In Pakistan: Dark times, fair brides

Published August 16, 2014
I never understood our obsession with the gora mehboob. -Photo by Reuters
I never understood our obsession with the gora mehboob. -Photo by Reuters

No. No long march. No short march. No freedom rally. No revolution rally. We have had enough of marches and rallies.

Today, I deleted 24 posts from my Facebook page – all on the long march in Islamabad. There were 23 stories on the front page of my favorite news site.

The front and back pages of the two newspapers I ready daily – one English, another Urdu – were also dominated by the same story.

So I pledged to myself that I will not talk about the long march today. By the time I sat down to write this piece, both PAT and PTI rallies had covered half the distance to their destination. The Gujranwala clash had already happened. Imran Khan had repeated his demand for the PM’s resignation. The PM had once again rejected the demand.

In the evening, the rally reached Islamabad. The leaders had returned to the rallies after spending the night at their residences, while the workers braved rain and thunder.

So, there was plenty to write about but I decided not to.

This piece instead, is about my visit to Pakistan last year and about the bleach cream, Fair and Folly.

On my first visit to Pakistan in six years, I noticed a big change. The roads, buildings and trees, all looked different.

Everything had changed, some for better, others for worse.

Even newspaper ads and TV commercials had changed.

Kum bachchay khushal gharana" (fewer kids, more prosperity) had already been rejected as unIslamic while I still lived in Pakistan; replaced with a new slogan: “Barra Khandan, jihad aasan" (bigger family, better jihad).

There you go. Who says Muslims are against family planning? They are just against Western methods. Produce as many as you want. No worries. Just send them to jihad.

But being an old timer, I still missed the past and looked for a hint, a symbol, a gesture that would link me to the old: “Hum toh janen seedhi baat, Sabun ho toh saath sau saath" (707 soap is the best) and "ABC Wool se pehnaaye koi bun ke, toh bus itna samajhna ke pyaar se buna hai" (Use ABC wool for knitting sweaters for the ones you love), were gone too.

I looked hard but did not find any ad or commercial that could link me to my youth, until I came across a popular digest. And there it was, an ad from my past: “Barat kyun wapis chali gai, Dulhan ka rang jo kala tha (Why did the bridal party return without the bride? Because the bride was dark).”

Also read: Why is kali a gali

So much has happened in the last three or four decades, Ziaul Haq came, turned the country upside down and disappeared in flames. Imran Khan won the world cup and made sure that we do not win it again. The Russians entered Afghanistan and left. The Mujahideen and the Taliban came, left and returned. But this search for a gori (fair-skinned) bride remains unchanged, and perhaps, as elusive as it was in our days.

From mister to mullah, from doctors and engineers of our days to today’s militants, everyone wants a gori dulhan (a fair-skinned bride). Those who get a gori leave the front and return home to focus on the other jihad: Barra khandan, jihad aasan.

But I was not surprised that our militants too, were looking for gori wives. Their mentors in Afghanistan did the same when they came to power in the mid 1990s. Of course, being gori is not an issue in Afghanistan where everybody is fair.

Also read: Fair and ugly

There, the search was for a modern, Western looking woman so that they could save her from the hell fire. So when the Taliban were not in power, they wanted to kill all the airhostesses of the Ariana Airlines and the anchors and actresses of Kabul TV. But when in power, they changed their minds, as people in our parts of the world often do, and married them.

I sometimes wonder what’s worse: marrying a Taliban fighter or dying a sudden and painful death.

Some people say that the difference between Punjabi and Urdu-speaking Taliban and the Afghan and Pakhtun Taliban is that of a gori wife.

The Afghans and Pakhtuns have gori wives; the Punjabis do not. So they are forced to do what we all do: look for Fair and Folly Cream.

Some find it. Some don’t because there’s not enough cream in the market to meet everybody’s demand. This shortage of Folly Cream makes the Punjabi Taliban ferocious.

Perhaps if the government focused on producing more Fair and Folly Cream instead of wasting time on military operations, it could quite possibly overcome militancy.

Also read: The complexion obsession

Here in Virginia, a man married a Pakistani-American woman, thinking that she was as desi as desis are. But she proved more American than desi. So he went to a local maulavi sahib and sought his advice on how to control his wife.

“Force her to obey you,” the maulavi sahib said. He did and the marriage ended in divorce.

But the man did not lose his faith in the maulavi sahib and went back to him for more advice. Luckily, I also participated in this brief session.

“Don’t worry. God will give you another wife, a gori chitti,” said the maulavi sahib.

Gori as in a white woman?” I asked.

“No,” said the maulavi sahib, “Apni wali gori (No, our gori).”

Also read: The great white pressure

However, this ad about the dark wife – “Barat kyun wapis chali gai” – was not the only link to the past that I found during this visit.

Traveling on the GT Road, I found other links too: “Maut ka manzar, marnay kay baad kya hoga (What happens after death, a window to the other world) and Jarranwala ki tark-e-afeon golian (buy our pills for getting rid of opium) were still around.

But no “70 salala baba, mehboob aap ke qadmon mein (This 70-year old saint can bring the woman you desire to your feet).”

“Why qadmoon mein (at your feet), why not sitting on a chair next to you?” I once asked a friend.

Qadmoon mein ho, ya amma k ghar, rang gora hona chahye (wherever she is, she must be fair),” the friend replied.

I never understood our obsession with both, gora mehboob and maut ka manzar (fair-skinned wife and death is near).

If this world is so worthless, why do we insist on having a gori chitti?

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