GRUESOMELY FUNNY COMEDY

I do like a witty, uproarious one-liner. Take this one from satirist Karl Sharro, commenting on hurricanes Harvey and Irma hitting the United States in August and September of 2017:

They should call hurricanes names like Mohammed or Fatima, would make it much harder for them to enter the US. – Karl Sharro, tweet from Sep 2017

Understandably there were many who were not amused as it was maybe too soon, and perhaps due to the sheer number of unfortunate people caught up in these disasters. Having said that, it is still a funny line. Another place where I find many a funny line is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Established in 1947, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the world’s largest arts festival and it takes place annually in Edinburgh in bonnie Scotland in the month of August. Last year, 2016, the festival featured 50,266 performances of 3,269 shows in 294 venues, all taking place over a schedule packed 25 days.

Many of these performances include stand up comedy shows featuring comedians from all over the world. For several years now an official list is produced of the funniest jokes from that years festival. Last year the winning joke was:

My dad has suggested that I register for a donor card. He’s a man after my own heart. – Masai Graham

Good one Masai. This year, 2017, the funniest joke at the festival was:

I’m not a fan of the new pound coin, but then again, I hate all change. – Ken Cheng

Again, good one Ken. Whilst this is rather funny and clever, it is the runner up joke that was for me far superior:

Trump’s nothing like Hitler. There’s no way he could write a book. – Frankie Boyle

This savage put down is taken from Frankie Boyle’s recent Edinburgh Festival show, Prometheus Volume One. The Guardian review of the show was itself rather interesting:

The cackling peddler of brutal jokes is not for the faint-hearted, but his new standup show is relentlessly funny. This is an hour of terrifically brutal material but it’s wickedly funny. Joke for joke, and assuming you have a dark sense of humour, this is one of the most relentlessly funny shows around. Sick, cynical, alarmist and bleakly amused, it makes for gruesomely funny comedy. – Brian Logan

Feel free to listen to the entire show yourself. The audio download, just under an hour long, is available for free at from Frankie’s official website. It is also available on YouTube:

I must warn you though, this show, like all shows by Frankie Boyle, is strictly for adults with hardened sensibilities. Despite that, it is still worth listening to in full, just to watch a master craftsman at work, just to hear Boyle move effortlessly from making a disgustingly crude remark to making a devilishly clever political comment.

To add to the Trump/Hitler line above, I have transcribed some of the best moments from this rather superb stand up comedy performance. I could quite easily have transcribed the entire show, but I have instead tried my best to narrow it down to my favourite jokes, which have been cleaned up somewhat. And, yes, regular readers of this blog (surely there must be one or two of you out there by now) will have read some of the quotes before in previous blog posts, but they are repeated again nonetheless as they are rather brilliant. Enjoy!


Frankie Boyle Ticket

I am from Glasgow, a city where people think that hepatitis B is a vitamin.

There was a study of the worlds happiest cities. Glasgow was right up near the top. What we can learn from that is that researchers do not understand sarcasm.

Why do they call the Queen ‘Her Majesty’? Is she majestic? Really? I think of an eagle as being majestic, not a shuffling old woman who hasn’t cracked a smile since Diana died.

The Queen has two birthdays a year, one each for her human and lizard forms.

I want the Queen to live a long life because the longer she lives the more days we get off on holiday when she dies. At the moment she is a long weekend, God bless her. If she makes it to a hundred, we’re going to get a week off.

I understand there are two points of view. There are people who say the Royals are a good thing, they bring in tourists. Then there’s my point of view, which is maybe if we concentrated on having a country worth visiting we wouldn’t have to parade the products of incest around the West End of London to try and sell fridge magnets.

Prince William and Prince Harry have been fronting a campaign urging people to talk more about their mental health. It’s been very well received. Everybody thinks that this is a great idea. I wonder if Prince Harry ever spares a thought for the mental health of the families of the various shepherds that he gunned down from his 20 million pound death helicopter in Afghanistan. I wonder how he justifies that to himself. “I pictured Dodi’s face on every shepherd I killed. Every Arab we shot serves my mother in hell. I know that Afghans aren’t Arabs but I, Prince Harry, in this joke, believe that they are.” That’s Britain, exporting peace and democracy to the world, and what says peace and democracy more than being shot dead from a helicopter by a prince.

The Tories hate coming second, which is why they only fuck kids.

Theresa May is the first Nazi in history who can’t get the trains to run on time.

When Ian Brady died Theresa May didn’t move on the list of Britain’s ten worst people, whereas I went up one.

I don’t trust the Democratic Unionist Party. I don’t trust anyone who has got the word ‘democratic’ in their name. Isn’t that a given? What’s that doing in there? It’s like calling yourself a non-rapist hypnotist.

I don’t really watch telly, I tend to watch YouTube, which has been ruined by adverts. Apparently there’s something about me spending 5 hours watching pensioners falling over that suggests that I am in the market for a brand new Lexus.

Frankie Boyle Prometheus

Do you know a real problem for comedians? And it never really gets mentioned. Most people don’t have a sense of humor. Most people. I can remember when I first realized this. I was 13, I was at school, we were doing a class on stereotypes and the teacher was a really good guy, he was just talking about how stupid stereotypes are. And he was talking about a stereotype that day that’s so old-fashioned, that’s so Scottish, unless you’re my age and you’re from here, you won’t have heard this. Have you ever heard the stereotype that deaf people are really strong? That was a genuine thing when I was growing up. Deaf people, and particularly deaf and dumb people, for some reason were believed to be really strong. And the teacher said “Think how stupid that is. You ever seen a deaf contender for the heavyweight championship of the world?” And me, age 13, I put my hand up and I went “There was one sir, but he was disqualified for punching after the bell.” And nobody laughed, and I knew right then that life was going to feel pretty long.

The only way you can really tell if you’ve done your job properly as a comedian is: are you silenced by the security services? That’s the test. Are you silenced by the security services? So if you ever open up your morning newspaper and see that I’ve been found hanged on the back of a hotel room door with an orange in my mouth, at least you’ll know the security services didn’t get to me.

I think people get the wrong idea about me and they think I’m depressed or something. I’m not depressed. I don’t wish that I was dead. I wish…that YOU were all dead.

America is getting scary, isn’t it? Like properly scary. Donald Trump to me looks like someone playing a president in a porno. Would you bother with the hair if you looked like him? If you had the face like a novelty jug that was made in a secure unit pottery class? Surely the hair is like putting 26-inch rims on a wheelie bin. Do you remember when you thought that George Bush was the bottom? Remember that? That’s the bottom, a guy that is so stupid he can’t really speak. Turns out there’s a whole thing underneath that, it goes all the way down to a guy who looks like a melted action figure of He-Man. He doesn’t really have policies, they’re more the sort of things a drunk would shout on a bus when he gets shaken awake by a pothole. “Build a wall!”

I got my next-door neighbor to build a wall and pay for it and all it cost me was the price of a thong to sunbathe in.

That American election, that might turn out to be the biggest decision since the Second World War. I don’t know about you but any time I hear that there’s a big decision to be taken, I often think to myself “I hope no Americans are involved in taking that decision. I hope no one from a country that made eight Fast And The Furious movies gets any say in this. I hope nobody who finds James Corden funny…”

Americans were fucked whoever they voted for. Hillary Clinton was a murderous psychopath. The whole election was a bit like watching the Elephant Man trying to decide which side to part his hair.

I had two problems with Hillary Clinton’s attitude. The first one was her brand of feminism. She didn’t agree with female genital mutilation, unless it had been performed by an American drone. And I can’t get behind that because I struggle to find the clitoris at the best of times, without having to paw through the rubble of Kandahar.

That’s relationships. “Oh, you seem nice.” “Yeah, that’s because I’m trying to seem nice. Wait till you move in and find out I’ve got the mood swings of a Vietnam vet.” I think we’re in relationships because we don’t want to die alone, which is why I’ve always planned on taking quite a few people with me.

Trump’s so stupid he’ll change what the word ‘presidential’ means. I think in a couple of years time people will be going “My uncle fell over and banged his head on a kerb. He’s been rendered completely presidential.”

Trump, on the first day of the FBI investigation, genuinely said “Every time I pick up a phone I feel like someone is listening.”

Trump went to Saudi Arabia on his first foreign trip. Melania saw how women were being treated in Saudi Arabia and tried to claim asylum.

I don’t trust our Brexit negotiating team. I think out Brexit negotiating team would end up paying full price on a DFS sofa.

I think the funniest thing about Brexit is that UKIP have had to reposition themselves, because they got what they wanted, they got out of the EU. Nobody gives a fuck about their other positions. It’s like hearing ISIS’s position on wheelie bins. So they have had to reinvent themselves as the party of Islamophobia, and they are doing that by expressing solidarity for groups that they think Islam discriminates against. So now they talk about women’s rights and gay rights and all this kind of stuff. Imagine that? Imagine you are in UKIP, you’re basically a BNP member who can afford van insurance, and you’ve suddenly got to pretend that you care about gay rights. “You know what the problem is in Britain Steve? It’s that I can’t suck your cock because of Sharia law. I’m going to suck it mate, it’s not a gay thing, it’s purely an act of political protest.”

Do you know what UKIP are saying is their reason they want to ban the burka now? They’re saying they are worried those women aren’t getting enough vitamin D. “Yeah, because you need really strong bones for fucking off back where you came from.”

I think Britain is racist because it doesn’t understand it’s own history. Two thirds of British people think the Empire was a good thing. Not only was it an evil thing, it wasn’t even a rational thing. The Victorians were all on cocaine. All of them. Queen Victoria was on cocaine, and not the shit you take. You’ve never done a line and gone “Let’s invade India.”

Americans do need to worry about refugees, because a refugee in America might get involved in a mass shooting, just to try to fit in.

I honestly think there will be peace in the Middle East once the oil runs out, although knowing their luck someone will invent a replacement that involves mixing sand with falafel.

I think the way Britain works is that we minimize what we do to other countries and we maximize terrorist threats to us, because people are easier to control when they’re a bit frightened…We minimize what we do to other people. We say we have these precision-guided bombing missions, we have laser-guided precision bombs. You can’t be precise if what you’re delivering is high explosives…There’s no point finding the clitoris if what you’re finding it with is an uppercut.

My uncle always said “Do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” He did heroin.

My uncle died recently surrounded by his friends and family. We knew he was claustrophobic and we all hated him.

I don’t like celebrity atheists. I think religions have done some good things. The Quakers fought against the Vietnam war. Liberation theology in central America, they all got killed just for standing up for poor people. And what is their reward? To be looked down on by Ricky Gervais. I don’t need Ricky Gervais to tell me that God doesn’t exist when I watched Derek get recommissioned. Twice.

I was walking down the street the other day and I saw a homeless guy. I went to give him some money and I realized that I only had a 20 pound note. And I thought do I really want this money being spent on drugs? And I decided that I didn’t, so I gave it to the homeless guy.

Advertisements

HONESTLY, ISLAM IS NOT THE BOGEYMAN

Munira Ahmed
The Munira Ahmed poster by Shepard Fairey, used in many an anti-Trump rally.

Say what you dislike about Trump but the guy does keep his options open, especially when it comes to choosing an enemy. He has got so many: Wiretapping Obama, Crooked Hillary, the mainstream media, North Korea, left-leaning Republicans, all Democrats, most Mexicans, women he finds unattractive, inner city residents (i.e. black people), immigrants, the alt-left, and of course Muslims. Under Trump Islamophobia is definitely on the rise. Unfortunately under Trump hatred, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and all types of bigotry are also on the rise.

There are brief moments, however, when America does seem to come together, where a united sense of humanity shines through. The recent natural disasters have brought out the best in many locals who have been hailed as heroes, including many who are likely to be affected by Trumps recent retractment of the Dreamers program, which looks set to deport some 800,000 young immigrants.

Another moment of ephemeral unity was during the recent eclipse that spectacularly arced across America. All the unnatural man made divisions were overshadowed, literally and metaphorically, by a once in a lifetime natural event. However, as soon as the the eclipse passed the divisions returned.

eclipse

Likewise, just when you think there is a temporary feeling of collective order, Trump is sure to come along and destroy it. Take his reaction to the Charlottesville Nazi march. Denouncing Nazis should be presidential 101, but Trump clearly had other ideas, as noted quite scarily by Trevor Noah:

Seven months into his term—41 months to go, by the way—and the president of the United States has officially legitimized white supremacists. Basically saying we need to see things from the Nazis’ point of view. You know, march a mile in their boots…Here’s the thing: if so many of Trump’s supporters are willing to give Nazis the benefit of the doubt, then clearly anything goes. There is no line that they won’t cross and, clearly, no cross that they won’t burn. – Trevor Noah, 21 Aug 2017

An anti-fascist protester was killed during this rally by a Nazi sympathiser. 32 year old Heather Heyer was killed when a car drove into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville. One of her Facebook posts, written last year, read simply: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” The comment went viral after being shared on social media in her honour.

Heather Heyer

The former president, Barak Obama, responded somewhat differently to Trump. Obama tweeted a quote from Nelson Mandela, a tweet that, at the time of writing, is the most liked ever.

The full quote is:

No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite. – Nelson Mandela, from the book Long Walk To Freedom

Another relevant quote related to Charlottesville came in the form of a sign held by an anti-fascist protester. The sign quoted Martin Luther King Jr:

MLK Burden

I have decided to stick to love. Hate is too great a burden to bear. – Martin Luther King Jr

As I have blogged many times before hate comes in many shapes, sizes, colours, and forms. In Newcastle hate is Pakistani Muslim men who groom young white girls. In parts of India hate is Hindu mobs killing Muslims suspected of eating beef. In Burma hate is the army committing genocide against Rohingya Muslims. In Minnesota hate is the bombing of a mosque (Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton declared the mosque bombing an act of terrorism, even if the President was deafeningly silent on the matter). In Yemen hate is cholera and starvation caused by the military actions of Saudi Arabia against civilians.

This list of hate unfortunately goes on and on. All of this makes it so hard to make any sense of the divided, dysfunctional state of our world. What people like Trump need to understand is that Islam is not the bogeyman, something that I believe he knows, but something that he uses to get what he wants. In pre-election times Islam was the bogeyman that Trump used to get him in power, as noted by crime fiction writer Ausma Zehanat Khan:

The rhetoric that ramps up in the United States during an election cycle has certainly affected me. As an election approaches there’s this search for bogeymen to invoke fear and rally people around a cause. I see a great deal of anti-Muslim rhetoric, to the point of anti-Muslim racism; a tremendous amount of bigotry fueled by demagogic statements by presidential candidates. Those statements score political points—they rally the base or an extreme section of it—and they also have very real consequences for the lived realities of Muslims in the United States. – Ausma Zehanat Khan, 02 Feb 2016, from an interview with macleans.ca

Now that Trump is in power, he needs hate, he needs enemies, he needs bogeymen to help him stay on in power. Not only are there political gains to be made in such ways, but financial ones too. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf historically delves into this concept a little further:

Duncan MacDonald [an American Orientalist] said that the three great civilizations on this planet are the Sinic, the Islamic, and the Christian. Until they find a way of living together harmoniously, we’re always going to be faced with the threat of these civilizations clashing. He wrote that in 1906, I think. We’ve been clashing for a long time. I think partly there are forces working on the world that don’t mind those clashes because they make a lot of money out of them. We have a huge armaments industry, the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned this country about. I think they need bogeymen to scare people into having half their taxes going to military budgets. I’m as cynical as believing that they really don’t mind. I think they have some sociopathic tendencies that human suffering doesn’t seem to bother them a whole lot. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, from an interview in The Cairo Review, Number 19, Fall 2015

Delving even further, the brilliant journalist Ramzy Baroud wrote an excellent article in which he clearly laid out the logical reasons as to why Muslims are not the enemy America thinks they are:

Anti-Arab and Muslim sentiments in the US have been around for generations, but it has risen sharply in the last two decades. Arabs and Muslims have become an easy scapegoat for all of America’s failed wars and counter-violence. Terrorist threats have been exaggerated beyond belief to manipulate a frightened, but also a growing impoverished population. The threat level was assigned colors, and each time the color vacillated towards the red, the nation drops all of its grievances, fights for equality, jobs and health care and unites in hating Muslims, people they never met…Blaming Muslims for the decline of the American empire is as ineffective as it is dishonest…Americans, Muslims are not your enemy. They never have been. Conformity is. – Ramzy Baroud, 13 Jul 2017, counterpunch.org, from an article entitled Fighting The Wrong Enemy: Why Americans Hate Muslims

Islam Hill

Muslims pray during the Islam On Capitol Hill 2009 event at the West Front Lawn of the US Capitol in Washington, 25 Sep 2009.

Another journalist, Jennifer Williams, shares similar sentiments in a detailed article on the history of Islam in America, where she too warns of the growing negative views Muslims face in the States:

Islam’s roots in America go back to the Founding Fathers…Despite their long and rich history as an integral part of American society going all the way back to the founding of our nation, many Muslim Americans in 2017 continue to be treated as unwelcome foreigners. That is not a universal sentiment, to be sure, but neither is it a tiny fringe belief. – Jennifer Williams, 29 Jan 2017, vox.com, from an article entitled A Brief History Of Islam In America

I am hoping this blog post somewhat convinces certain people that the hate they feel for all things Islamic and for all Muslims is deliberately manufactured by some for a specific reason and, even when you think the hate is real, it is grossly misplaced. If further convincing is still needed then I leave you with this 16 minute film about Muslims living in Dearborn, Michigan. The people of this community embody what it means to be a Muslim in the USA today, and the film honestly captures their daily fears and their hopes for a better future:

YOU CAN’T KNOW PAKISTAN UNLESS YOU KNOW PARTITION

Dubai Pakistan

Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest skyscraper in the world, lit up with the colours of the Pakistani flag to celebrate the 70th independence anniversary of Pakistan, 14th August 2017

Despite the fact that I am British born and bred (I cried when England lost in the 1990 World Cup semi-final against those bloody Germans), Pakistan is never too far from my mind. My parents are from there, as are many other relatives. A large part of my language, clothing, food, culture, and customs comes from the mother land. Even as I write this blog I am wearing black jeans and a salmon coloured kameez, and I know I have kebabs and curry to look forward to for my dinner. On an almost daily basis I will see the flag of Pakistan somewhere on the streets of Birmingham, and should someone ask me where I am from originally, from ‘back home’, the answer given will be Pakistan. Add to this the fact that my neighbours recently came back from a two week holiday in Pakistan (which they loved).

Aside from my personal links to Pakistan, the Islamic Republic is always in the news, and 2017 in particular has been an intense news-worthy year for Pakistan. Here are just some of the things that have happened so far this year:

  • Pakistan were crowned International Cricket Council Champions, beating arch rivals India in the final, during the holy month of Ramadhaan.

Hasan Ali

Pakistani cricketer Hasan Ali celebrates taking a wicket against South Africa.

  • Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was forced to resign after he was disqualified from office by the Supreme Court, which dismissed him after a damning corruption probe into his family wealth. The whole affair is more commonly known as ‘fontgate’.
  • One of the most controversial trials in Pakistani history ended with the former military dictator Pervez Musharraf declared a fugitive and his property ordered confiscated after he failed to show in court over the assassination 10 years ago of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
  • Malala Yousafzai, the unofficial daughter and voice of Pakistan, was awarded an honorary Canadian citizenship, she became the youngest person to address the House of Commons of Canada, she gained a place at Oxford University to study a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, she was recognised as the youngest ever United Nations Messenger of Peace, she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Ottawa, and she was awarded the Ellis Island International Medal of Honor.
  • Trouble in Kashmir still rages on, with constant clashes between Kashmiri youth and Indian security forces.
  • Monsoon floods have hit much of the Indian subcontinent, including parts of Pakistan, with at least 23 dead in Karachi after torrential rains. This despite the fact that earlier this year parts of Pakistan were experiencing drought.
  • The issue of transgender rights has taken off this year in Pakistan in a big way.
  • An oil truck fire tragically killed over 150 people, with many of the victims dying as they tried to steal petrol from the over turned tanker as it exploded.
  • Pakistan continues to strengthen ties with China, both political and financial (Pakistan’s close relationship with China goes back to 1950, when it became one of the first countries to recognise the new communist regime).
  • Whilst America deals with the all too real Hurricane Harvey, Pakistan was hit recently by the words of Hurricane Trump, who accused Pakistan of not doing enough in the war on terror. His uninformed outburst led to the following letter in the Daily Times of Pakistan

Sir: Pakistan has suffered more losses than American in the war on terror. Pakistan’s war on terror has cost $118 billion; according to the State Bank of Pakistan. About 5,498 Pakistani soldiers have lost their lives compared to 2,386 American soldiers in Afghanistan. A total of 80,000 Pakistanis have been killed in the US-led war on terror. Besides, the war badly affected Foreign Direct Investment in the country. For instance, the total FDI during the Musharraf regime was $18 billion. It reached to only $6 billion between 2008 and 2015. Moreover, five million people, from 2004 to 2014, have been displaced, according to the International Displacement Centre. Instead of accusing Pakistan of harboring terrorists, Trump should realize that Pakistan is also a victim of terrorism and is committed to addressing the issue. Saddam Hussain Samo, Karachi

Stern words indeed. However, the main news story for Pakistan in 2017 is surely the 70th anniversary of the partition. Aside from the expected celebrations, we’ve had books such as Inglorious Empire: What The British Did To India by Shashi Tharoor, and the highly rated Partition: The Story Of Indian Independence And The Creation Of Pakistan In 1947 by Barney White-Spunner.

Partition Cover

We’ve even had a movie. Viceroy’s House (2017) is directed by Gurinder Chadha, who has also directed Bride & Prejudice (2004), Bend It Like Beckham (2002), and Bhaji On The Beach (1993).

Whilst the New York Times called it “a handsome, fleet look at the months leading up to India’s independence from Britain in 1947…a great screen epic…impeccable production design and some fine performances”, the writer Fatima Bhutto (granddaughter of Prime Minister Zulfikar, niece of Prime Minister Benazir and the daughter of Murtaza, all three of whom were murdered or executed) was considerably more scathing. In a Guardian article she wrote: “If this servile pantomime of partition is the only story that can be told of our past, then it is a sorry testament to how intensely empire continues to run in the minds of some today.” The full article is well worth reading, as is the response from Gurinder Chadha.

The partition of India was a major reshaping of geo-political boundaries that still shakes the world to this day. Two nuclear powers now live side-by-side, sharing a very hostile 2,000 mile border, all in the shadow of partition. To mark such a momentous historical event, the BBC have made a series of brilliant documentaries as part of their 70 Years On: Partition Stories project. The documentaries should still be available on BBC iPlayer, if not then YouTube should have them in some form.

One of the interesting facts I learned from watching these documentaries was that the birthplace of Pakistan was the university city of Cambridge, 3 Humberstone Road to be more precise. This is where the word ‘Pakistan’ was first written down in 1933 by a student named Chaudhry Rehmat Ali. He coined the word in that particular way because each letter stands for a different part of Pakistan: P is for Punjab, A is for Afghanistan (or the North-West Frontier province), K is for Kashmir, S is for Sind, and the remaining ‘tan’ is for Baluchistan. An ‘i’ was added to ease pronunciation (as in Afghan-i-stan). Overall, the name itself means ‘land of the pure’, which is why it had this powerful ideological resonance that made it popular so very quickly.

All the documentaries are worth watching. Each one, in its own way, attempts to lance the boil of all those negative myths about the creation of Pakistan. Details of these documentaries are presented below, along with a selection of quotes that hopefully avoid the cheap narratives that many of us have of Pakistan as a land of bombs, burkas, floods, drones, and the last residence of the worlds most wanted terrorist. As much as one can, enjoy…


My Family, Partition And Me: India 1947

A two part documentary first shown on BBC Two on 09 Aug 2017. Anita Rani presents the extraordinary and emotional stories of three British families – one Muslim, one Hindu, and one British colonial – who lived in India 70 years ago, at the time of partition. Anita begins her own partition journey as she and her mother Lucky become the first members of their family to return to what is now Pakistan since the partition of India. In the Punjabi village where her Sikh grandfather’s first family were slaughtered, Anita meets locals who were eyewitnesses to that terrible event.


Dangerous Borders: A Journey Across India & Pakistan

A three part documentary first shown on BBC Two on 14 Aug 2017. Journalists Babita Sharma and Adnan Sarwar go on their epic journey along the still-contentious border that divides India and Pakistan. 70 years after the partition they travel either side of the 2,000-mile border to discover the realities of the lives there. During their travels they encounter Pakistani female boxers, an all woman motorcycle group in India, militant protestors in Kashmir, Sufi mystics in Lahore, fashion designers in Karachi, Sikh separatists in Amritsar, low caste salt farmers, a Charlie Chaplin festival in Adipur, and many others.

QUOTES…

The first statement of Churchill after India got independence in 1947 was that India is not going to survive because there is nothing which unifies it.

I have met a lot of British who come here to India, they ask me the same question, “Do you feel that we were responsible for this?” I say, “Yes, when you were ruling this place. And if you leave a country which is divided, the ruler has to take the onus on. You cannot say that ‘We were not responsible.’ You were.”

Partition is the reality of this country. It’s the way this country was born. It’s in these people. You can’t know Pakistan unless you know partition.

It is estimated that up to two million Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus died and over 14 million people were forced to move during partition. You should know the history of people to understand where they are now. Maybe if you don’t understand the way Pakistanis and Indians are, why they are always angry with each other, why they are always arguing with each other, just go back a little bit and have a look at partition. It’s the complete desperation of it.

Seven decades of bitter separation have cost both Pakistan and India dearly. Not just in terms of military spending and lost lives, but also at the cost of trade, which would massively benefit the two nations. On this journey, I’ve seen so many reasons to be positive, and it’s all down to the people that I’ve met, who, despite all the problems, are just getting on with things and moving this country forward into the 21st century. The Pakistan that I’ve met today is a young country, it’s a 70-year-old country, and it’s trying to work itself out. It’s trying to work itself out with that really awkward conversation it’s got to have with its neighbour. About how they fell out 70 years ago. I’m leaving Pakistan with a real sense of optimism for the future. And not just for this country, but for myself, as a British Pakistani. This is the end of my journey here in Pakistan. It’s not the end of my relationship with Pakistan. I feel more of a Pakistani, feel like it’s more of me, and I feel like it’s just going to get more and more deeper as I visit this country more. This is a part of me.


Seven Days In Summer: Countdown To Partition

A one part documentary first shown on BBC Two on 15 Aug 2017. This documentary tells the story of the seven days that led up to the independence of India, the creation of Pakistan, and the last days of the British Raj. It moves through each dramatic day, drawing on oral histories of survivors who were eye witnesses to the complex human tragedy that unfolded.

QUOTES…

Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Queen’s uncle, was sent to Delhi as the last Viceroy. Mountbatten was sent out to effect a peaceful and rapid transfer of power. But, in reality, it wasn’t like that at all because, on the ground, there was already quite a lot of violence occurring between the main religious communities.

For centuries, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs had shared the country, but with British rule weakening, conflict had erupted between the Hindus and the Sikhs on one side and the minority Muslims on the other.

For people on the ground, it looks completely different. They are dealing with bloodshed, uncertainty, rumours, anxiety. So there’s a real disconnect between what’s happening in Delhi and what people are actually experiencing.

Ordinary people had no clue as to what was going on. Imagine being in the village, where your access to news is so limited. What would come to you would be by word-of-mouth, hearsay, rumour. And there were so many decisions to make. Would they stay where they are, would they be travelling? Where would they be travelling to?

It’s really hard to imagine now what it must be like to say to somebody, “You’ve got to go and leave everything, leave your house, your property, your friends, your community, everything.” Older people, especially, are quite often digging their heels in and they say, “Well, I’ve been here all my life, why should I leave? My ancestors are buried here. This is the land that I have tilled. I’m not going to move.” But others are leaving, because of anticipation of violence and because of sheer uncertainty about what’s happening and what’s going on. It’s heartbreaking for people to be making these decisions. They had to leave property behind, they had to leave families behind and just embark on an unknown journey. It must have been absolutely traumatic.

Many people imagined they would come back, so they left their keys with their neighbours, buried things in their courtyards and they said, “Right, I will come back. I’m just going temporarily, for safety.” But, of course, they didn’t. They never came back.

For many, the move meant uprooting their lives. But no sacrifice was too great to make for their religious freedom. Nobody had a clue that there would be this exodus. Somebody said, “Well, “there’ll be a few thousands moving here and there.” Mountbatten said some of the educated might leave. But the scale of the movement was absolutely unforeseen by everyone involved in the partition. There are 12 to 15 million people on the move. It’s one of the biggest refugee migrations of the 20th century.

Imagine what it’s like to be one of these refugees. They’re trudging miles and miles along those hard, dusty roads. There are rumours that the wells have been poisoned, so it’s hard to get water. People are giving birth along the road, people are dying along the road and, constantly, over everything, is this fear that the other side are going to swoop down and attack while you’re passing through their territory.

The British are not saying anything. They’re not interested. They’re ready to get on to their boats and planes and be back in Britain. There is absolutely no instruction, no orders, no directions coming down from the British. They have washed their hands of India.

Some people are moving literally because they’re running for their lives. Their friends have been attacked, so they’re really on the run. But others are far more moving along ideological lines. People are thinking, “Do I believe in this new state enough to go and risk moving there? Am I really going to have a better job there? Are things really going to be as bright as the propaganda is suggesting?”

The common understanding of the violence in the villages is that suddenly Hindus and Muslims picked up pitchforks and started attacking one another, even neighbours who’d lived side-by-side for generations. But that was only a small part of the violence. Really, what made the violence take off and expand and grow so large, was that it was organised. There are small groups of militia bands, oftentimes ex-soldiers armed with weapons, that would go round from village to village, gather up other supporters, so a band of 50 might become 500, might become 5,000, then they would attack and they would wipe out entire villages.

For women, the partition is a tragedy of epic proportions, because tens of thousands of women are raped and there’s terrible sexual violence against women. Women have really hard lives in India before independence. They are like property in many ways. But they’re also the upholders of the family honour. And if women are raped or violated, that’s seen as bringing not just shame on them but on the whole community, on their whole society. And so it becomes a weapon of war, used by both sides very extensively, because the women themselves are seen almost somehow as symbols of these new nation states, and so it’s a horrific situation where women’s bodies are actually being used to kind of mark out and create the new states.

The feeling that you might actually risk your women falling into the hands of the enemy, to the other, was so shameful, such a taboo, that some men would rather kill their daughters or their wives than actually have them fall into the hands of the other. There was a sense, a really profoundly misogynist sense, that a woman’s chastity was worth more than her life.

The death and destruction in the week leading up to partition is spreading, dividing and destroying hundreds of thousands of families across Punjab. I don’t think the British had any idea about the scale of violence that was going to take place in 1947. So, in that sense, the British really didn’t understand, I don’t think, the nature of the implications of what they were proposing in the partition of India.

Now, with the clock running out, thousands of details, large and small, are still up in the air. Nobody’s ever done anything like this before and it’s absolutely astonishing in its recklessness. There is no sense of how this is going to be done. This whole process is a good example of just how difficult it is to split any political entity, this big, that has been held together for so long. It involved everything from the big questions of who is going to get how many fighter planes from the Indian army, of currency, who is going to print it and how, to the smallest things, the police band, who is going to get which instruments from it. We see the division of the army, we see some of the great treasures of archaeological India being divided down to the actual beads on necklaces. We see the encyclopaedias being divided, sometimes, by letter in the alphabet. The pettiness is astonishing. I mean, rugs, ceiling fans, cutlery, pieces of stationery, boxes of paper clips. I mean, things were being counted out with forensic detail. There was a ratio of 4:1, India-Pakistan, because of the respective size of the countries, and so these things were being kind of carved out.

One of the most poignant elements of this moment is, where are the so-called insane going to go? There is a very major insane asylum in Lahore. It has Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. And it opens up this absurd bureaucratic debate – do the mad, who have been certified as people who do not belong to society, should they also be now divided up as Indians or Pakistanis?

What is so peculiar and unique for this time is the fact that almost everyone is drawn into this macabre narrative of violence. The ordinary householder going about their business, the regular professional man, everyone is baying for blood, everyone’s out there on the streets and ready to attack the rival community.

How do you know how you will react under this kind of pressure? At a time of such great chaos, where there’s a total breakdown of law and order? You may never envisage that you could be someone who kills someone and yet that is what happened…But, equally, there are stories at this time of extreme bravery, where people really put themselves on the line to protect people.

Partition, when it became inevitable, could have happened in a different way. It could have been more organised, it could have been dragged over time and people could have moved in a manner that was more safe and secure, over a period of months or maybe even a year. It was the rush of partition that created the tragedy, not just the partition itself.

It was hard for anyone, if you were faced with the mob from your own community, to resist that. Even if you didn’t want to participate in the killing yourself, for individuals to try and stand against this was virtually impossible, so the best they could do – and many, many people did do this – was to shelter friends or neighbours, individually try and get them away to safety.

The rail network has always been seen as one of the great successes of Britain’s Indian Empire. But now, with only three days before the Raj is finally over, trains are becoming the dark symbol of its chaotic end. This is when killers on all sides begin to discover that they provide the perfect means to identify and destroy the enemy. The direction that you’re travelling in gave off your ethnic identity, because if you’re travelling towards Pakistan, you must be Muslim. If you’re travelling from Pakistan towards India, you must be either a Hindu or Sikh. And this week leading up to independence is when train massacres really start in earnest. Trains become the centre of violence in this period. Targeting people who are moving from one part of the country to another in the hope of safety, in the hope of being with their co-religionists, but this becomes the most perilous journey of their lives and the carnage is excessive and complete and bloody. The violence on the trains is absolutely horrific. These are contained spaces and people can’t run out, as they’re attacked. The perpetrators just move from carriage to carriage, hacking people to death as they move along. And, as the train pulled into its destination, almost completely, the entire train would be full of corpses. As the massacre spread, whether your train is attacked or reaches its destination safely is just a question of fate.

In the space of the train carriage, what happens is your identity became reduced, largely to your religion. You might be a civil servant, you might be a teacher, you might be a gardener, but at that moment you become a Hindu, a Muslim, a Sikh, a Christian and I think that is a really important facet of the violence because it reduced people’s identities to that of religion and it meant that they became targets for systematic religious violence.

There are some people who don’t agree that their identity is just about being Hindu, Sikh or Muslim and there are people who are trying to bring peace, who are trying to bring people together and they are just sort of drowned out, really, by the wave of hostility and violence that takes place.

It was the madness that was around the people, religious fanaticism and then it’s a vicious circle. It’s a very sad thing. The partition of this country was a misfortune for humanity.

Somehow, all these leaders had convinced themselves that it was not going to be as big a deal as it was. That it could be managed. This kind of enormous, nation-breaking, continent-splitting project could be managed without vast loss of life, without vast crisis and, of course, they were wrong.

Nehru and Jinnah are about to become leaders of these new countries and to have control over them but, actually, they’re worried about the states they are going to inherit. Everything that these men had fought for their whole adult lives was now coming apart at the seams, so they are really traumatised, these leaders, by what’s happening, but they just keep going, really because what else can they do? The agreement has been made with the British, independence is coming, come what may, and they have to just keep ploughing ahead.

Why would somebody just carrying on a normal profession in their daily lives be suddenly eager to kill as many members of the other community as they wished to? That, in a sense, for us, seems like madness.

It’s one of the really dark mysteries at the heart of partition, is why ordinary people could turn into killers. I think the best answer that we have is that people were just so whipped up through demonisation of the other and the sense that you have to kill or be killed, that they were fulling themselves into thinking they were killing in self-defence.

Partition turns just regular people into killers and that’s a chilling thing to think of…If you’re caught up in those times, that is the only way in which you can defend your communities. Attack becomes the only form of defence…This is not to justify, of course, what went on, but this is what was going through people’s minds.

Jinnah is happy that he’s achieved a separate state, but, at the same time, there’s this lingering doubt, because Pakistan is really trying to rise from the ashes at this time. I mean, it’s not actually a fully functioning state. One in five people is a refugee in West Pakistan. So, there’s a paradox there, because, on one hand, people want to celebrate independence but, at the same time, it’s starting them in the face that millions have been moved and this terrible death and destruction and it’s not just been done to them, they’ve also been acting out and involved in that violence themselves.

People are rejoicing, ready to welcome their long-awaited liberty. There was unbounded joy…After decades of doing everything they could to make sure this day would never come, the British have planned an elaborate handover ceremony tomorrow, in Delhi. But, for the 100,000 refugees crowding into camps around the capital, there is little to celebrate. These refugees, who’ve lost so much in the run-up to independence, don’t fit in with the upbeat narrative of the day. The British, were, of course, keen to orchestrate these images of a smooth transfer of power. You know, the whole thing was so well orchestrated, it was a spectacle. But, in reality, these smooth narratives of the transfer of power really need to be placed alongside these individual stories of trauma, of uprootment, of migration and violence, of killings and murder. And this was the reality of what was going on in some parts of India.

On 15th August, 1947, Britain’s Indian Empire was over. India and Pakistan were now independent, although the border between them, the Radcliffe Line, would still not be announced for another two days. Britain proclaimed to the world that the handover of power had been a great success.

Independence meant different things for different people. For the Indian elite, independence was a great moment of celebration. But, for the poverty stricken man who’s been uprooted and has migrated over miles, who has lost his means of livelihood, lost property, what does independence mean? It means absolutely nothing.

One of the legacies of partition was the way in which violence scaled up from being about individuals, but families, about conflict between communities and religions, into something much bigger, violence between armies, violence between nations. This one week transformed the world we live in today. If you look at Pakistan and India right now, this border that was created in this week is the most dangerous border in the world.

For me, the tragedy is that the war has never ended. It’s really become a cold war, at times it’s been a hot war, there have been three wars between the countries. So, really, we’re still seeing that fight that went on in 1947, replayed and replayed. It’s never really come to an end. Memories of that time still echo and rebound now, in that relationship between the two countries.


India’s Partition: The Forgotten Story

A one part documentary first shown on BBC Two on 22 Aug 2017. British film-maker Gurinder Chadha, director of Bend It Like Beckham and Viceroy’s House, travels from Southall to Delhi to find out about the partition of India – one of the most seismic events of the 20th century.

QUOTES…

Growing up in an Indian or Pakistani family, there’s one piece of history that we all know about. It’s an event that’s had a huge impact on all our lives. The partition of India. In 1947, the British divided India in two, creating a newly independent India, and a new country, Pakistan. People of different faiths turned on each other. 17 million people became refugees overnight. And over a million lost their lives. It was a seismic event that tore apart millions of lives including my own family’s. But why did this happen? Like so much of history, the answer depends on who gets to tell it.

After six years of World War II, Britain was bankrupt and India was a massive drain on British resources. So the British announced elections for an Indian national government, to help them run the country in the lead up to independence. But these elections would divide the Indian people even further along religious lines. While Congress campaigned for a united India, the Muslim League declared that a vote for them was a vote for Pakistan. But Hindu hardliners dismissed Pakistan as an absurd concept. These were the elections that really brought religion into politics. By taking up the slogan of ‘a vote for Pakistan is a vote for Islam’, Jinnah changed everything. Once he started that kind of sloganeering, other communities started questioning themselves. You had the Sikhs calling for their own separate homeland. This was not what the Indian Congress had been fighting for. Religious identity was being used by all parties to turn the Indian people against each other.

There was a perception that matters were spiralling out of control. The British felt that they didn’t want to be holding the reins while this happened. They didn’t want to be blamed. Therefore, they thought, if they made their exit sooner rather than later, the Indians could kill themselves, and it wouldn’t be the British’s problem. That seems a cynical way of putting it, but I think, almost certainly, that seems to have been their thinking. They were rats leaving a sinking ship…The British scuttled. They actually sank the ship first. And then they swam away from it.

Nobody was happy with the Mountbatten plan. The Muslims ended up with a Pakistan which they called “moth-eaten.” The Hindus ended up with a divided India. And the Sikhs lost huge tracts of their religious and holy lands. Everybody was unhappy, except the British, who couldn’t wait to get out fast enough.

The day after independence, the precise details of the line dividing the Punjab and Bengal was announced. Millions of people found themselves on the wrong side of the border. On the Indian side, gangs of Sikhs and Hindus attacked Muslims. On the Pakistan side, gangs of Muslims attacked Hindus and Sikhs. This was largely the work of organised militia, grabbing land and property…As many Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs died. Everybody was a victim.

For every Sikh and Hindu woman who was killed, a Muslim woman was killed too. The violence was on all sides. Both Nehru and Jinnah expressed their dismay at the violence. But neither they, nor the British, had planned for the scale of the upheaval. An estimated 17 million people fled their homes. And at least a million men, women and children lost their lives.

During the Cold War, Pakistan became a loyal ally to the west, just as Churchill had wanted.

Pakistan’s relations with India have been beset by distrust and conflict. There have been three wars between the two countries since 1947. And today, they both have nuclear weapons aimed at each other. Yet, there was nothing inevitable about partition. It was politicians, not ordinary Indians, who were the driving force behind it. First the British, with divide and rule, and then some of India’s leaders encouraged religious difference as a weapon to win power.