“Good luck, er goodbye,” trilled my hosts as they bid me a tearful farewell at LA international airport, where the big, big engines roar. I was half tempted to finish with the rousing chorus, “LA International airport, I won’t see you anymore”. The elephant in the room, which well-brought up Americans were way too politically correct to discuss, was that morning’s headline, “Cleaning up after Indo-Pak doomsday”, which can be a challenge in the departure lounge, no pun intended.
Julian Barnes came up with the memorable phrase, “Buy a newspaper in America and watch your country disappear”. I faced no such problem with pundits, spin doctors and sundry “experts” eager to share their wit and wisdom on the sub-continent with anyone who would listen. Curiously they all pronounced Pakistan as if it rhymed with Palestine. So even if we think of ourselves as ‘an ancient civilisation/ IT superpower/ world’s largest democracy”, as far as America is concerned, we’re just another Middle Eastern hotspot. How can we blame them when our pathetic foreign policy approach is based on a narrow Indo-Pak binary and an infantile response to Imran Khan?
Ignorance about this part of the world is not confined to the experts; working class grunts are no slouch when it comes to ethnic profiling. Boarding a domestic flight, I had completed the customary security checks, displayed my passport and was in mid-stride on the aerobridge when I heard the magic words, “Step aside, Sir, you’ve been selected”. Visions of front-page headlines with “Indian visitor is millionth passenger, Flies Free for Life,” swam through my head as I stepped forward mentally composing my acceptance speech.
Alas, all I’d been selected for was additional security screening. A plump, middle-aged matron waved a metal detector in the vicinity of my family jewels and asked me how I’d say “Slam Allykum” back in my country. Now Heaven and the seventy vestal virgins waiting there know I’m no better looking than Mr Atta, but surely the name Peter (a handicap conferred on me by a sadistic godfather) should have given her pause for thought. William features as well (courtesy an eccentric godmother) in my blue book on the first page just past the three lions, but one must make allowances for the mentally challenged. I had no problem about “fitting the profile”; what pissed me off was her assumption that I celebrated Eid instead of Christmas.
“Well I could say Slam Allykum, but not with any degree of fervour, since I was born Catholic,” I replied whereupon she practically clasped me to her ample bosom with delighted cries of, “I’m Catholic too, honey. Why didn’t you say so?” “When you looked at my passport, I assumed you could read English,” I replied tersely, as I boarded the plane ignoring the anxious stares of my fellow travellers.
The writer Pico Iyer urges Americans to travel to places like “Beijing, Mexico City or, best of all Damascus”, to broaden their horizons. Our dear leader is currently saying “Howdy” in Houston, hugging Trump and taking notes on how best to deal with cross border termites, but this country would be a far better place if he skipped Texas and spent quality time in Montreal with Justin Trudeau. For a politician, he’s too good to be true: photogenic, great values, proud to be a feminist, wants to legalise marijuana and believes poverty is sexist. He opposes the proposed Quebec Charter of Values, which prohibits public sector employees from displaying “conspicuous” religious symbols, because people should choose between freedom of religion and freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, economic well-being and their acceptance in the workplace.
Dude, that’s precisely what we need, what’s not to like? Instead we have Goyal channel his inner Einstein via maths and gravity while our Finance Minister claims the economy is in the doldrums because millenials prefer Ola and Uber to buying a car. Seriously, she needs a check up from the neck up.