I’m sipping on an iced mocha in Espreso, a coffee bar off MM Alam Road, in the heart of Lahore. Opposite me sits a friend, who must remain nameless.
For the purposes of our story, let’s call her Ayesha. She’s a professional, educated in an Ivy League college and has just about everything going for her.
The bar can’t be called well-lit, but it’s not dim either. Around us, sit a few couples — women in groups of three and two — and single women as well. Some are smoking. The conversation is easy.
Espreso could easily be in Delhi’s Select City Walk Mall, or a bar in Bandra, Mumbai.
But this is Pakistan, where President Zardari told a Western TV station only the other day that the fundos were poised to take over.
I tell Ayesha about the scenes played over and over again on Indian TV recently: Pramod Muthalik and his goons of the Sri Rama Sene pulling out and bashing up women from a pub in Mangalore.
Ayesha is shocked. I tell her that all you need is a bunch of four or five people to ransack a chic place like the basement coffee bar in which we are sitting.
What happened in Mangalore could well happen in Lahore. Like Muthalik and Co., the fundos here had warned young couples against celebrating Valentine’s Day.
The conversation turns to Swat: Ayesha tells me it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth — a tourist paradise where she has been on work and pleasure.
It would be grossly unfair, I guess, to compare Muthalik to Mullah Fazlullah aka Mullah Radio for his Islamist FM radio broadcasts, and his hordes, who have turned the Valley of Swat into the Valley of Death.
The Mullah in Swat is armed to the teeth, but Muthalik in Bangalore, at the moment, has only a few goons. But they are united on one issue: that women (and men) need to live and behave according to their designs.
Tailpiece: Before going to the coffee bar, I had dinner the previous night at Dhaba, which is on MM Alam Road. The brain curry was excellent; the road is otherwise dotted with fancy eating places. For those interested in Google history, M.M. Alam is Muhammad Mahmood Alam — a fighter ace of Bengali origin — who won laurels for his country in 1965. In the 1971 war, however, this Pakistan Air Force pilot was grounded along with others who were Bengalis, if Wikipedia is to be believed.