One Heart but Two Owners: India and Pakistan
by Aliya Harir (Pakistan)
Then I thought, man, isn’t that just typical? You wait and wait and wait for something, and then when it happens, you burst into tears, tears of joy and happiness. Those were some very hard feelings when I first entered the land I had wished to see for nasty long years. Paulo Coelho says “When you want something, the entire universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” I had long yearned for one such visit to, as I now had the chance to, India and the maxim proved as true in my case as in “the shepherd’s”.
Kal-katte Ka Jo Zikr Kiya Tune Ae Hamnasheen,
Ek Teer Sa Mere Seene Mein Maara K Haaye Haaye
(You speak of Calcutta in front of me, O my friend; the very name of which shot a piercingly sweet pain through my heart.) – Mirza Ghalib
The year 2013, when the television sets of Pakistan and India unprecedentedly while most of their time on headlines germane to preparing the common man for another war that I get a chance to visit this beautiful country and meet the wonderful people there. During the by-road journey, I was bracing myself for the anticipated volley of questions from my hosts and my responses to them.
“Isn’t Pakistan unsafe having bomb blasts almost every day?” “Do women still wear those traditional kinds of burkas (topi wala) and that same way?” These were the questions commonly posed which I sort of tried to answer. I logged into my facebook account and showed them photos of friends from Pakistan. I was struck when someone asked “How do Pakistanis like Nasibo Laal?”
I was attending the International Youth Peace Fest by an India-based NGO Yuvsatta at Chandigarh from Sept 27 to October 03 and the theme of which for the six-day conference was ‘Youth of the World Unite’. But, quite off the mark, now I was to talk about the youth (jawani) of Nasibo Laal ! “Well, Aliya relax, your Pakistanis do the same” my heart consoled me.
It’s these people-to-people interactions, the media interviews, lil fights on cricket matches, visa issues, bollywood themes, common Indo-Pak problems, remarkable commonalities of Indo-Pak culture, and in fact the comparison of prices of commodities, that turned out to be my biggest cart-off from the gathering of 500 young people from more than 30 countries. The Pakistani delegation — 5 of us — were clearly the mini-celebrities in Chandigarh and we enjoyed our six days of fame!
We were offered by these lovely people a visit to Shimla, Mumbai, Delhi and where not? Unfortunately, India issues city-specific visas to Pakistanis for security reasons. Pakistan does the same because we share the ‘same culture’.
DAY 1: Border Hindustan Ka, Lagay Apna Apna
On World Tourism Day, having had breakfast at Lahore, I was headed to the Wagha border where I met the other group fellows. One of our friends was, unlike us, frisked at the immigration desk because of carrying Indian currency. After much confusion, we were allowed to go. Our greed for Indian food came up once we entered India. We had our lunch at Haveli Jalandhar, a place that reflects the true spirit of Punjabi culture and culinary taste.
Our destination Chandigarh was not far away and we at last made to it. We were welcomed at the gate in traditional Punjabi style with ‘dholki’ that accompanied us to the auditorium we were supposed to be at. It seemed like we are the Pakistani ‘baraties’ coming over to snatch a ‘kanya kumari’ Hindustani ‘bahu’. As soon as we entered the premises we got a thunderous round of applause by people from more than 30 countries and particularly from the Indians, all the camera men held their position towards us and we had to ‘smile and let go’ , ‘smile and let go’ time and again. The first day of the conference was full of music and dances. We made it to the event belatedly, but had what we desired for: the dinner. And then we all met our host families.
Pramod Sharma Jee, organizer, the epicenter of the whole event, told me that ‘sab say barhiya ghar apko mila hai’ (you got the best host).
My host father told me that he was born at Lahore in 1942 and he migrated to India in 1949. Mr. Harjindher Singh Talwar has visited Pakistan around 5 times. He first hosted a Pakistani family during 2004-05 Pakistan-India test cricket matches and since then he has been hosting people from Pakistan who visit India for different purposes. This time I got the lucky chance to be his daughter.
Before retiring for the night, I glanced at the past few hours: Breakfast at Lahore, lunch at Jalandhar, dinner at Chandigarh; for something that can happen in less than 12 hours, I need to go through visa formalities 30 days before the plan. Why we need a visa to go and fill our bellies with our favorite dishes?
DAY 2: Pyaar, Sarhad Paar
The second day and the first morning in India dawned upon us with rain. My host father has his own dairy farm. Now decide for yourself what my breakfast would have been. After breakfast I headed to the conference venue.
This day, there was a panel discussion on 4 themes Volunteering, Girl Child, Green Citizens, Peace Dialogue. I spoke about volunteering and got a great applause, less for what I said but more for what I was, a Pakistani, a neighbor. At the conference, I met Laxman T. Gole from Mumbai. His story turned out to be the most inspiring one, the way he rose from dust to skies, following the Gandhian ideology, made all of us spellbound. On the same day I cam to know Mr. Bernard Bernie Meyer / The American Gandhi who began his journey on April 27th ending it on August 19th, 2007. He walked as Gandhi from Faslane, Scotland to London, England with Footprints for Peace and the theme, “Toward a Nuclear Free World.” During the 6 days of the conference, he dressed up as Gandhi jee. I couldn’t be more blissful.
Delegates from all countries had brought with them a handful of soil and a bottle of water from their country, these all were mixed together and a new symbol of peace was created. Our delegation from Pakistan participated in almost all games and I won the racing competition.
“Are you from Pakistan?” Can I get a picture with you?” was a repeated and persistent request, one that our delegation gladly submitted to. Pakistani delegation was given a delightful reception as ‘Bech Mai Sarhad Agai Tou Kya, Hain Tou Ham Aik He’ (we are the same people what if the borders lie in between) and we had to be together every time to make sure we make to every lunch, dinner or tea party together.J
DAY 3: Aik Dil, So Afsanay
Chandigarh is a planned urban city and was developed to settle the Hindu and Sikh community that was migrating from Pakistan to India even many years after the partition.
Today all the delegates were supposed to carry out a march with their respective flags for world peace, from Chandigarh’s most-significant heritage insignia, the open hand between Punjab & Haryana Secretariat and Punjab & Haryana High Court.
I had learnt of the protests and incidents that took place in Chandigarh months back; protests, riots, and Pakistani flag burning. Holding the Pakistani flag, this thought kept crossing my mind, the whole day. The Pakistani and Indian flag were at the fore front; we tied the flags together during the whole parade to give this message to the world that despite 66 years of separation, the youth of both the countries is united to bring peace in the region and the world too.
Today I miss Martin Luther King saying: “We will not build a peaceful world by following a negative path. It is not enough to say we must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war but the positive affirmation of peace. We must see that peace represents a sweeter music, a cosmic melody that is far superior to the discords of war. Somehow, we must transform the dynamics of the world power struggle from the negative nuclear arms race, which no one can win, to a positive contest to harness humanity’s creative genius for the purpose of making peace and prosperity a reality for the entire world. We must shift the arms race into peace race.”
This goes exactly for the two neighbors. The day continued with our media interviews and plenary sessions on the previous day’s sub-themes. Then we had the colorful mesmerizing cultural evening of folk dances, folk instruments & folk music of Punjab, Haryana & Himachal Pradesh including martial arts of Punjab, and contemporary Sufi aerial, and some back-to-back musical performances. We were overjoyed to see how the different and diverse colors in India have kept the different regions bound together. The colorful evening was well-received by the audience.
I thought, today, I would get the chance to sleep earlier and longer, but another awesome dinner was in store. My host parents had arranged a dinner for all the Pakistani delegates. My three didis (sisters) along with their families were there to meet me too. The delicious dinner was followed by an ‘Antakshari’ before we retired for the night, where my host didis impressed their melodious voices on my heart for long and good.
DAY 4: Birthday Beyond Border
On the fourth day, we were taken to a television talk show ‘Punjab speaks’. The media persons gave us a warm welcome and appreciated the thoughts of all the international delegates regarding peace, Here too, we Pakistanis were the cynosure of attention. Ahem Ahem!
This was followed by the formal sessions and group activities and then an auto (3 wheeler rickshaw) rally campaign in the trinity of Chandigarh, Panchkula & SAS Nagary to promote the dignity and safety of girls. It was part of the ongoing 8th International Youth Peace Fest (IYPF 2013) being organized by Yuvsatta, and flagged off by Mr David Mees, Culture Attaché, US Embassy, New Delhi.
Someone in the Auto whispered, “aray Hina Rabbani Khar aik aankh maar day tou ham saara Hindustan Pakistan ko day dain” (We can handover whole of India to Pakistan, only if Hina Rabbani Khar gives us a look). It was a shaggy cat story, Indian-style! By then, I had come up with some Pakistani versions.
Today’s biggest surprise was, Anty Astinder, Kiran’s (a Pakistani delegate) host mother, taking us to her place for celebrating a belated and early birthday of me and Tanzila, another Pakistani delegate, respectively. The birthday party was followed by a dinner at Metro restaurant where only the South Asian delegates were invited; and we took oath to make South Asia a successful model in future. Up in the sequence was a little musical night. Birthday beyond border was the best ever thing that happened during our stay.
DAY 5: India ka Atif Aslam
The busiest day!
Starting off with a live talk show with Day & Night News Channel, we moved to a local school where Tanzila conducted an interactive session with the school children. Those little talented kids entranced our attention for long. My host father then took us to a local mall, Elante, for some shopping. And then we were grabbed by the media channels for photo sessions and interviews. In the wake of that was to happen a colorful evening celebrating a multi cultural ‘China Evening’. All the delegates were dressed up in their traditional attire and rocked the munch. And the ‘can we get a picture with you?’ request kept coming up, again.
Mitharam (a Pakistani delegate) went to the stage to sing a song. The crowd shouted ‘Atif Aslam ka gaana sunao.’ Everyone was like ‘Atif Atif Atif’. India’s obsession with this cool man could hardly be overestimated. Pakistanioo! Happy? Some of the participants kept talking about the sufi and classical music that came from Kashmir and Sindh and were sung for generations. Classical music of both India and Pakistan has similar origins, and cross border concerts may one day be more common than cross border terrorism. Contemporary music appeals to the young music lovers in both the countries.
DAY 6: Bandhan Pak’kay Dhagoon Ka
The last day!
A valedictory function was arranged in honor of the delegates, participants, volunteers, organizers, coordinators and other dignitaries to bring the conference to an end and give time to move on. Again the Chandigarh local government’s heads were invited and they gave a heartfelt welcome to delegates from all the countries especially us; Pakistanis.
A hi-tea was served for the delegates at Judicial Academy Chandigarh where we got the privilege to meet some excellent judges. After the party, what I had been waiting for was about to come true. We went to the local bazaar for shopping, had chit chat with the local shopkeepers. Some of them narrated to us the stories of migration and how they belonged to areas of Pakistan. A conversation with a local shopkeeper went as:
‘So you are from Pakistan?’ (Looking at the badge on my arm and bag)
‘Oh yes, I am here to attend a Peace conference.’
‘I hope peace prevails between the two countries’
‘Insha Allah. You see Pakistan’s new government is very positive regarding improvement of relations with India’
‘Aray ladna pyar ki nishani hai, yehi ladna India Pakistan ka pyar hai.’ (Quarrel of love enhances love, India and Pakistan inseparably each other). And all the customers in the shop laughed their heads off.
The way I love Muhammad Ali Jinnah, I love Gandhi Je. He was the epitome of peace in the Indian subcontinent; my respect for this great man is beyond the width of an ocean. The Indians have given us so much love, respect, identity that we feel at home here; it is just like going global without leaving home. The political tensions of both the countries do not represent the views of the common man.
Today I gotta see my picture in the local newspapers titled ‘messengers of peace’. On a very short note, I want to express a grievance for being misquoted. In a short interview, I related my message of peace to the great leaders Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Gandhi Je; however Jinnah’s name was plainly removed in the final copy. I hope someday we learn to follow the journalism ethics both sides: India and Pakistan, where truth and honesty prevails over every other consideration. It was this lack of journalistic ethics of his time that led Mark Twain to remark ‘If you don’t read newspapers, you are uninformed; if you read them you are misinformed’.
And finally…. What?
It was in the wink of eye that I was reminded to go back to Pakistan: it wasn’t easy. I tried recollecting myself; my courage to leave India … a part of me opposed me again and again and again in all the possible ways. But I had to go and be in my beloved Pakistan, the place I love and I belong to, my dignity and my identity. And I promised the Indian land that someday I will come back to find the missing parts of myself. While I was preparing to leave India on the night of October 03, I felt like sensing the history, and consoling my soul of the sorrows, borne by the nation that had been same for centuries, among whom a barrier wall had emerged along the boundaries. I labored away with all my might to understand why it happened but at last I buried my head in the pillow, shed some painful tears while the flag-badges of India and Pakistan on my sweater hugged eachother and cried the blues.
Special thanks to Tanzila Khan, Farhat Raza Anty, Meetha Ram, Kiran Samuel for giving me a wonderful company. My sincere thanks to Pramod Sharma, Pooja Sharma, Ajat Shatru and all the volunteers and organizers for making this event happen. Thanks to my most valued friend Akhtar Nawaz Tanoli for his proofreading services.
Aliya Harir is the founder member of the Catalyst – TC and is the convenor (Pakistan) of Aaghaz-e-Dosti