Posts Tagged ‘India.

– To counter the current wave of hate and violence, and help fix a society often
out of joint, a new medicine in an old bottle. Sonia Sarkar tracks a global trend
First published on 10-Dec-2017  :
JOYFOOL: Participants at the clown festival in Mumbai

Siane Valini D’ Cruz paints her face pink, then fixes a red plastic ball firmly on the tip of her nose. Her chin is painted white to bring out the scarlet of her lips. Dressed in a purple jacket, yellow trousers and a pair of oversized red and yellow boots, the 17-year-old makes her entry. It is a children’s birthday party. As the music starts to play, she throws her juggling balls up in the air and whoops of joy fill the room.

“When a cranky child laughs, I believe, I have done my job well,” says Siane, a Mass Media student from Mumbai’s St. Xavier’s College. Chris Saldanha is a BSc student from the same college. While Siane stumbled upon clowning, Chris took it up to earn a few bucks during the summer holidays two years ago – if he does five shows in a month, he makes about Rs 10,000. Professionals, we are told, make Rs 50,000 and upwards in a busy month. Both Siane and Chris are undergoing clown training.

Circuses may have disappea-red but clowning hasn’t. Martin D’ Souza, founder-director at the Mumbai-based entertainment company, Light House Entertainment and Mad Hatters, says clowning is gaining popularity across India.

What US-based clown Kenneth R. Ahern says of the West perhaps holds true of India too. His email to The Telegraph reads, “In the last decade there has been a growth of youth circus training camps throughout the US and Europe. This has moved circus artistes who have graduated from these schools to find both traditional and non-traditional performance venues to present their skills.” Ahern runs a clown camp annually at the Fine Arts Center of Viterbo University in Wisconsin.

With the change of setting, from circuses to malls, private parties, carnivals, family gatherings, we in India have a new set of clowns – educated middle-class youth such as Siane and Chris. The change in demographics, those in this business will tell you, has not taken away from the art, only imbued it with greater power, purpose and responsibility.

Pam Moody, president of the World Clown Association (WCA), talks about clowning as a teaching tool. She says, “Clown shows capitalise on emotions. It is proven that regardless of age, retention of messages is higher whenever an emotion is involved.” Moody herself began by presenting faith-based lessons through comedy. Her clown name is Sparky.

D’Souza, who runs training camps across India, talks about the large number of clowns involved in what is called “caring clowning”. They visit ailing children in hospitals, veterans in medical care facilities, hospice and rehabilitation center inmates.

The concept exists in other parts of the globe too. Edmund Khong, the first Singaporean to win the World Clown Association’s Best All-Round Clown this year, says, “I am exploring various avenues to teach Singaporeans caring clowning to serve the community. When the public recognises the positive impact clowning can create, it will slowly grow to be more widely accepted and welcomed.”

Moody remembers one time when she was performing in Chennai and a pregnant woman came up to her, took her hand and placed it on her belly and said, “Because of you, I laughed. My baby will be born more healthy now.”

D’ Souza’s clown persona is called Flubber, a master of all trades. Flubber can perform magic, do acrobatics, juggle, do balloon sculpting…

Since this brand of clowning is still nascent in India, D’Souza has been organising countrywide clown fests since 2010. At these fests, clowns of international renown perform. D’Souza, who has been clowning for the past 26 years, says, “What Indians are usually exposed to is slapstick, wherein two clowns slap each other or pat each other with a small bat – something we used to see in circuses. But this festival gets clowns from different parts of the world. Now, people here know that clowning is a serious act where clowns follow a script – perform a skit – engage with people.”

The idea of clowning, he says, is to get into funny difficult situations in the act and then come out of them – it’s this disentanglement process that makes people laugh.

Though D’Souza has been running Mad Hatter these past 27 years, he got himself a clown certificate in Clownology from the University of Wisconsin in the US in 2004.

But if being a good clown is all about having the right attitude, why this sudden urgency for structured training? Ahern says, “If a clown has done his or her job well, a wonderful memory is created. But this is not achieved by simply wearing a silly costume, clown make-up and a red nose. Creating this joy is best done through proper education.”

There is an entire genre of supernatural horror flicks that project the clown as an evil, deviant figure – Stephen King’s It and the new season of American Horror Story. But organisations such as the Sweden-based group Clowns Without Borders (CWB) and WCA are rallying against this portrayal.

Rupesh Tillu or Popo, as he is known in clowning circles, is younger than D’Souza, has an Master of Fine Arts in Physical Comedy from the National School of Dramatic Arts, Sweden. You might recognise him from the Ship of Theseus (2013) – he played Ajay, friend of Navin, one of the protagonists. He has travelled widely with CWB for performances. Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Moldova, Jordan, he rattles off names.

Tillu recounts the time he performed in a refugee camp at Zaatari in Jordan. It was the day after thousands of refugees arrived from Syria. Says Tillu, “It’s not easy to make anyone laugh and these were people who had fled their homes to escape war and walked miles for survival.”

Tillu’s Popo is a persona who is continuously in search of a home. Vulnerable and naive in a highly complicated world, he makes all efforts to fit in, but always ends up failing. Something touched a chord, resonated, because at the end of the act the children in the au-dience started jumping and shouting for joy. “It evoked so many emotions in them at one time,” he adds.

Back in India, Tillu is part of a CWB project in Mumbai’s redlight areas. He also trains children in clowning – recently, one such group toured with international artistes and performed in correctional homes and hospitals.

What do such acts mean to people, children especially, living in sub-normal conditions? Responds D’Souza, “A comedian makes you laugh at the expense of others. Clowns involve the audience and take them along in their journey of laughter. It’s a heart-to-heart connection which remains with you for a longer time.”

It was meant to celebrate diversity, create a blueprint for a more unified South Asia. Instead, Delhi’s South Asian University has turned into a miniature Saarc summit with Indo-Pak rivalry occupying centrestage and every other country jostling for attention. Sonia Sarkar has the story

  • INTERNATIONAL DIS-COURSE: A bulletin of events at SAU. Picture credit: Sonia Sarkar

    Bharat Kumar Kolhi was looking forward to his two-year stay in Delhi when he signed up for the Sociology programme at the South Asian University (SAU). The resident of Pakistan’s Umarkot imagined that in India, he would finally get to be Bharat – the name given to him at birth – instead of Bhrat, the tweaked moniker he had had to acquire to suit the political climate of his birthplace.

    It was not very long before Bharat realised his mistake.

    Just as the mere whiff of India in his name would set the Pakistanis bristling, here too everyone kept thrusting his Pakistani nationality in his face. Nothing else seemed to matter – neither his name nor his Hindu identity.

    “The first thing some Indian students at SAU asked me was – ‘Pakistani ho, haath mein bomb leke aaye ho?’ (You are a Pakistani; have you brought along a bomb?) I realised I would have to live with this kind of stereotyping the next two years,” says Bharat, now in the final year of his postgraduate programme.

    SAU was set up in 2010 with the aim to bring together students from the Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation) nations – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, the Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and, of course, India. While the physical bringing together has happened, it will take some doing before one gets to the “unity in diversity” part, at least going by what students have to say.

    In recent times, the SAU campus, like many others across the country, has come under the grip of ultra-nationalism. Pakistani students claim they find themselves at the receiving end of slurs such as “terrorists” and “ISI agents” here, whenever there is tension brewing along the Line of Control.

    Hira Hashmi, who is from Karachi, is studying International Relations at SAU. She talks about how last year, when 18 Indian soldiers were killed by militants allegedly “harboured” by Pakistan, a group of Indian students abused the Pakistanis on campus openly. “They put up posters saying ‘dushmano ki buzdili‘ and ‘Pakistanis are cowards’. When we protested, they removed them,” says Hira. “The campus was divided into two groups. It became an Us vs Them debate. We thought we may have to go back to our country halfway through the course.”

    Students claim a warning was issued to the mischief-makers after a complaint was lodged with the university disciplinary committee. University officials, however, deny this. “These things happen between students and get resolved by them. We don’t get involved,” says SAU president Kavita A. Sharma.

    While the Pakistani students claim they could do with less attention of a certain kind, students of other Saarc countries say they feel left out and their ethnic sensibilities ignored. Sounds familiar? Think Saarc meetings.

    Even celebrations are centred around India and Pakistan, students of other nationalities complain. For instance, initially, Indian and Pakistani students celebrated their Independence Day on the midnight of August 14-15. Mahamadul Hasan Rana, a Bangladeshi PhD student at SAU says, “Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was killed on August 15. No one bothered to understand our sentiments.” He adds, “The event has been mellowed down the past two years after we complained.”



    SAU Facts

    Established in 2010

    Programmes offered: PG, MPhil and PhD

    Number of students by country*

    ♦ India: 350**  ♦ Pakistan: 19

    ♦ Bangladesh: 67  ♦ Sri Lanka: 8

    ♦ Nepal: 52  ♦ Afghanistan: 55

    ♦ Bhutan: 9  ♦ Maldives: 1

    US $300 million (Rs 1,996 crore)

    is the estimated capital cost

    The operational budget for 2016 is

    US $10.71 million (Rs 71 crore)

    Capital budget for 2016 is

    US $36.37 million (Rs 242 crore)

    *Number currently enrolled at SAU

    **50 per cent seats reserved for Indians

    Some others allege that India’s “big brother” attitude in the Saarc region is reflected in the conduct of the Indian students. “Indians try to emphasise that Bangladesh exists only because Indians helped us in our Liberation War,” says Sariful Islam, a Bangladeshi student, who is doing his postgraduate in International Relations.

    The imbalance, apparently, is also reflected in the curriculum. Afghanistan is under-represented in courses such as International Relations and Sociology, points out Omar Sadr, a PhD student from Afghanistan. “The multi-cultural and multi-national theme of the university is defeated because there is an overdose of India and Pakistan in the curriculum.” And yet, the SAU is overflowing with applications from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Nepal.

    In fact, it is the number of Pakistani students that has been dwindling – their 10 per cent quota remains underutilised in most courses. And while the ongoing political tension has most definitely contributed to the reduced numbers, there are quite a few niggling issues that they face.

    Hira talks about how Pakistanis have to literally go to lengths just to be able to pay the fee for the aptitude test. Payment via debit card, credit card and netbanking from Pakistan is not possible. “One of my cousins who lives in India made the payment on my behalf,” she says.

    It is the same story when Pakistani students have to block seats by making an advance payment after they have cleared the test. A senior university official who does not want to be identified confirms that Pakistani students have indeed been complaining about payment-related problems.

    The other stumbling block is visa. According to SAU rules, students along with faculty members and university staffers from other countries were supposed to get the SAU visa. It is valid for the course duration and allows visa holders to move freely across India. But the reality is different for some, especially if they are from Pakistan. “We need to renew our visa every year. Besides, only six entries are allowed and the movement is restricted to four places – Delhi, Agra, Gurgaon and Amritsar,” Hira complains.

    But a lot hinges on the political dynamics between the two countries. Last year, an additional visa granted to Hira for travelling to Patna was withdrawn, and apparently no valid reason was cited.

    Then again, every time Pakistani students re-enter India, they have to report to the foreigners regional registration officer within 24 hours of arrival. Students of other Saarc countries have to do so within 14 days of arrival.

    •    The first thing that some Indian students at the university asked me was — ‘Pakistani ho, haath mein bomb leke aaye ho?’
      Bharat Kumar Kolhi


      •     We need to renew our visa every year… Only six entries are allowed and movement is restricted to Delhi, Agra, Gurgaon and Amritsar
        Hira Hashmi

        International Relations

        Picture credit: Sonia Sarkar

        University officials are inundated with complaints. “We have written to the ministry of external affairs (MEA) several times about these issues,” says president Sharma. “That’s all we can do.” The Telegraph tried to contact the MEA spokesperson to understand the visa issues but did not get any response.

        All said and done, two years is a decent period. Despite irritants, one picks up survival tips, makes friends, learns to laugh at the situation. Hira points out that a lot of the campus humour also revolves around Indo-Pakistan relations. “One of my Indian friends taught me this dialogue from a Sunny Deol blockbuster where he apparently tells Pakistanis – ‘Doodh mangoge toh kheer denge, Kashmir mangoge toh cheer denge (If you want milk, we’ll give you kheer. But if you seek Kashmir, we will rip you apart),” she says with a laugh.

        Hira has learnt to cope with the biases too. Tips from her Indian cousins have helped. “They told me that whenever someone asks where I am from, I should say Ranchi since it sounds like Karachi.” She also takes care not to speak in Urdu in public places.

        Both Hira and Bharat are scheduled to leave India next month after the convocation. They leave with bittersweet memories. “Perhaps, I will come back when the ties between the two countries are better,” says Bharat.

        But with ultra-nationalism taking centrestage here, this might take a while.

Should Urjit Patel earn a rap for not raising the flag on demonetisation and its painful playout? Or is he being made the fall guy for a bungled decision? Sonia Sarkar finds out

Talk about keeping secrets. When Urjit Ravinder Patel travels to Delhi on work, his assistants at the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) headquarters in Mumbai keep three sets of tickets ready for him. This enables him to travel quietly, without anyone getting to know about his plans, an RBI insider says.

If that’s a waste of energy and money, it’s nothing compared to the mayhem that is being played out across the country. And the secrecy about his travel plans is but a tiny dot compared to the blanket of silence that surrounds the government today.

Almost a month after the Narendra Modi government banned 500-rupee and 1,000-rupee notes, people are still waiting for Patel, 53, to reassure them that all would be well. Last week, in his first public remarks after the demonetisation, he said: “The RBI is taking all necessary actions to ease the genuine pain of citizens who are honest and have been hurt.”

On November 8, Patel – in a black suit and a purple tie – told the media that the RBI would be ready with enough new notes to meet the crisis of a nationwide currency crunch caused by the move.

But clearly it isn’t. And fingers are being pointed at the inscrutable man from Kenya who replaced the gregarious Raghuram Rajan this September. Questions are being raised on how involved the RBI had been in the move.

“If the governor had been consulted on demonetisation, then it is unclear why he did not explain to the Prime Minister the enormous disruption withdrawing 86.4 per cent of the currency in circulation would cause to the economy,” says Meera Sanyal, former banker and AAP national executive member.

Patel, indeed, has some explaining to do. As RBI governor, he would have known how many notes the presses could print, and how much time it would take to replace the old notes, Sanyal says. “He would certainly have been aware of problems that would be caused to households, farmers, traders, businesses, schools, hospitals and banks across the country as cash ran out and had to rationed,” she adds.

Speculation is rife. Former RBI deputy governor K.C. Chakrabarty has been quoted as saying that the last government – led by Manmohan Singh – had also discussed demonetisation, but had been advised against the move because the costs were high, the benefits low.

Was the Modi government similarly apprised? “Patel should have told the government that demonetisation was not necessary,” a former RBI governor states. “It was his job to make the government understand that the purpose of nabbing black money hoarders won’t be served by killing notes.”

The number of killed notes is humungous. Over 16.5 billion 500-rupee notes and 6.7 billion 1,000-rupee notes in circulation – amounting to Rs 14 lakh crore – were believed to have been sucked out. So far, reports show that Rs 11 lakh crore have come back to banks, and more may come in. So the government’s belief that Rs 3-4 lakh crore of black money would not be returned to the banks, and thus would the RBI’s gain, may not be accurate.

Yet, how much of all this is Patel’s fault? The jury is out on that, too, though the All India Bank Officers Confederation has asked for his resignation. “The show is entirely managed by the finance ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office. The RBI is only doing a post office’s job,” Chakrabarty says.

Patel may have unwittingly presaged his present predilection. In a 2007 column, he wrote: “Economists feel smug about their insight regarding the merits of an independent (and narrow) central bank. Actually it is politicians who are smart; it helps to have a central bank (designated as independent) that can be blamed for taking away the punch bowl just when the party is getting started, but it can also overrule the central bank and be seen on the side of depositors, who also happen to be voters.”

It’s not easy for a government employee to stand up to the government. But many have done so. The government wanted interest rates to go down but Raghuram Rajan preferred to keep inflation under control instead. Former governor D. Subbarao also didn’t give in to the demand for interest rate cuts during the UPA years. In 1957, a similar issue had forced the then RBI governor, Benegal Rama Rau, to resign after a difference of opinion with finance minister T.T. Krishnamachari.

But Patel, unlike many of his predecessors, has not had much experience in handling political pressures. “Patel could be academically excellent, but he lacks administrative experience in a government office – which is what is needed in a large and complex economy like India’s,” says Chakrabarty.

Indeed, his stints in the government have been short. He was working for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) when he was sent to the RBI on deputation for advising it on the development of the debt market and banking sector reforms in 1996-97. In 2001, he was a member of the drafting team for the RBI’s advisory group on securities market regulations. He was a consultant with the finance ministry from 1998 to 2001.

In 2013, he was appointed RBI’s deputy governor. There was a hitch – having grown up in Nairobi and studied in England and the United States, he didn’t have an Indian passport.

At that point, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sent a recommendation letter to the home ministry. Patel, Singh said, was “very important for the country”. Some believe Patel had impressed Singh with a paper he had co-written called “The Dynamics of Inflation ‘Herding’: Decoding India’s Inflationary Process”. When the UPA returned to power in 2009, Patel was an expert commentator tracking the first 100 days of the government for a Hindi news channel.

A former Oxford University professor is not as impressed with Patel as Manmohan Singh was. Patel, when he was pursuing an MPhil from Oxford (he later completed his PhD from Yale in the US), did not stand out “socially or intellectually” and did not write any “exceptionally brilliant” papers, says the ex-professor.

“It’s a coterie of economists led by former Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who has a fascination for people who have worked with the IMF and the World Bank, that made Patel’s entry into the RBI possible. Even Rajan has a similar professional background, but he was clearly a distinguished and decorated economist.”

Rajan, in fact, appointed his deputy as the chairman of the RBI’s monetary policy committee, saying that he was confident he would be able to guide the committee to move forward in achieving India’s inflation objectives.

Patel may not have had much experience in governance, but has worked for the private sector. He was the executive director and member of the management committee in Infrastructure Development Finance Company Limited (IDFC) from 1997 to 2006. Reports suggest that it was then that he met Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat. Modi offered him the post of independent director and chair of the audit committee on the board of the Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation (GSPC) in 2005-06. (The GSPC borrowed more than Rs 19,000 crore from banks.) In 2008, he joined Reliance Industries as president (business development).

Unlike his predecessor, whose flamboyant manner was regularly remarked upon by the media, not much is known about Patel, the person. Some describe him as “abrupt”. His collection of ties – purple, blue and orange – has often been a topic for conversation. Rajan went for jogs, but Patel is not known as a fitness freak. At the fifth BRICS Deputies’ meet in Durban in 2013, however, he was spotted on a treadmill every morning.

Patel lives with his mother, Manjula, in Mumbai and, if he can, dines with her every evening. The family is originally from Mahudha village in Gujarat’s Khera district, a traditional Patidar belt. His father, Ravinder, moved to Nairobi where he set up a chemical factory. Young Urjit studied at the Oshwal Academy Nairobi Primary and then at the Jamhuri High School.

“Urjit was calm, polite and always smiling,” recalls Umakant Patel, head of the Premiere Club of Nairobi. “He often came to the club for walks with his father.”

He was married in the mid-90s to Vibha Joshi, and the couple divorced in 2003. Joshi was the sister of Arvind Joshi, an IAS officer who was suspended in February 2010 after IT raids. Arvind and his wife, Tinoo, are in jail.

His personal history has little to do with the present, which is, clearly, tense. “He is on test now in what has been his most high profile and important job so far,” says Shumita Deveshwar, director, India Research at Trusted Sources, an independent investment research firm that focuses on emerging markets.

What he needs to do, an economist stresses, is communicate with the people. “He doesn’t talk much, and that’s his real problem,” says the economist who worked with him on a Planning Commission Plan. “Unless he communicates with the media, one won’t understand his stand as the RBI governor.”

Meanwhile, the Twitter world can’t have enough of Patel’s silence.

Missing Notice, says a post.

Name: Urjit Patel; Last seen: Altamount Road; If found inform RBI, Mint Road, Mumbai Distinguishing feature: Says yes to everything.

Another post asks: “Have you seen Urjit? Urjit Patel, 53, last seen at RBI Building. Please come home. All is forgiven. Situation serious.”

And serious it is.

‘To say that my attack on Urjit is personal is utter rubbish’

Congress leader and Rajya Sabha member Jairam Ramesh has demanded the resignation of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor. “Urjit Patel is either guilty of misleading the nation about the RBI’s preparedness on demonetisation or has sacrificed the autonomy of the RBI. Either way he should resign,” he wrote in a recent article. He tells us in an email interview that those responsible for the “chaos, despair and panic among citizens” should be held accountable. Extracts:

Q. RBI governor Urjit Patel says the RBI is taking “all necessary actions” to ease the “genuine pain of citizens”. Your reaction?

A. The RBI governor’s response has only bolstered my argument that either the RBI misled the nation about its preparedness or got forced into this decision. The governor has not explained in unambiguous terms the cause for this chaos or concrete timelines to end this suffering of citizens.

Q. Finance minister Arun Jaitley called your column “an unfair attack”. Many in the BJP say it was a personal attack on Patel.

A. It is utter rubbish that this is a personal attack. It is now the unanimous opinion of all – bhakts and non-bhakts – that there is chaos, despair and panic among citizens over access to currency notes. So who is responsible for this? There has to be an accountability somewhere. We have a culture in this country where ministers resign over accidents or even natural disasters. This is a disaster of monumental proportion inflicted entirely by poor planning and execution. So is it not right to question the concerned person and authority?

Q. Do you think Patel is handicapped by his old connection with the Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation (GSPC)? [He was an independent director and chair of the audit committee of GSPC and is said to have approved GSPC’s excessive borrowings from banks.]

A. GSPC is certainly the elephant on the 18th floor office of the RBI headquarters! The Comptroller and Auditor General of India has indicted GSPC over its huge borrowings and squandering them away. The Indian Expresshas exposed a related party conflict between [ex-Gujarat energy minister] Saurabh Patel and GSPC. Urjit Patel was the chairman of the audit committee and independent director during this entire time. People in public life should be held to high standards of probity, shouldn’t they?

Q. Will Patel be able to deal with inflation, banking sector reforms and so on?

A. I do not for a moment doubt Urjit Patel’s academic credentials as an economist. The issue here is who is responsible for unleashing this unprecedented misery on the people of India and why should they not be held accountable.

Published in The Telegraph. December 4, 2016.


The placard – raised in a stadium at an India-Pakistan match – had evoked considerable mirth. “Keep Kashmir, give us Madhuri,” said the sign put up by a Pakistani fan of the Bollywood actress, who had then just danced her way into the subcontinent’s collective heart.

The slogan seems set to change. “Take Kashmir, give us Fawad,” may well be the new message from this side of the border. Fawad Khan is a Pakistani actor who features in television series broadcast on an Indian channel devoted to Pakistani soap – and who has wowed Indian viewers.

An infiltration of a different kind seems to have taken place in India in recent months. The social face of Pakistan has captured the hearts of people across India. Zee TV’s Zindagi channel is a rage – and its Pakistani stars including Fawad, Mahira Khan and Samira Peerzada, are all talking points.

But that’s just one facet of the silent invasion. From Pakistani humour to textiles, from fashion to food and films, the social media platforms are brimming with comments from Indian fans of all that is Pakistani.

“Pakistan is the flavour of the moment,” agrees social commentator Santosh Desai. “Yes, a change is on its way. It may be subtle and it may be silent, but it’s definitely there,” stresses Pakistani social media commentator Alia Suleman.

The current interest in Pakistan has been triggered by the success of Zindagi, no doubt, but there have been several other recent developments as well. The Pakistan stall – with its onyx and textiles – at the ongoing International Trade Fair is besieged by visitors. Pakistani food and film festivals are taking place in the Capital, and eateries are serving Pakistani cuisine. A great many Pakistani comic videos are also being circulated in India on whatsapp and social sites.

“There is always a curiosity among Indians about Pakistan and its culture,” says an official at the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi.

Pakistani social commentator Bina Shah stresses that strained bilateral ties had always come in the way of easy relations. “But because of social media, it isn’t just jokes that are being shared – folks on both sides of the border can observe the latest trends and what’s hot in our respective countries, and share it,” she says.

And among all that’s hot is fashion. In a first for Lakme Fashion Week (LFW), four Pakistani designers were invited this August to showcase their collections. “So far only a niche category was aware of our brand. But now there’s a huge buzz around Pakistani fashion,” says Sania Maskatiya, one of the designers who debuted at LFW.

The market — from a tony South Delhi mall to the local dress material shop in West Delhi — is stocking up on cuts, prints and fabric either procured from Pakistan or replicated in a wholesale market in India. “We are attracted to their stylish cuts and lace,” writer-columnist Shobhaa De points out.

That there’s an overwhelming interest in Pakistani textile and fashion was evident at the Aalishan Pakistan exhibition held earlier this year at the Pragati Maidan. Organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and The Trade Development Authority of Pakistan, it showcased fashion apparel, home textiles, leather goods, furniture and marble handicraft.

About 100,000 people are believed to have visited the exhibition on its second day. “We marked sales worth Rs 15 lakh over four days,” says Muhammad Yasin of Pakistan-based clothiers Gul Ahmed.

Wardha Saleem, the chief executive officer of the Pakistan Fashion Design Council, a non-profit organisation which facilitates the promotion of Pakistani designers, says that most of the designers had sold off their stock in the first three days of Aalishan Pakistan.

“We presented buyers with fusion wear — shirts (kurtas in India) paired with trousers or palazzo pants or skinny pants or form fitting cigarette cut pants,” Saleem says. “Our flowy chiffons, cotton silk and chamois silk are very popular in India.” The Council has also opened an outlet in Delhi’s South Extension in association with an Indian retailer where Pakistani collections are sold.

The Pakistan High Commission has been facilitating the exhibitions, and has also helped organise food and film fests in Delhi. “Chapli kebab and Kabuli Pulao are the two most popular Pakistani dishes in India. Both come from Peshawar,” says Mazhar Allahyar, the general manager of Islamabad’s Monal restaurant, which will collaborate in another food festival to be held in Delhi next month.

Restaurants serving Pakistani dishes have also opened up in the city. “Indians are keen on Pakistani cuisine because of its variety. Each region of Pakistan has something different to offer,” says Sanjeev Verma, manager of the Hauz Khas Village restaurant Raas, which has a Pakistani menu.

Commentator Desai describes this interest in Pakistan as cyclical. Indeed, in the late eighties and early nineties, too, there was a deep interest in Pakistani television drama series. A decade or so ago, it was the age of Pakistani music as bands such as Junoon and Strings became popular in India. Then the last few years saw another invasion – of the literary kind. Pakistani authors — Mohsin Hamid, Kamila Shamsie, Mohammad Hanif and others – were lapped up in India.

But what’s given a boost to the trend is the growth of the social media.

“Social networking sites are abuzz with praise for Pakistani shows. In fact, there are continuous requests for repeat telecasts and that’s why we have also had re-runs of some of our popular shows,” says Priyanka Datta, business head of Zindagi, which Zee launched five months ago.

Apeksha Harihar, content head, Social Samosa, a Mumbai-based social media knowledge storehouse, says she has noticed a “fascination” for Zindagi channel shows on social media platforms. “Most tweets favour these Pakistani shows over Indian shows,” Harihar holds.

Indeed, Pakistan seems to have entered the lives of many people through their television sets. “Till now, whatever we read about Pakistan or watched on TV through news channels was political. But these dramas gave us a glimpse of Pakistan which we’d never thought about,” says an ardent Fawad Khan fan, Shipti Sabharwal. Sabharwal, who runs a boutique in West Delhi, adds that Pakistani long kurtis “sell like hot cakes” in her shop. A trader at the Pakistan stall at the trade fair points out that women buyers often ask him for specific designs or styles sported by Pakistani actors in the serials.

The channel already has over 90,000 followers on Twitter and 300,000 fans on Facebook. “The platforms are abuzz with discussions,” Harihar says, adding that viewers have also started fan pages.

Fawad Khan’s fan clubs include ‘_FawadKhanFan_’, ‘Fan_FawadAK_Fanatic’ and ‘Fawad Khan Fever’. With a fan base of the kind, Fawad has not surprisingly made his Bollywood debut. The actor starred in the recent release Khoobsurat. Another Pakistani actor who debuted in Bollywood in recent times is Imran Abbas Naqvi, who was paired with Bipasha Basu in ‘Creature 3D’.

Talks are on for a role for Mahira Khan, too. “I consider myself among the lucky few from Pakistan to have their work recognised and appreciated in India,” says the female lead star of ‘Humsafar’, the blockbuster serial which was premiered on Zindagi in September. “I recently joined Twitter and have experienced craziness since,” she says.

The use of Urdu words in the series may have sparked an interest in the language, too. Zindagi now runs a scroll that acts as a thesaurus for Urdu phrases — a word is explained in Roman letters every day. About 65 per cent of people who log on to an Indian website on Urdu poetry called Rekhta, launched in 2013, are from India.

“We have close to 7000 visitors every day, up from the 300 that we used to get last year. We are now planning a festival for which poets from across the border will be invited,” Rekhta founder Sanjiv Saraf says.

Back in Pakistan, too, the trend has been appreciated.

“The segment of the population that had begrudgingly viewed the influence of Indian culture in Pakistan, openly opposing the airing of Indian movies in our theatres and on TV, is now pleased that this influence is reciprocated on the other side of the border too,” Suleman says. “The segment that sincerely wishes to see the two ‘bullies’ finally call it a day sees this as a step towards that goal.”

Samira Peerzada, a popular character actor from ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hain’ and ’Dhoop Chhaon’, points out that she grew up watching Indian shows and films in Pakistan. “We always dreamt and hoped that the work of Pakistani artists also got the same kind of response in India. It seems the dream has come true.”

Suleman has noticed another outcome of the trend – a difference in attitude in her Indian relatives. “To them, Pakistanis had always appeared to be too ‘fast’, too ‘modern’, too ‘unreal’, and too ‘foreign’. But now, it is all changing.”

When she phones them in the evening, her Indian relatives tell her “somewhat irritably” not to call when they are watching Pakistani serials on TV. “For the first time, they want to hear about the other good serials, writers and actors, something they never wanted to do before… They are interested when I talk about Pakistani fashion for a change. For the first time, they are interested in me as a Pakistani rather than just a relative.”

So it’s not just India that’s rejoicing in this friendly invasion. This could well be the season of hope. After all, the twin siblings -– separated at birth, like so much of Bollywood — just shared the Nobel Peace Prize, too.