Sometimes, the biggest irony of your life gives you a greater advantage over managing its affairs. Little did singer-actor Kiran Chaudhry know that her British passport would be instrumental in giving her a privilege only a few could ever dream of. Even imagining hassle-free travel between Pakistan and India is improbable, but her life is a living testament of the possibilities this proposition proposes. That moving freely between two loggerhead nations is plausible but only if your nationality bears the stamp of the Colonial power.
â€œIt definitely is ironic that in order to move freely between the two countries I have to be a passport holder of our former coloniser. However, I feel I am lucky and blessed because I am experiencing life in undivided India, and it is an enriching and a wonderful experience,â€ Kiran says.
Her engagement with India, like every Pakistani, began at an early age. The arrival of the news that friends or relatives were travelling to India invariably lent a euphoric air to the atmosphere, and the excitement would later translate into a long list of shopping items, which would be handed over to the â€˜luckyâ€™ ones travelling to the other side.
â€œFor people living in Pakistan, it is more interesting and exciting to come to India than to go to any other country. India is definitely an interesting place to come,â€ she says. Hence her story was no different when she came to India for short trips.
She wouldnâ€™t have the faintest idea that one day Indiaâ€™s financial capital would become her second home. But life is all about surprises, and she surprised herself in early 2012 when she fell in love with an Indian restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani. She was on her way to Goa for a wedding in 2011. Mumbai was her stopover and common friends had suggested her to meet him because he was well-known in the hospitality industry. So the group of friends met at a cafÃ© in Bandra and the two instantly hit off well. The love was mutual, but both were hesitant to charter a prohibited territory because of the vulnerability this association was likely to bring forth.
â€œWe took our sweet time to decide. This is because if you come from these two countries, you know things are already complicated and you donâ€™t want to complicate them further. And falling in love and getting married to people from these two nations is really not on your top-of-the-to-do-list. So we waited and gave our relationship some time,â€ she recollects.
And within six months of their courtship, they were engaged, followed by a grand wedding in December, 2012 in Lahore. Since then she was been shuttling between India and Pakistan. â€œI donâ€™t know how this marriage would have worked out if I was not a British passport holder. I know of couples who had had such a traumatic experience that they had to move their base to Dubai to live a peaceful life,â€ she tells me from Bangalore where she was with her husband to launch their new restaurant.
Bridging the personal and professional divide
Mother of two-year-old Khayaal, Kiran has successfully straddled between the two worlds â€” of personal and professional. If in Pakistan she is still remember as the lead vocalist of a band called Club Caramel or the actor who recently worked in Shah, in India, she is the visionary entrepreneur behind the multi-designer store â€˜Anhadâ€™, which stocks the very best of Pakistani fashion like Elan by Khadijah Shah, Farida Hasan, Sania Maskatiya,Sapphire and Faraz Manan.
Since she enjoys a birdâ€™s eye view of the two nations, Kiran has used this virtue to identify potential and profitable markets that would increase the trade between India and Pakistan. Fashion, according to her, is one of them. The biggest testimony of her entrepreneurial judgement is the fact that within a year of opening her flagship store, the fashion house has opened two pop up stores in Delhi, NCR, and is going to test waters in Mumbai soon. â€œFashion just happened by chance. It was at the behest of my Pakistani friends that I started organising fashion exhibitions in India to help them sell their apparels. They were really successful. That is when I realised that there was a good demand for Pakistani fashion in India, and hence came the store,â€ she says.
While she feels that Pakistani fashion holds lots of promise, she is quick to lament that Pakistan has failed to market its fashion industry strategically. â€œIndia has pushed and marketed Bollywood so hard that it has become a global name. In Pakistan we havenâ€™t pushed fashion so fiercely. Our fashion industry is so dynamic that it shows a very different face of Pakistan. However, I feel that Pakistanis are a bit inward looking.â€
â€œThey are quite happy in their world,â€ she says. However, she is quick to point out, that one of the possible reasons for this complacency could be the battles the nation is fighting, internally â€” of economic mismanagement, civil issues and most importantly, terrorism. â€œThe plague of our times is terrorism and it can only be handled with concerted efforts by the world,â€ she says.
Kiranâ€™s multicultural education background exposed her to the vagaries of conflict, war and terrorism when, at the age of 15, she received a prestigious international scholarship and went to Wales on a two-year programme. The scholarship was aimed to create a network of students who would be instrumental in preventing conflict and develop a fair understanding of geo-politics.
After this scholarship, she received an offer from Oxford where she chose Philosophy, Politics and Economics as a subject for her undergraduate studies. And then she decided to become a lawyer; she worked in a corporate firm for five years in London before packing her bags to join her father in the family business of textile mills.
All these experiences have come together and transformed her into a person who isnâ€™t only a fine example of beauty with brains, but also someone who looks at the world through the prism of practicality â€” and in her view the fragile and volatile relationship between India and Pakistan is nothing but a â€œshameâ€ because the two nations are only losing out on the possibilities that a meaningful association would bring on the table.
â€œWe should ideally be the largest trading partners of each other because of similar tastes and preferences people from both sides have. And in this partnership, India will benefit more because they are selling finished products whereas Pakistan mainly sells commodity products. It is not that no trade is happening between the two nations, but it hasnâ€™t been explored fully.â€
â€œPakistan is still a virgin market for India. I personally feel that trade is the surest way to bring peace. Look at colonial powers. How during the World War, European countries were fighting with each other, but they were quick to realise that in perennial fighting only they will be losing out on trade. So they formed a block and came together. This is what India and Pakistan too should try â€” develop an understanding that they have more to gain from each other,â€ she says.
She feels the smartest and the surest way for reconciliation between the two nations can be possible only if they become interdependent. â€œIndia and Pakistan should get married to nurture a genuine commitment to bring both sides together and have more aligned interests. Once they start working towards common goals, they will start benefiting. In fact, if this happens they can give China a run for its money. But, such a companionship needs commitment. And it is a shame that we arenâ€™t letting that happen,â€ she adds.
Elaborating on the latest rhetoric that has led to Pakistani actors being banned in India, Kiran says that art should be left alone from politics because they have a global audience â€” an audience that doesnâ€™t love or hate them for their nationality, but admire them for their talent.
â€œAudience doesnâ€™t watch them because they are Indians or Pakistanis. They have a following because of their talent and the reason why Pakistani or Indian artists are popular across the border is because we share common culture and it is easy to connect. It is about language and culture, and not about national boundaries,â€ she says.
What happens in such cases, she points out, is that when you are banning films or actors, audience finds a way of accessing them â€” hence flourishes a network of piracy and illegal hubs. â€œIt becomes a forbidden fruit,â€ she says with wry humour.
â€œAnd since no publicity is bad publicity. The government and media houses in India have given so much publicity to Pakistani actors for the past month that even those who didnâ€™t know about them have been introduced to these names. They might go and watch the films in which they feature, which otherwise they wouldnâ€™t have. So, I feel this whole discourse has been a little misguided,â€ she says.
The real losers, according to her, are cinema owners and viewers who are going to lose out, if films featuring Pakistani or Indian actors are banned. â€œOnly they will suffer. People would still watch these films, their viewing will suffer and privacy will flourish. So, if you analyse it closely, these clashes only affect business,â€ she adds.
She hopes to get back on creative front and love what she enjoys the most â€” being in front of the camera. However, her son and her fashion store top her priority list for now. â€œWith a two-year-old it is a bit difficult to get back into action in full force. Right now, my stores need my full attention and without getting distracted by any other project, I will continue to focus on this business,â€ she concludes.