this thing a while,
But I did not, on it, dwell.

I’m a man who pinches pennies,
Being stingy to a fault.
That I’m not yet rich as Bloomberg,
I ascribe to Heaven’s vault.

So I wondered if his passport
Said he still was Pakistani.
If so, it stood to reason
That I didn’t owe him money.

For that man—he had insisted
On paying for my lunch—
Those kebabs of spicy chicken
On which I liked to munch.

If he chanced to be my enemy,
As the papers did portend,
Then I didn’t owe him anything—
As is the current trend.

I’ve heard it said a dozen times,
And probably yet more.
“You do not owe her anything!
She loved to do that chore.”

But being still an honest man,
As raised by aunts and uncles,
I still attempt to pay my debts,
Although this often rankles.

My miser says, “They told you so.
And yet you feel indebted!”
My upright one says. “Pay your debt,
Before your rear is dented!”

And so, in my conflicted self,
I mulled upon the matter.
And in my head, for quite a while,
I heard incessant chatter.

For pausing, I’d remembered this—
My passport—that it said
I was no longer Indian.  I
Was USA’n instead!

And so, it seemed I owed him,
That fellow, for that lunch—
Unless he was an agent
Of a nation we should crunch.

But I wondered if that remnant
Of an Indian, still in me,
Could claim, “He’s Pakistani!
And so that lunch was free!”

I slept and saw a chicken,
Who came to claim the cost.
“It’s me, whom you have eaten…”
But then, that dream was lost.


The laws can be our saviors.
They permit us men to kill
The chickens, in the peacetimes,
And in wars as well, at will.

As for humans, what is needed
(As delivered in the Star),
For dues to be dissolved is—
The starting of a war.

So debts can then be vanished
And lives are then forfeit.
And woe to those who claim then
That this is foul deceit!

There are always, with us, women,
And fellows too, who need
A whacking, so they’re silenced
As we focus on the deed.

There are reasons for our wars then—
For they free us of constraints.
When our interests are threatened,
Should we still proceed as saints?

I wondered if I’d meet him—
That man from Pakistan,
Who foolishly had treated me
As he might, a fellow man!

For since we both had remnants
If not more, of what we were,
I didn’t owe him anything—
As my logic could infer.

He had said, “We both are desis.”
If so, we were at war!
And if he would deny this,
I’d show him then the Star


A land can be divided,
And so can people be—
By the colors of their testicles
Or the side on which they sleep.

So though we both were desis,   \1
And the word he used was bhai,  \2
I hope I will not meet him,
And I’m sure you'll figure why.

2015 November 7th, Sat. 9:38 pm
Skyway (Pakistani dhaba),  Bath Avenue  \3
(Some stanzas added Nov. 8th Sun.)
Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, New York

Notes on some Hindustani (Hindi-Urdu) words:  \4

1. desi:  countryman, from the word desh (land, country – as in Bangladesh, the land of Bengal).

This is similar in meaning to the Spanish paisano, but is used by expatriates from the northern parts of the subcontinent to refer to all subcontinentals, whatever be their nationalities—thus including Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Srilankans, Nepalis, Bhutanese...

2. bhai:  brother, from the Sanskrit bhrata, cognate to Farsi (Persian) barodar, German Brueder, Latin frater, etc.

Note also:  desi bhai and desi behen (brother-countryman and sister-countrywoman / subcontinental).

3. dhaba:  roadside teashop and eatery

4. Hindustani: from the land  near and to the east of the river Indus, as viewed from Fars (Persia, modern Iran), Afghanistan and Central Asia.  This is derived from the Persian word for land/country/region (Farsi stan, cognate to Sanskrit sthan) and the Persian name for the Indus (Farsi Hindu, cognate to Sanskrit Sindhu).

This word is used, among other things, for the language that was (and still is) the lingua franca of the northern subcontinent, as well as of certain parts much further south.

Urdu and Hindi are two of the more formal, "literate" versions of Hindustani.  Urdu is usually written in a modified Persian script (itself a modification of the Arabic script) and is often full of  words borrowed from Arabic and Persian. Hindi is usually written in the native Devanagari script (also used for Sanskrit in much of northern India) and has increasingly become full of Sanskrit borrowings.

However, Urdu and Hindi, when used by common folk for everyday matters, are not only mutually completely intelligible, they are in fact identical in grammar, syntax and base vocabulary.  Croatian (written in the Roman script) and Serbian (written in a Cyrillic script) are the Balkan counterparts of Urdu and Hindi.  Just as one refers to the spoken language as Serbo-Croatian, so also one should perhaps refer to the common spoken language of the cities and more of the northern subcontinent as Hindi-Urdu or Hindustani.

Just as in the Balkans, the divide between the two formal languages stems in large part from religious divides (which in both cases arose from the histories of the regions, including that of the socio-economic systems and empires that rose and fell in each).  However, although Urdu is the national language of Islamic Pakistan, and Hindi is a national language of (increasingly less) secular India, in which Hindus dominate, there are millions of Muslims who are fluent in Hindi and probably also millions of Hindus whose Urdu is decent.


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