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I almost didn’t make my flight the day after that back to India and sanity. At the airport our hand baggage was searched by a group of moronic-looking soldiers toting very serious rifles. The batteries were immediately extracted from my Walkman (“No music on plane!” explained one official solemnly), but I suddenly found myself looking into the business end of six carbines as the inspector with a triumphant Aha! Extracted… my dental floss dispenser. Which in the admittedly limited context of everyday life in the Pure Country must have looked like a tiny bomb for little jihadi mice. Frantically ransacking my sparse larder of Urdu, I hastily explained, Dandan ke liye hai! It’s for your teeth! While the gun barrels traveled quizzically over my pantomime of flossing.
The second trip, a few years later, was better. Benazir Bhutto, later to be assassinated, was Prime Minister and things seemed to be looking up. A former student and I explored together the city of Lahore, with its Persian gardens and pleasant mosques and palaces. We made pilgrimage to Dataganjbakhsh (later to be bombed by Islamic terrorists), the tomb of Hujviri, the author Kashf al-mahjub, the first Persian treatise on Sufi mysticism, and to Madho Lal Hussein, the tomb where a famous dervish lies interred with his Hindu boy disciple and lover. (Islamic regimes outlaw gays.) We drank pink spiced tea. I got to know the music of the great qawwali devotional singers, the Sabri Brothers and the late, great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. I fell in love with Indian Islam, a rich and profound part of the human patrimony and of the cultural heritage of all Indians. Sometimes, when the world is too much with me, I imagine the shrine of Sehwan Sharif and hum the Sufi devotional song Dama dam mast Qalandar, sahi Shahbaz Qalandar to myself. Most Pakistani people I’ve met, like people everywhere, are just fine. And culture is not the hostage of a sanguinary political abortion. It is culture. And it is, specifically and historically, Indian culture. So I’ll be damned if I were the government of Israel and accepted an offer of official diplomatic recognition from “Pakistan”. Sorry, Mr. Famous Writer and Mr. Mahmood Qureshi. That place of yours has a name. It’s called India. And we and India are already friends.