The multiple identities of Adnan Sami

He entertained India for 15 years, none of it rejected by his Pakistani fans, and became a Bollywood success like many Muslim stars there.

Written by Khaled Ahmed | Updated: January 15, 2016 12:56 am
Illustrations: C R Sasikumar What galled was Sami’s tweet of “Jai Hind” upon receiving his Indian passport. Illustrations: C R Sasikumar

Pakistan seems to have made heavy weather of accepting its singer Adnan Sami’s adoption of Indian nationality. TV talk shows have aimed jibes at “disloyal” Sami’s “desertion” of his fatherland, Pakistan. India took a long time granting it. He entertained India for 15 years, none of it rejected by his Pakistani fans, and became a Bollywood success like many Muslim stars there.

What galled was Sami’s tweet of “Jai Hind” upon receiving his Indian passport. Why should anyone in Pakistan be stung by that, unless textbook nationalism based on an unspoken pledge of war prompts it? Khan had arrived in India in 2001 on a one-year visa that expired. This was followed by the expiry of his Pakistani passport, rendering him “illegal”. He had to get a “renunciation of nationality” certificate from Pakistan before getting an Indian passport.

Approaching the Pakistan high commission in New Delhi, he wrote, “I don’t need the green passport any more. I have found my home in India.” This somehow offended the high commission diplomats, who asked him to submit “an unconditional apology for his behaviour” and “follow the correct procedure for getting the renunciation certificate”. His stay in India was legalised on humanitarian grounds, “exempting him from proceedings under Section 3 of the Foreigners Act”.

TV anchors in Pakistan plumbed new depths, expressing the “wound” inflicted by Sami on Pakistan. Sami’s father’s background also bit deep: Arshad Sami Khan, who died in 2009, was a Pakistan Air Force fighter pilot (fought the 1965 war against India?), who arose from a protocol officer in the foreign office to serve as Pakistan’s ambassador in 14 countries, before retiring as federal secretary of culture in the top grade of 22. Sami’s life was peripatetic as a diplomat’s child, laying him bare to something that puts Pakistan off: Multiple identities. Like any great artist, his marriages were shipwrecks and his self-punishing obesity (200kg!) didn’t help socially till he somehow got rid of it because of the change of scene offered by Mumbai.

Pakistani nationalism and Pakistani textbooks instil an intense single identity based on “separation” from India. If the unconscious Indian slogan is “ekta” (unity), Pakistan’s is “pehchan” (identity). Clearly, one is inclusive, the other exclusive, and Pakistan uses religion as its binding glue. It has tried to alter Jinnah’s foundational slogan of unity-faith-discipline by putting faith first in the Urdu version. Pakistan’s nation-building has gone haywire by becoming “exclusionary”, which doesn’t stop at “excluding” only non-Muslims but also Muslims through apostatisation.

As Amartya Sen would ask the RSS-Sena gangs: Can a state survive through an enforced single identity? In his book, Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny (2006), he finds the perfect citizen in a man who has multiple identities rather than a single one. Adnan Sami, as an artist, may have many identities within him.

India and Pakistan should both heed Sen when he says that any coercively singular identity is against nature and gives rise to violence through intolerance. The natural state of man is characterised by multiple identities within a single individual, tolerance of that which is “different”. And he thinks states impose a single identity for the sake of a myth called “collective destiny”. Pakistan’s thinking on the subject has been rudimentary and flawed. Coinages such as “castle of Islam” have presaged a “siege mentality” vis-à-vis India, with whom the waging of a “just war” was to propel the country towards its “pure” destiny. Together with a singular identity, a uniform mind, too, has been the objective of the state.

Writers and artists are the problem people for the state anywhere. They threaten neighbouring states with what is called “cultural invasion”. There was a time when some Indians and Pakistanis objected to what they called “Western invasion” — till globalisation and free trade made this objection irrelevant.

Pakistan emphasised “separation” from India and thought of rewriting history to remove its cultural nexus with its neighbour. Inside its borders, it embraced an ideology that attacked its own culture, which it saw as “too much like India’s”. With time, Indian TV channels became channels of “cultural invasion” — till they were removed from the cables. But Bollywood couldn’t be kept out from a culturally starved Pakistan.

Sami had to settle in India, not because he hated Pakistan: It was just like a Pakistani finding a professional niche in America. Why should Pakistani TV channels curse him for that? Let the Indian extremists test his new loyalty while Pakistan continues to enjoy his great crossborder singing talent. The Shiv Sena’s reaction to Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Ghulam Ali coming to India and singing is not the best thing that happened to India.

Those in Pakistan who write about India’s “cultural invasion” of Pakistan’s “single identity” have failed to grasp the mysterious way civilisation has of surviving. The invasion of Pakistan is actually spearheaded by the Muslim-Indian “Khan” actors like Salman, Shah Rukh and Aamir, and their Pakistani fans will not let the state block them from their cinemas. Now that India has accepted a son of Pakistan, let’s count it as “advantage Pakistan” and let the Sena bother about it. And when Sami comes to Pakistan on a visa, welcome him as a great talent that will survive as part of our civilisation.

The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’