The Hindustani Love Affair

I should have known when my first experience in the Kabul airport was someone asking me if I am from Hindustan (no one says India, it is always Hindustan). But I was clueless, and so, when the customs official questioned me, I said yes with some trepidation. What followed was a treatment befitting an honored guest. Soon I realize that this is not a random or rare occurrence. This Hindustani Love Affair repeats itself almost everywhere. And, the lame-o that I am, I thoroughly enjoyed the royal treatment that followed! ;-)Hindi movies and television serials have a lot to do with it. I did write an earlier blog about entertainment, but that does not even begin to cover the subject. People here know more about Hindi movies and television serials than I do. Not that I claim to be an expert…I should have let Shubhi loose on them instead. Cell phone ring tones are set to Hindi movie song tunes. (Of course, every time these phones ring, I try in vain to identify the song, give up, and have to ask someone else.) In Karwan Serra’s restaurant, the radio dial is set on a station permanently belting out Hindi movie songs. One day I unknowingly gatecrash the restaurant staff’s impromptu dance party set to a dance number on the radio.

Amitabh Bachan is the uncrowned king – But of course! (I know who all are nodding their head in enthusiastic agreement. ;-)) I hear stories of how, when Amitabh came to Afghanistan to shoot for Khuda Gawah, women climbed trees to get a glimpse of him. Shah Rukh Khan is the prince, closely followed by Hrithik Roshan. Now, that explains why the Shah Rukh Khan concert in Virginia had such an enthusiastic Afghan crowd. Among the heroines, it is Hema Malini, Karisma Kapoor, and Preity Zinta. Once an Ethiopian cab driver in Washington DC told me that he was in love with Hema Malini and was heart-broken when she married Dharmendra! I think the Indian government should make our film stars, especially Amitabh Bachan, Hema Malini, and Shah Rukh Khan good will ambassadors to the world or something.

Hindi films and television serials are one but not the only reason for all this goodwill. Some of it may be because of the stories from those who have visited India. A few spoke to me about their visit to Hindustan and how amazed they were with the country, the generosity of strangers, and the friendly nature of the people. (And I think to myself, that is probably what I will say of Afghanistan.)

Another (purely my conjecture) theory is that this Hindustani love affair is the outcome of the geopolitical and strategic moves made by both India and Pakistan. Taliban is not very popular here, and that is putting it very mildly. Since Pakistan nurtured and supported Taliban, some of the bad feelings towards the Taliban may have been transferred onto Pakistan. Along the same lines, since India supported the Northern Alliance which was fighting the Taliban, it may have resulted in a reflected feeling of goodwill.

I am quite taken aback when I am informed that the Afghani crowd supported India during the recent Indo-Pak cricket series. To top it off, there even was a discussion about who was a better player, Sachin Tendulkar or Saurav Ganguly. The consensus was that Ganguly was a better captain, but Tendulkar is the champion player. Of course, there is no question that Irfan Pathan is the best bowler – he is a Pathan! ;-) Tendulkar is definitely another candidate for that Ambassadorship.

Whatever the reason, it was quite amazing to be the recipient of all this goodwill. I did wonder if this is because I am in Kabul. Would they love all things Hindustani in the other regions of Afghanistan also? I wish I could visit other cities to find out – Maybe Jalalabad near the Pakistan border and Herat near the Iran border. Herat is reputed to have wonderful food, so I really would not mind a visit. :-)

The reaction to the other half of my life is nowhere compared to this. When I mention that I live in Washington DC, it usually is followed by few mild-curiosity kind of questions. What do I do there? Where is my family? There was also some amazement about why we find the National Geographic’s Afghani cover girl so fascinating while to them she is not even pretty! And definitely, no one seems to harbor any feeling of general ill-will or hatred towards the US or the West.

Again, all of the above are generalizations drawn from a small sample of the people I met in the short time I was in Afghanistan. But, isn’t that what the media does constantly to give us the idea that everyone hates everyone else? So, I insist on claiming my right to draw my own conclusions based on my own experience. And to me, this is my good fortune! :-D

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.