Profile – Mayank Austen Soofi

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The Delhi Walla

A Delhi Walla having a passion for Pakistan.

[Text by G V Krishnan; picture by Rajesh Thakur; the author is a retired Times of India journalist and host the blogs Recycled Writings, My Take by GVK, and Mysore Blog Park. This story was originally published in Desicritic.]

‘Who is this bloke?’. I wondered, on reading about his blog – Pakistan Paindabad – making waves. Mayank Austen Soofi. The name didn’t mean a thing to me till then. And then there was this mail from fellow Desicritic and friend Tanay, recalling Mayank’s post at Desicritics one year back, about his visit to Lahore’s Heera Mandi. “I was able to smell/feel the streets of Lahore,” wrote Tanay, touched by the narrative. Sanjay Leela Bhansali, they say, plans to make a film based on Mayank’s post. I have plea for Mr Bhansali: Do remember to send us all DCs an invite for the film’s premiere.

This new-found media interest in Mayank, I presume, started with a PTI news agency feature from Islamabad. My hunch is, in the coming days there may well be a rash of Sunday print media features and news channel interviews on this Delhi blogger who fell in love with our neighbors after a visit to Karachi and Lahore. A leading Pakistan daily – Daily Times – called Soofi’s blog ‘the website that teaches you neighbourly love’.

But then, it appears, not everybody loves Mayank Austen Soofi and his pro-Pak web initiative. Why would a promising young man from Delhi be blogging Pakistan? The question factors in it suspicion of a hidden agenda – could Soofi be a Paki staying in India, possibly ISI-connected. That Mayank anticipated this, but chose to press on with his blog speaks of courage. If I were in film making, I would probably do a documentary on what makes Mayank tick. Who knows such a movie might prove an inspiration for people to create more cross-border blogs; and for bloggers like Adnan (a Karachi-based blogger) to come out of their ‘social closet’ and declare without fear or reserve their good neighbourly feelings for people across the border.

In his tribute to the late playback Kishore Kumar the Karachi blogger noted that he had thought twice before posting the piece, declaring unashamedly his liking for Kishoreda , “Many regular readers would consider me hypocrite”, wrote Adnan. His readers know him for his writings on politics and religion and “my rant on Music not (being) a part of Islam”. Advisedly, Adnan, the blogger, doesn’t give away much about himself, other than his first name and e-mail ID. Mayank is more communicative, insofar as he reveals he hosts three other blogs and is the owner of a private library.

Wonder if Mayank subscribes to Shelfari (would he like me to send him an invite?) so that we have the benefit of browsing his ‘shelf’. It is said you get an insight into a person by looking at his collection of books. A scroll down his blogs, reading a bit here and a piece there, enabled me to draw an identikit (perhaps, as unreliable as a normal police job). Mayank, I would say, emerges as hyper-active, but regular kind of guy who likes being all over the town – at embassy parties in Chanakyapuri, a by lane in Ballimaran, used-book shop at Pahargunj or on location where a TV news crew at work in Kalkaji. (see Soofi’s photo blog)

He is the type that would ask Deepak Chopra loaded questions – ‘was Buddha a god?’, ‘how’d he feel, if he were to land in Delhi today’ (‘baffled’, I would guess, at all that traffic). I didn’t know the world’s best known high-end seller of spirituality is Delhi-born, was schooled in St..Columbus. So was Shah Rukh Khan, and, I learnt from Mayank interviews, Anupama Chopra.

Blogger Soofi comes out as a skillful interviewer, drawing out well-known people to disclose value-adding trivia about their life-story. Deepak Chopra, Soofi finds out, was a part-time news reader in AIR getting Rs.75; had fun as student in AIIMS (Doctors in his time, presumably, didn’t lose their screws inside a patient on the operating table).

Soofi pays attention to details – such as Chopra’s Vespa scooter; and Tom Alter’s (actor) passion for cycling, notably when he races to meet his girl – “I remember cycling to my girlfriend, from Daryagunj to East Patel Nagar, in 30 minutes flat”. Wouldn’t we like to know what Mayank Austen Soofi’s preferred mode of transport is; and whether he has a girl-friend ?