As the lights began to dim, the three of us were still marvelling at how many people had shown up. And paid good money to see this. Of course, it was different for us. For me. This was the story of a family not too dissimilar from my own. That is, one with a Pakistani father and English mother. The only difference being that this was set somewhere up north. And no one was an only child. It was my chance to show off my childhood through the magnifying glass of retrospective nostalgia. A crash course in cultural context for my cousins; having just moved from Lahore to Oxford for a year. And who accepted our small family unit unconditionally. Little did we know, then, that we were in for a rather rude awakening. For East is East didn’t live up to the hype of being the best British comedy film of the year. It was so much more. For me, it was an honest account of racism in the early 1970s. Not to mention tensions within an inter-racial marriage. Then there was homophobia and domestic violence. As well as the misplaced stereotype of white girls being easy; something that today ought to be recognised for what it is. Yet another form of misogyny disguised as unenlightened excess. But above all there was the father. A man so steadfast in the belief that his religion and heritage should be handed down to his children. With no questions asked. And certainly, no acknowledgment that his non-Muslim and non-Pakistani wife ought to by rights exert equal influence in the upbringing of their family. Yet the patriarch still managed to evoke compassion. If only because he was oblivious to how his wilful myopia was turning his loved ones against him. That being said, had this character been played by anyone other than the wonderful Om Puri this may not have been the case. Some four years later I moved to Lahore and had my second encounter with this film. It resulted in a family argument. I had been staying with my maternal aunt and my eye caught a glimpse of the still familiar scenes on the small television set in the corner. Nudging my cousin, I reached for the remote control to pump up the volume. But she had already seen it and didn’t approve. Yet another western film intent on portraying Muslim men in a bad light; she concluded. Never mind that this was an autobiographical account penned by actor and playwright Ayub Khan-Din. But she remained unwilling to even entertain the possibility of chauvinism on the father’s part; as if the patriarchy and (any) religion have never been known to fuse together to create extreme toxicity to silence women’s voices and erase their presence. As far as my cousin was concerned it was enough that he was Muslim. Whereas, in truth, she only felt this way because Islam was her faith. Though there was the added advantage of manipulating the conversation to have an unveiled dig at my own mother. Who stood charged with having converted on paper only. Never mind that my dad once told me that just before they had married my mother asked him if she should start studying the Holy Quran. He had, in his own words, left it up to her. Upon hearing this unforgivable ‘betrayal’ — my cousin promptly accused my mother of sending my paternal grandfather to an early grave. Other relatives have, over the years, tried to offer solace by emphasising that my father had every right to marry a woman of the Book; as is sanctioned by Islam. As if my parents wouldn’t have wed had it not been so. The protagonist is a man so steadfast in the belief that his religion and heritage should be handed down to his children. With no questions asked. And certainly, no acknowledgment that his non-Muslim and non-Pakistani wife ought to by rights exert equal influence in the upbringing of their family At times, I wonder what it is that allows individuals to forget how other peoples’ belief systems are as dear to them as are their own. Regardless of whether these are faith- or feline-based; which may, of course, amount to the same thing. Almost 20 years have passed since East is East first hit cinema screens. And I am today reminded of this tragi-comedy of errors as I sit here in Lahore. As the country still reels from the fallout of the Aasia Bibi case. Which, in reality, boils down to a single point: one group’s faith is to be protected while another’s is free to be denigrated. Even by a sitting head of government who promised Naya Pakistan for all. It doesn’t even really matter whether Imran Khan’s comments about Christ not being an historical figure were taken out of context. What’s important is how an entire community feels at hearing their Prime Minister essentially defame a religion that takes as its central premise belief in Jesus as a living being. Such recklessness only serves to further fan the flames of anti-Christian sentiment. All of which reminds me of an unfortunate incident in a Lahore newsroom many years ago. A book review had come our way and it was something to do with the Crusades. A Christian colleague found it blasphemous. Yet when we approached him, the resident editor was unwilling to drop it. On the grounds that we didn’t have to worry about the Christians coming to our office and blowing themselves up. Yes, really. If this is the state of affairs in modern and democratic Pakistan — no one has much to look forward to. When all is said and done, the Om Puri character at least had the good grace to (belatedly) develop some sense of self-awareness. The same, however, can’t be said of our leaders. Or, indeed, of some of our editors. Sadly. The writer is the Deputy Managing Editor, Daily Times. She can be reached at [email protected] and tweets @humeiwei Published in Daily Times, November 25th 2018.