Volume 6, No. 2, February 2024
Editor: Rashed Rahman
Time: The Present.
Fawzia, a middle aged Pakistani-American woman.
Indian Border Officer, male.
Two Israeli border guards/officers, female, one young, in her twenties, the other older, in her 50s; both bleached blondes.
Sana, middle aged Palestinian woman.
Ghost of Manto, Indian/Pakistani Urdu language short story writer.
Scene 1: Pakistan-India border crossing, Delhi Airport. Fawzia alone, nervously talking to border security officer at the entry gate.
Fawzia: I told you, I have a connecting plane to catch, this is my first time visiting India, could you please tell me what the problem is? My visa is in order, so kindly let me through, I’m attending a peace conf….
Officer (giving her a silencing look): Miss, I advise you to do as I’m telling you if you want to get through and catch that flight. You were born in Lahore. You must therefore fill out this special form for Pakistani visitors and report to the police station immediately upon arrival in Calcutta.
Fawzia: But I just told you Sir, I have a US passport with a non-police-reporting visa. Why should I fill out this ridi…I mean – this police reporting form? It doesn’t make any…
Officer: Ok, do as you wish. Please move to the side. Next! (He signals the family behind Fawzia to move up to the Entry booth).
Fawzia (Desperately looks around to see if anyone else is noticing her plight. No one meets her eye): Ok, ok, fine; I’ll fill out and sign that fu***** form. But it’s wrong (Raising her voice and looking around hopefully).
Officer: (Beat) Stop creating a scene Madame, or I will have to resort to measures you will not like. Just stand to the side and give me the form when you are done. (Turns to the man and his family behind Fawzia, and flipping open their passports, smiles and says): Welcome back to India Mr and Mrs Modi…what meaningful names you’ve given your children…Bhagavad and Gita…very nice, namaskar…
Scene 2: Israel/Palestine (Jericho) border, just past Allenby Bridge.
Sana (Whispering to Fawzia as they disembark from the bus bringing visitors from the bridge to the border crossing): Listen, once we are inside just go your own way and don’t let on to the Israeli border officer who checks your passport and visa that you know me. Who knows if or how long they’ll detain me. They generally do because I’m Palestinian. So once you are outside just wait till I get out and I’ll do the same if that happens to you. If one of us gets through and the other one doesn’t come out in 15-20 minutes, then whoever is out should get in a cab and get to Ramallah to my parents’ house and wait for the other one. You have the address. Don’t worry! But remember to tell the officers you are going to see your friend in Tel Aviv – not that you are going to the West Bank; they’ll never let you through…
Fawzia (To herself): Oh God, what was I thinking coming to this part of the world…
Older blond woman officer (To Fawzia): Do you know her (Pointing to Sana, who has been questioned and waved through and is walking out the doors without looking at Fawzia).
Fawzia: (Trying to sound calm): No, no, not at all; I mean I don’t know her…I just met her on the bus coming here…
Officer (Unimpressed): Where are you headed?
Fawzia: Tel Aviv. To see my friend Professor Avrham Oz. I’m giving a…
Officer: Do you have his address and telephone number?
Fawzia: Yes, yes, here it is…and this letter of invitation…
Officer: (Looks long and hard at the document, turns to a short female officer standing nearby, says something to her in Hebrew).
Young blond woman officer: Ms F-A-KSH-A?? Sokhee, if I am not pkhonouncing pkhoperly…(Smiles). Please come this way. We just need to verify a few things…would you like some Israeli khoffee and khookies? Best in the world (Smiles again).
Fawzia: What…what exactly do you need to verify? Why am I being detained like this?
Young officer: Oh pleeze, not to worry Miss Fahkhouzeea is it? There are many stamps on your passport to Pakistan…why do you go there so often? Are you Pakistinian?? Here, drink some of our famous and delicious khafee…
Fawzia (downs a cup of nespresso anxiously, which brings on the following hallucination as she staggers onto a strategically-placed sofa):
Fawzia: Manto Sahib, is that you? What are you doing here? I thought you were supposed to have died decades ago…shortly after the Partition of Pakistan and India in 1947…
Manto (Famous Urdu short story writer, laughing): Ha ha, indeed, I am but a figment of your imagination dear girl…I am just intrigued by this location (Looks around in amusement). It reminds me of this exchange by two of my characters in the asylum of Lahore, in my short story called “Toba Tek Singh” that continues to be a source of my posthumous infamy…do you recall it?
Fawzia shakes her head in a daze.
Manto: Well, I thought it might bring you some comfort…you see, when a Muslim inmate on the Indian side of the border is being forcibly removed from his home inside the asylum after Partition by the newly minted Indian government powers, he cannot understand why he is being thus uprooted nor what the word Pakistan means. So he asks another inmate, a learned maulvi, to explain what’s going on.“What is this thing, Pakistan?” to which my other character, the learned maulvi replies:“Don’t you know? This is a place in India known for its excellent cutthroat razors.”
Ha ha ha! Isn’t that funny? I mean who says mental patients can’t also be brilliant? Well, my dear girl, I must be off…your coffee-induced hallucination is about to wear off…good luck dealing with this madhouse…
Young blond officer (Snapping her fingers in front of Fawzia’s face): Madame…are you okay? I think this khaffee maybe was too strong for you? Good news – your papers have checked out…let me bring you to a taxi which will take you to your friend at Tel Aviv University.
Fawzia (Shaking off her hallucination): Oh no…I mean thank you…but I can get my own taxi…
Officer: Not at all Madame. We will provide you the transport. You are our guest. We must make sure you get safely to your proper destination on the right side of the border.
Fawzia (As she is led off by the officer, muttering in a stage aside): F***. I need to get to Ramallah, not Tel Aviv. Manto, where are you? I need the help of some excellent cutthroat razors to get out of this nightmare…