Friendship story of Aaghaz-e-Dosti Conveners – Aliya Harir (Pakistan) & Devika Mittal (India)
Here we publish the friendship story of Devika Mittal (Delhi, India) and Aliya Harir (Islamabad, Pakistan). Devika Mittal is convener – India of Aaghaz-e-Dosti (May 2012 – Present). Aliya Harir served as convener – Pakistan (October 2013-May 2017).
I met Aliya Harir through a mutual quest for indopak peace. In August 2013, I saw on the Aman ki Asha facebook group an announcement sharing that Aliya was organizing a peace painting event at her university. As I was a part of similar peacebuilding initiative (Aaghaz-e-Dosti) in India, I approached her with a request for collaboration, and she instantly agreed. While we began on a professional note, it did not take us long to become friends — the reason being a special bond that connects Indians and Pakistanis instantly in a positive way.
We are way too similar, and always have just so much to talk about. It has been more than three years of friendship. Now when we come across cultural similarities, we are hardly surprised. My friendship with Aliya is no different than the bond I share with my friends here in India. In fact, with some of my friends in India, I am still very formal in the way I speak. Exchanging friendly abuses is something that I don’t indulge in with them. But with Aliya, there are no such boundaries. We exchange friendly abuses quite freely, and also learn new ones from each other. It is all in the spirit of fun.
Working for indopak peace through Aaghaz-e-Dosti, and having friends in #Pakistan, I had always wanted to visit Pakistan. In November 2015, I luckily got an opportunity to visit Lahore for an academic conference on inclusive education at the University of Management and Technology. I, along with another Indian friend, presented a paper there. I was thrilled but when I announced this news to Aliya, it turned out that she was far more excited about my visit. I was happy to get a chance to visit Pakistan but sad because my visa was restricted to Lahore, and Aliya lives in Islamabad.
It was unbelievable when her immediate reaction was, “So what? I will come to Lahore to meet you.” We had already met twice in Delhi yet I was excitedly looking forward to meeting her in person, again. The first time Aliya came to India was in September’13 (exactly a month into our friendship) but she had a visa only for Chandigarh. We met in December of the same year at South Asian Peace Camp in Delhi. Aliya came to Delhi again in October’15 and March’16.
While every moment spent in Lahore was memorable, those two days spent with Aliya were the best when I felt completely at home. Shopping at Anarkali bazaar was like shopping with my close friends at Lajpat Nagar in Delhi. Sharing meals, exchanging laughter, discovering similarities, bargaining over prices at local shops, cracking jokes and roaming around Lahore became a journey of re-consolidating my belief that this conflict is futile, and the only thing that matters is my friendship with Aliya, a Pakistani. What brought us closer in this work was that we both were students and young professionals, striving to transform the #indopak conflict alongside our studies and jobs.
Trying to explain my bond with Aliya seems quite weird to me. Can someone explain his/her bond with his/her close friend? That is exactly my situation. She is among my closest friends, and no border or political situation can affect our bond. The insane fight between India and Pakistan is definitely not my fight. In fact, through her, I have been able to understand how futile and constructed this conflict is. Not only our culture, language, challenges but even our politics is the same! I refuse to believe that loving India should mean hating Pakistan. I love India and I also love Pakistan because it is where my friends are. It is where Aliya lives.
Aliya Harir writes:
I was promoting my ‘Indo-Pak-Afghan Painting for Peace’ event on social media when I got a message from Devika. She sent a ‘hi’ followed by a note for collaboration. We jointly organized the event at in Delhi and at Islamabad which is how we became friends. This developed into online chats via Faceboook and WhatsApp, where we discussed our likes, dislikes, hobbies, movies, and dramas. I found Devika polite yet endowed with a good sense of humor. Our almost daily conversations triggered a switch from the use of ‘aap’ to ‘tum’ and then ‘tu’. Now we talk several times a day and exchange constant messages regarding work and other issues.
It was through Devika that I came to realize how meaningless the animosity between the two countries is. Working together at #AaghazeDosti has given us an opportunity to learn about each other’s culture and life. Barely a few months into our friendship, we met in Delhi when she invited me over for a peace camp in Dec’13. I found her no different than her virtual image. She is a blend of positivism, goodness, and simplicity. She graciously offered me a place in her home to live when I went to Delhi in Mar’16. Devika’s mother filled me with yummy’licious food from morning to evening the whole seven days. Living at my enemy’s home I could not feel happier, safer, and more contended. We speak regularly for organization and planning of cross-border events, in addition to the sharing of our daily life problems and concerns. On days when there emerges a tense situation between India and Pakistan, we know on one hand that this will lead to jingoism, but we also see it as our opportunity to work together more effectively to raise our voice for #peace.
Nonetheless, we also drop sarcastic remarks to each other when the other team wins a cricket match. We like boasting about our cities, comparing them to cities on the other side of the border. We also engage in mutually fruitless exchange of remarks over which country has the best cities. I love generalizing that ‘Pakistanis are the best people on earth’, and she loves generalizing that ‘Indians are the best’ – of course all for the sake of fun. We do not believe in constructed differences, identities, or absolutes. Our faith is in a world that is beyond man made boundaries. This, I believe, is why I like Arjun Kapoor while she adores Atif Aslam.
Devika is my ‘partner in crime’. Three years into our friendship, I have been telling her that Indians are evil. Of course, she has reciprocated. Always! She holds this evil smile that is so contagious. Once, I was going through a personal crisis, and had hit a low point in my life. Devika stood by my side as a true loyal friend. She did what she could do the best: samjhana-bujhana (helping me understand the situation), daantna (scolding), himmat barhana (motivating), honsla bandhana (affirming solidarity), and hansana (cheering me up) despite that she is a Ph.D. scholar, and her time is very important. Unless reminded by the visa restrictions, I have never had the feeling of Devika and me belonging to ‘rival’ countries. We share so much in common – our way of communication, humour, gaaliyaan (friendly abuses), feelings, and values. I have been to #India several times, and have developed hundreds of friendships, but the one with Devika is the most special and will always remain so.
This story was originally posted as “Aaghaz-e-Dosti (Beginnings to an everlasting friendship)” on Friendships Across Borders: Aao Dosti Karein.