Mush in India

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Musharraf, Pervez Musharraf. He might have been your enlightened despot but he was born in my city. Something humiliating happened to the ex-dictator last week. My country refused to give him a visa to Delhi. Musharraf, who lives in London with wife and dogs, simply wanted to attend a seminar but Indias foreign minister SM Krishna said, Time is not conducive at this point to grant visa to the former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf. Shame.

Today Musharrafs worth is reduced to a half-hour documentary material in the Fox History channel, but once he was the hero-villain of the subcontinent. Today Indians dont care for him, but once he ruled the Indian mindscape, something that Asif Zardari can never replicate. Musharraf was seen as a mischievous, dishonest, insincere man who betrayed India when it offered a hand of friendship to Pakistan in 1999. Indians hated him when he flew to Agra in 2001 and called ‘our’ terrorists ‘his’ freedom fighters. In 2006, Musharraf proved his Un-Popularity among Indians when his ghost-written memoirs hit Delhi. On the second day of the books release, In The Line of Fire had swept the Delhi bookshops clean. Eight thousand copies were imported and all were sold out. The publisher immediately produced a Hindi print run of five thousand copies. The translation was titled Agnipath, which was also the name of a film starring Amitabh Bachchan, Bollywood’s biggest star.

And this man has been refused a visa!

I protest and I propose that Musharraf should be allowed not only to visit Delhi but also to set up his home here. If he has been asked to keep away from Pakistan, why should he cool his heels in the cold, foggy, wet London? Why not he be invited to live in the city of his birth? For how long will the poor man subsist on fish n chips?

But where in Delhi will Musharraf live? Obviously, it cannot be the cantonment. Pakistani nationals are not permitted to loiter there. Neher Wali haveli in Daryaganj’s Saad Ullah neighbourhood might be the ideal locale for Musharrafs retirement home. It’s the place where he spent the first four years of his life. In his old age when he would presumably wish to mull upon his recent past, the childhood memories would provide him succor. Yesterday, I went to Daryaganj and an old cobbler boasted that Musharraf had been his childhood buddy. Why, this could be a reunion of long-lost friends.

It’s a happy coincidence that the haveli is just behind Golcha cinema. Musharraf is fond of Bollywood films (In 2005, Rani Mukerji was the show-stealer at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s banquet for him). Currently, the theater is showing a film starring Vidya Balan, who is more beautiful than Mukerji. Still happier is the coincidence that Old Delhis Matia Mahal bazaar is a rickshaw ride away from the haveli. Pakistanis are supposed to be great breakfast eaters and the Al Jawahar restaurant there offers some succulent mutton nihari, each bite of which fills the diner with vigour. What more could an ex-army man want? The famous Kareems restaurant is also nearby. The view from its rooftop of Jamia Masjid is as lovely as that of the Badshahi Masjid from Cuckoos Cafe.

However, there are concerns. There are two vegetarian families Jains and Golas squabbling over Musharrafs ancestral property. The Jains, part owners of the property, are putting it up for sale for Rs 6 crore. Would Musharraf, whose father sold the haveli for Rs 562, find it a good bargain? Also, can somebody used to a cantonment lifestyle feel at home in Daryaganj’s claustrophobic lanes?

“A bungalow in Malcha Marg will be a better choice,” says a Pakistani diplomat who talked to me on condition of anonymity since “it’s a very sensitive subject”. Malcha Marg is a diplomatic enclave in central Delhi, full of trees, gardens, bungalows and white people. “Each time the General’s heart would beat for the fatherland, he would just have to take a short walk to Shantipath and gaze at the blue dome of our Pakistan embassy.”

During days when Musharraf would miss good friend Amreeka, he could hop over to the nearby American embassy and spend an evening with the ambassador listening to Barbara Streisand’s The way we were song. Better still: Chinese embassy, lying next to Malcha Marg, could be a comforting presence. In his state trip to Beijing in 2006, Musharraf, never known to be a nature watcher, had described friendship between Pakistan and China as “deeper than the ocean and higher than the mountain”.

However, Musharraf’s Lucknow-born wife, Saheba, might not be able to exchange notes on chikan-kurtas and chicken-do-pyaza in the Malcha Marg society of Mademoiselles and Fraus all wives and mistresses of foreign diplomats. How about Lodhi Estate, the address of VIPs like Priyanka Gandhi? It’s near Khan Market, where Begum Mush could keep herself occupied shopping for Good Earth pillows and FabIndia kurtas. Khan Market also has good doggie stores (Musharraf flaunted his two Pomeranians after his military coup in 1998). The members-only India International Center is a 10-minute stroll away where the ex-prez could attend lectures of visiting Pakistani think tankers and later down whiskey and soda in the high-brow bar.

So, I request my government to forget the bad blood and give Musharraf a resident visa. Pakistans former army chief should permanently cross the border, which his father had crossed in 1947.

When I suggested this idea to a Pakistani friend whom I shall not name but who is a big-time social butterfly in Lahore, she exclaimed on phone, saying, “Youre mad! Its impossible for Musharraf to live in Delhi. He will never do that.” Prove her wrong, Mush.

The writer is a Delhi-based writer and photographer. He runs a blog called Pakistan Paindabad and he can be contacted at [email protected]