by Urwah Sultana (Pakistan)
“Islam teaches Tolerance not Hatred, Universal Brotherhood not Enmity; PEACE and not Violence.”
The relations between Pakistan and India have been subjected to strains by numerous political dilemmas and conflicts of history and present that include the Partition of British India in 1947, the Kashmir dispute and the many military conflicts which have been fought between the two States. These two States of South Asia share historic, cultural, geographic and economic links but unfortunately their relationship has always been filled with hostility and doubt.
Peace between these two States seems nearly impossible on political level but the ground realities are very different from this common and popular perception.
Being selected for the Global Youth Peace Fest – 2016 hosted by Yuvsatta was the first step towards my childhood dream to visit India. I was so excited to explore something new, things that I had been watching only on the TV screens. But on crossing the Wagha Border, my excitement couldn’t stay longer as I didn’t find anything new beyond that Line. Same air, sun, land, faces, language, dresses and even love! So I realized that we are recognizably similar, equally welcoming and extremely hospitable.
From the Indian Immigration office (Attari) to the Conference venue (Chandigarh and Shimla), I had interacted with people from the Military, Police and with Civilians and found that humanity and peace is the priority on both sides of the white line (border).
I had landed in India when the subcontinent was suffering in a war-frenzy environment. It was a highly intense political situation of Indo-Pak and jingoism was at it’s peak in both countries. But the security given by our host as well as the cooperation and love of the volunteers made us smile even in such times. Infact, the security, the protocol as well as the media attention to the Pakistanis made other country delegations jealous of our relation!
Throughout these seven days of my trip, I developed memories that are going to last forever. Some of my memories of my India Diaries are the visit to Rock Garden, Sukhna Lake, Sector 36, Sector 17, Market Sector 22, Elante Mall, Piccadilly Cinema, Chandigarh Institute of Hotel Management, Gurukul Global School – Chandigarh, Dev Samaj College, the beauty of Haveli Restaurant Jalandhar, Mandirs, Gurdwaras, the amazing Christ Church Shimla and the great Shimla Mall.
When I remember my Indian travel, I can never miss out on the yummy food – Pani Puri (Gol Gappe), Momos, Vada Pav, Pao Bhaji, Palak Paneer, Lassi, Chholy Pathoory! I had never experienced such a variety of Vegetarian food before.
There is too much to experience and explore in the India so I hope to revisit this country as I feel that war, hatred and bloodshed will never let the establishment of peace in the subcontinent. During my visit to India, I met enemies who were hospitable and loving! I never knew that enemies could be this way! If those that I met were enemies, then I wonder how friends would be like. So let politics guide us, not rule us!
Urwah Sultana is a Lahore-based social activist. She recently graduated from Punjab University in Social & Cultural Sciences and is currently working with Voice Society for Rehabilitation of the Special Persons. She is also an ambassador at the Women Leadership Program of Career Buzz Pakistan.
by Afzal Rahim Yousafzai
The one who has witnessed violence appreciates the value of peace. This is my story. I belong to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in the northwestern region of Pakistan. Our region has been affected by the worst spate of violence since 2001. From suicide bombings to unmanned drone attacks in tribal areas, we are at the centre stage of global attention due to proximity with Afghanistan. While Pakhtuns were getting killed, they were also being suspected of perpetrating the violence.
On the first day of January 2010, as I woke up, I came across a full page advertisement in the The News International (a very renowned newspaper in Pakistan). It gave me goosebumps! I left what I was doing and switched on my computer to check for the website of Aman ki Asha (Hope for Peace). I got through its Facebook page and began reading comments and feedback that were posted on it. It felt like the beginning of a new phase in my life. Toward something that I had always been pining and praying for … PEACE!
I am fond of connecting with new people from across the globe, being friends with them, learning about their lives and culture. The social media has been a great medium enabling me to do so. It has helped me connect with people from across the border and work to promote peace between India and Pakistan. For the past six years, I have used my social media connections to make friends in India. I dream of a strong political, social, cultural and economic bond between the SAARC nations. If France & Germany with all their bitterness can become a part of the European Union (EU) why can’t India & Pakistan take a step forward to a SAARC Union? Earlier, I did not have any friend from India. Then I befriended Mohit Mehta and we started discussing ideas to promote peace between the two countries. We were able to discover common ground on many issues. This gave a kick start to my building ever lasting friendships with Indians. Mohit introduced me to his college buddy and neighbor Harpreet Singh. I was also fortunate to be introduced to Pramod Sharma who organizes peace festival every year in India where youth from across the globe get the opportunity to participate.
I tried to attend the Global Youth Peace Festival for three consecutive years from 2011 to 2013 along with other delegates from Pakistan, but I unfortunately could not procure a visa. However, I did not lose hope and applied for the fourth time. I was selected to be a part of the Global Youth Peace Festival in the year 2014. On the day before the conference was to commence on September 27, our delegation was granted visa by the high commission of India in Pakistan. I was so excited to visit India that on the very night, I packed my luggage and left for the Wagah border from Peshawar. The thrill of crossing the border and left me all crazy and excited! I again participated in the Aman ki Asha Committee of the Model UN at Nagpur from June 2 to June 11, 2016
I have been lucky to visit India quite a few times. The gush of emotions one experiences while crossing the border is beyond any explanation. The love extended by people on the other side of the border is remarkable. I felt I was home. There is a welcoming warmth, hospitality and a bond of love that unites citizens on both sides. It is an inexplicable feeling! My each visit to India has me given me fond memories.
Many of my Indian friends like Ms. Astinder Kaur (I feel as close to her as I would to any of my blood relative), Ms. Laleh Busheri (an enthusiastic lady full of life, working selflessly for humanity), Mr. Pramod Sharma (without whose efforts all the wonderful organization of the conference would be difficult to imagine) and many others have found a special place in my heart, in my thoughts and prayers. When I think of my Indian friends who have joined and supported me on my peace journey, I am reminded of the following lines …
Main Akela hi Chala Tha Janib-e-Manzil Magar
Log Saath Aate Gaye Aur Karwa Banta Gaya…
(I started alone towards my destination…People came together and became caravan)
We, Indians and Pakistanis, share many commonalities in terms of lifestyle and our love for food. We are separated only by a piece of land. So much about us is similar. If both the nations come and strive together in agriculture, trade, education, science, sports, information technology and other areas, we can in fact become global leaders and influencers. Why are we fighting each other? Our enemies are unemployment, illiteracy, poverty and other grave threats that haunt the world. Cooperation on every front can lead us to growing in unison, saving billions of dollars that we right now end up spending on arms and ammunitions to guard ourselves against the ‘other’. To me this so called ‘rivalry’ between India and Pakistan seems hyped by the media. We need to understand each other and stop living in the past. Communication is the key to resolve tensions between the two countries. I believe that the media has a significant role to play in promoting peace as better and open communication channels can facilitate acceptance for each other. If employed positively, social media can be a great tool to bridge the rift.
Let us get ourselves out of this ‘me-better-than-you game. It is time we stop wearing wounds as badges of honor, or as reminders of retribution. The process of healing has to begin somewhere. Now is the time and this is the place! Thinking of each other as enemies will hinder us from moving forward. Let us stop inflicting pain on each other. ‘Forgive and Forget’, ‘Accept & Embrace’ … let this be the new motto for peaceful living between India and Pakistan as also South Asia.
Wishing every Indian & Pakistani a very Happy Independence Day 2016!
This article has been edited by Dr. Nidhi Shendurnikar Tere (Vadodara, India)
Afzal Rahim is a Peace Ambassador from Swabi (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) in Pakistan. He is currently pursuing a higher education degree in media after completing his MBA from Islamabad (Pakistan). He has over eight years of work experience in Human Resource Development having worked in the hospitality, consultancy & development sector. You can follow him @afzalrahim_pk
by Mehwish Riza (Pakistan)
You never know when your dreams come true, when you finally achieve something that you thought would never become a reality. Each time I go there, I see a big barrier, a big gate of steel. I never thought I would walk through it. June 2, 2016 was the day when I finally crossed that fence. Today, as I look back, I cannot imagine how I stepped into a new land, looking for new hopes, and gearing to the new experience that I was going to embrace. Before my visit to India, I believed that Indians don’t like Pakistanis. We do have so much in common, but such negative perceptions have aggravated the conflict. We stress so much on what divides us, rather than what unites us!
My journey began by crossing the ‘Wagah’ border. For me, the feeling was unbelievable. I still recall the visible happiness on each one’s face as we crossed over into India. 12 Pakistanis were going to represent their country in India as part of Aman ki Asha’s Model United Nations (MUN) held in Nagpur. Prior to our departure to India, every one of our friends and family cautioned us and told us to “BE SAFE”. This got me worried and nervous! Until I had crossed the border, I kept thinking about how I had to ensure my own safety. As I completed formalities with the Indian Customs Office, my worries vanished since their good and welcome demeanor gave me confidence. I started noticing a slight change in my perceptions from that very moment. We were received by Sanchit Seth who was a part of team ‘Aman ki Asha’ the previous year. He accorded a warm welcome to us and on our way to Haveli we sang a lot of songs. I noticed how similar India is to Pakistan. Roads, buildings, the surroundings felt so familiar to me. I didn’t realize I had actually crossed the border and was now in a different country.
One thing that was different from what I have seen in Pakistan is that Indian women are commonly seen driving vehicles. I have watched many Indian movies and was very excited to witness the same things in real life. After a delicious lunch at Haveli, we headed towards Delhi from where we had to take the train to Nagpur. Upon reaching Delhi at around 9 pm, we met Devang Shah who was leading the MUN event. He seemed very determined, enthusiastic, passionate and a visionary to help build peace between India and Pakistan. I felt very inspired as I met him. Post dinner we had to wait for four hours for the train to Nagpur. We also met Devang’s friend Mayank Karnani who is part of the executive board of the Aman ki Asha council. He spoke about his passion to strive for South Asian unity and development.
On our way to Nagpur, we interacted with different Indian passengers and upon observation, I concluded that people are not bad, neither are their thoughts bad. It is media reportage that creates hateful perceptions about the ‘other’. We reached Nagpur around eight in the evening where we welcomed in the traditional Indian way by the organizing team of MUN. Through the traditional welcome of applying ‘tika’ (a symbol of welcome) on our foreheads, I thought that they were welcoming to be a part of their culture.
The conference was held at Yeshwantrao Chavan College of Engineering and it commenced on June 4, 2016. The ceremony was formally inaugurated by the Mayor of Nagpur city and Rutwik Joshi, the Secretary General of the conference. Post this; we headed towards the debate platform. There were 12 delegates from Pakistan and 6 from India along with co-chairs who facilitated the debate. We debated on ‘Combating Terrorism in South Asia’. The co-chairs from India and Pakistan were Devang Shah and Muhammad Tabish Javaid respectively. I was the delegate of ‘Peace’. The first day progressed well as we debated on different motions like root causes of terrorism, role of media in promoting antagonistic relations. We were also provided with the assistance of a research team for the same. During the evening, we celebrated ‘social night’ wherein we got the opportunity to network with other delegates. After this, the delegates gathered and discussed points well past midnight to come up with a joint resolution to be presented the next morning. The aim of forwarding a resolution was to highlight the commonality of thoughts and ideas among Indian and Pakistani youth. The resolution favoured creation of a model organization with cooperation from SAARC nations to help governments on both sides track the activities of non-state actors involved in violence.
On the second and last day of the conference i.e. June 5, all the delegates came together to present a joint resolution. We discussed the resolution clause by clause and approved it unanimously with no opposition. It was co-authored by one Pakistani Delegate and one Indian Delegate. In the evening, a prize distribution ceremony was organized to honor the best delegates during the conference. With this the conference came to an end. The saddest part was to bid goodbye to our friends as we headed back to Delhi. All the members of the organizing committee came to see us off at the station. At each and every point during our stay, the organizing committee members took care of us and showed us that they really valued our presence. On our return to Delhi, we stayed there for a day and moved around visiting the city. We visited India Gate, Karol Bagh and Chandani Chowk. On our way to the Wagah border, we also had the opportunity to visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar. During our India visit, we interacted with a lot of shopkeepers and they were always happy to have us. They were hospitable, welcoming and their respect for Pakistanis was evident.
My India visit gave me a lot of memorable moments and I brought them back with me to Pakistan. Friendship, care, hospitality, love that I received in India is something that I will never forget. Sitting down to write this piece, I wondered what all I learnt from this trip. Everything that happens to us teaches us something good. I have learnt to live life, lead myself to the path of learning, become brave to face challenges and learn how to enjoy the moment that ‘is’. Through discussions at the conference I have learnt how to communicate, every moment with people in India made me feel as if I am at home, smiles of strangers have taught me respect and I am now more convinced that we are one people. Our Indian friends took care of us, they were happy to have us. Why? I thought about this repeatedly. I urge the readers to analyze what they see around them before judging others or forming hardened perceptions. When we analyze issues without any barriers in mind, then we know that people across the border are also our friends, not enemies.
I am eagerly awaiting a time when all kinds of barriers between India and Pakistan will be done away with and we can visit each other without any formalities. But this is possible only when we talk to each other peacefully. All of us have a moral responsibility to partake in peace building because only then can negative perceptions and hatred be challenged. I am grateful to the entire organizing team of MUN and Aman ki Asha because of whom I am taking back these wonderful memories, to be cherished for a lifetime. PAKISTAN – INDIA ZINDABAD!!!!!
This article was edited by Dr. Nidhi Shendurnikar Tere (Vadodara, India)
Mehwish Riza is a final year student of Business Administration at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. She was a delegate at the second edition of the Aman ki Asha Model UN Council, Nagpur. She was a volunteer at the launch of Aaghaz-e-Dosti’s fourth Indo-Pak Peace Calendar.
by Laraib Abid (Pakistan)
I had heard many things about India since childhood. I learnt about my cousins who lived there, their culture, language and stories of the partition narrated by my grandparents to my mother. My mother recalled her visits to India many a times. Even today, she has hope of finding her lost cousins in the land her parents migrated from. She dreams of meeting them someday and silently loves them without their knowledge of it.
Around these emotional stories, I spent much of my childhood watching Indian dramas and movies. The first time I learnt about rivalry between two countries was from these very dramas and movies. I was surprised because my mother had never thought about this enmity and hostility. She loved and still loves India. The empty roads during Pakistan-India cricket matches, social media debates that spewed hatred and electronic media’s exaggeration of events between the two countries made me curious to undertake a visit across the border.
In 2014, I participated in the Global Youth Peace Festival at Chandigarh with participants from different countries to discuss about and work upon global peace issues. I think I simply lack the capacity to express in words, my feelings of enchantment and bewilderment, the way I felt as I crossed the Wagah border. For me, the border was a mere line that divided the two countries, but as I entered India, I felt closer to my family and relatives, the ones who were always alive in my mother’s memories.
Due to an elongated process of security and scrutiny, our arrival to India was delayed. Our beloved khala (meaning ‘mother’s sister’) who was a member of the Festival from India arranged a display of Dhol (traditional musical instrument from the sub-continent) for us. Being a Pakistani Punjabi, I could relate to this enthusiastic style of welcome. However, the traditional Indian welcome of a ‘tika’ (a mark on the forehead, symbolizing welcome to the guest) and ‘aarti’ (traditional Indian style of praying and showing respect to the guest) was new to me. I remembered watching all of this in Indian movies. I recalled seeing a boy touching the feet of an elderly lady and the first word came into my mind was ‘aashirwaad’ (blessings). The media has such a huge influence on our minds. I took an instant liking for people I met as everyone was so hospitable and welcoming. I decided I would try my best to connect to different types of people in India and on my return to Pakistan; I would spread awareness about the kind of love and respect I received here. This would be a small step in changing perceptions. I immediately started noticing similarities and differences among the cities, style of clothing, culture and language. The neat and clean city of Chandigarh seemed very much like Islamabad while Delhi was a complete contrast. Crowd, tourists and traffic jams were similar to what I saw in Lahore. The saree shops (saree is a traditional garment for South Asian women), ‘Parantha’ (traditional sub-continental bread) shops and the visit to Chandni Chowk was a charm. A lot of my friends in Chandigarh conversed in Punjabi and I managed to figure out a few words that were similarly used in Pakistan.
All the shopkeepers, people traveling in buses were amazed to meet us Pakistanis. They treated us so well and offered us the best of food and souvenirs as gifts. I saw a lot of mandirs (temples) and gurudwaras (place of worship for the Sikh community). I attended one of the biggest festivals being celebrated at the time. It was called ‘Dushera’. On the roads, I was mesmerized to see girls riding scooters/bikes with their male family member sitting behind them. In Amritsar, it was funny when I demanded salan (gravy) with paratha but the shopkeeper did not understand what I was asking for and kept thinking that I was demanding some kind of salad! It was only later that I realized that he did not understand the term salan.
Among the best memories of the visit are the compliments I received from my Indian friends for our dressing, looks and the way we spoke. We were invited by a school to talk about ourselves and our cities. Ironically I am from Lahore and my ancestors were from India and some Indians told me that their ancestors were from Lahore. There were a lot of emotions overflowing when we realized that sacrifices by our ancestors, common issues where we relate to each other had held us together.
About the media’s role, I do feel that they overplay issues at certain points, but they also play a role in promoting peace and love. Movies and TV dramas are platforms that have brought Indians and Pakistanis closer. The print media in India positively highlighted participation of Pakistanis in the peace festival that I attended. We were interviewed regarding our views about India and our experience of staying there. I have watched movies based on the India-Pakistan theme (Veer Zara, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Khoobsurat etc) and I wish to make a similar movie or be a part of a similar cinematic experience. I want to showcase how Pakistanis feel when they visit India and vice versa. How it feels to share a culture, language, food and dressing! How some people are divided by a boundary but not by heart!
I have a few cousins residing in India but do not have any contact or information about them. This saddens me. I wish the visa issues, hatred among people and border issues will be resolved with time. I wish Sikh community from Pakistan to have easy access to the Golden Temple in Amritsar and also for the Sikhs from India to be able to visit Nanakana Sahib in Pakistan.
Some of my Indian friends visited Pakistan in 2015 and playing host to them was an amazing experience for me. Nobody could recognize them as Indians here for they looked so similar to a common person in Pakistan. During a cultural exchange program in the United States (2014), I spoke in Hindustani (mix of Urdu and Hindi) with an Indian student and a lot of people were amazed at how we understand each other’s language despite being from two different countries. When I participated in a program in Denmark (2016), many people greeted me with ‘Namaste’. I think this is because our culture is very similar, be it the bright colors, delicious food or similar skin complexion. I feel connected to India despite all the rivalry that is so deeply institutionalized in the systems of both countries.
I met Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs in India. Being a Pakistani, it was amazing to meet people from different faith backgrounds. There are people with different perspectives living in every society. I met Indians who are passionately working for cross-border peace, like their counterparts in Pakistan. I feel that war, hatred and bloodshed will never usher in any peace or love. During my India visit, I met enemies who were hospitable and loving! I never knew enemies could be that way. If those that I met were enemies, then I wonder how would friends be like!
This article has been edited by Dr. Nidhi Shendurnikar Tere (Vadodara, India)
Laraib Abid is a youth leader, social and women’s right activist from Lahore. She is currently pursuing M.Phil in Gender Studies from University of Punjab, Lahore Pakistan and working as a National Program Manager in an NGO. She has been a cultural ambassador in USA for an exchange program.
by Shayan Khan (Pakistan)
I remember the first time I went to the Wagha Border. It was in 8th grade when the guards on both sides marched and saluted for a huge round of applause as we waved to the neighbours on the other side, maybe a three minutes walk away.
Back at 13, I was most passionate about traveling and adding the number of countries on ‘The List’. I remember asking the Indian guard in uniform if I can stamp my feet a few times so I could go home and tell my mom I went to India today? He kept a straight face to my ludicrous request and just nodded. I remember staring and even holding onto the golden brown sand. I was this close to India.
Since I have a typical Lahori background with no great grand fathers from Lucknow or Chandi Chowk I thought this was as close as I could get. Back in the day, I had dreamt of London and resonated it with English classics of L. M. Montgomery and L. M. Alcott and I would think of Paris and it’s larger than life architecture and aristocracy, mapping it out in my head with a vague schema of what these places would feel like. However, when it came to India I could never really decide what that experience would be despite watching endless Bollywood movies. First of all, it was so big. And it was similar. But also a bit different. Hence, I concluded India was a place that could only be experienced and not just be boxed like all other countries. It seemed to have more depth to it. Or maybe more of it that I could decipher because I shared a language, lots of customs and social issues.
As there was a lot more of what I could understand, there was a much greater desire to visit the land. And one day, out of no where, in 2008, a friend from college came up with a brochure and asked me if I would like to apply for the Third International Youth Peace Festival being held at Chandigarh. I filled in the form, almost sure I would not get the visa but against all odd got it. And that’s when it hit me. I was no longer going to wave across Wagha, I will be crossing it.
I remember jumping and skipping through the road that connected the two countries a few miles apart. Two offices and stamps later, there stood one of the kindest, most gracefully dressed woman I have ever met holding carnation-flower necklaces to greet me with. She hugged me. And I will never forget that hug. It was the same hug that my father gave me seven days later when I returned to Lahore. This was it. This was India. This was warmth. And this was courage.
The welcome I received at her school in Amristar was one I will never forget in a lifetime. The kids and their songs and the teeka and the pooja – to cut it short, let’s just be filmi and say I got to see first hand what Amitabh Bachan says in Veer Zaara ‘Humare Yahan Mehman Bhagwan Hota Hai aur Tum toh Pakistan se ayi ho’.
This was followed by a five hour ride to Chandigarh where all of us clapped and sang to the evergreen subcontinent music. The programme organized by Pramod Sharma Jee of Yuvsatta was one of the first in South Asia to bring together the youth of South Asia for a dialogue. There were performances and debates and a day trip around the mesmerizing and versatile Rock Garden.
We all knew we were going to make friends but the depth of the friendship we were able to achieve in a matter of four days is something I still am not able to explain to myself. There was an instant connection, not because of the language or the shared love for theatre and Bollywood but an inexplicable heart to heart connect which as dramatic as it sounds made all of us shed a few tears as we parted ways.
Thank you for giving me those memories. Thank you for that welcome. No one can beat your hospitality. But we like to compete you know, and unlike cricket, here we might actually beat you to it. I really hope we do some day. 🙂
Shayan Khan is a researcher and lecturer of consumer behaviour, marketing and strategy with a love for food, travel and books. She is a member of the Lahore chapter of Aaghaz-e-Dosti and also an alumni of Global Youth Peace Festival, Yuvsatta. Shayan lives in Lahore, Pakistan.
by Saadia Sabir (Pakistan)
The tragedy is that two people are separated only by fences, on a land, which they both call ‘border’. They live so nearby yet are so far off. They want to live in peace in their own countries but are least bothered peace with each other. They believe in stereotypes about each other. They never interact and have perceptions of each other based on ignorance. The two people are: Pakistanis and Indians.
“They aren’t destined to live this way. They can coexist.” The realization did not come just sitting idle at my work desk on a rainy day. I was born and grew up in Chitral, situated at a drive of 16 hours from Islamabad. There was little for me as a kid to do other than play cricket with my siblings or watch TV with family. I often saw on the television Kashmiris throwing stones at the Indian army. The conflict terrified me as a kid. The image of India I grew up with was that of a gigantic monster trying to snatch Pakistan’s shares. Little did I know that I would get a chance to visit the gigantic-but-not-monster India free of the terror of conflict. I never thought about visiting a place that, I was told and taught throughout my life, is the cause of all the troubles Pakistan is having. Naturally, it never fascinated me. The day I crossed into Wagha, my life totally transformed.
The process of transformation, however, had started before the visit. In my sophomore year at university, I got a chance to study for a year in the United States under an exchange program called Near East and South Asian Exchange Program. The program brought together young students from 16 other South Asian and Middle Eastern countries. It was during the country presentation at the program orientation in Washington DC that I first encountered the Indian participants. They made literal fun of the Pakistani flag. “The green shade in our flag is better”, one of them said. It felt as if the same stones came been thrown at me. This did not stop there and they passed on more offending remarks about Pakistan which made me dislike them. More! They had reinforced their image and my group too left no stone unturned in showing them their place.
But then something changed in the course of a few days. The common language, common dislike for American food, and shared craving for desi food naturally brought us (Pakistanis and Indians) closer. We started spending more time together. We celebrated a Bollywood night, danced on ‘chal chayya chayya’, and played dumb Charades on Hindi movies together. In less than a week, we bonded so well that we found ourselves making plans of having a get together at the Wagha border. Our plan was to see each other and wave as long as we could from the other sides of the fence. Not only these good times, but we also had the opportunity to learn about the indopak conflict from eachother’s perspective, and realize how certain things are wrong on both sides. Five years have passed since then. We are still connected in an unshakable bond. We talk often via social media but the planned get-together never happened. Those days, however, gave us life time of memories. We bade each other ‘good bye’ after seven days of the orientation, leaving each other confused – we really have moved on. Have our people back home too? Have our countries too? Are they still fighting? We were at so much peace with each other that it seemed as if the indopak conflict has been resolved, for once and all.
In 2015, I came across the annual Global Peace Youth Fest – GYPF in Chandigarh, India and sent in a random application. Getting selected got me contemplating a lot – ‘jauun ya na jauun?’ When I finally decided to go, I was not sure what to expect. I stopped thinking about the trip. I did not mention it to a lot of people because I knew they were going to raise many questions which I was not prepared to answer. I did not want to get into a war of words constantly having to clarify myself on why on earth am I going to India? Some of the people who knew about it were so sure that I would not get visa that I started doubting my visit. I finally got my visa a week prior to the conference.
I was travelling with five other people, four of them I had met for the first time. When I crossed the border into the no man’s land, I was overwhelmed. I wanted to have the feelings and moments captured. A few minutes into the overwhelming excitement, I was disappointed. Nothing much changed except for the sign boards. Once on the other side, we got an innova car booked for our long toad trip itinerary. At the Brothers Dhaba in Amritsar, I took an hour to decide what to order as the menu was totally vegetarian. I was frisked at the thought of how to survive without meat meal for the next ten days. The next thing I saw was a young girl of almost my age riding a scooty and I almost cried out of excitement as I had never seen a girl riding a bike or scooty in Pakistan. After getting over my excitement, I took some pictures with my wishful eyes. Our next stop was Haveli in Jhalandar, where not only I ate diverse and delicious street food but it was also an experience of how religiously and culturally diverse the country is. I could see people from all background and segments of society in one place.
We had come a few days before the actual conference to first visit the other cities [fortunately] marked on our visas. From Jalandhar, we headed to Agra to see the wonder. The next morning, when we reached Agra we planned to buy ‘Indian entry tickets’ for Taj Mahal assuming no one would recognize us. It fortunately was also the world tourism day and the entry was free for all. Confident that we won’t get recognized that we are not Indians, we bargained with the tourist guide. He constantly tried asking where we were from? When we got him guarded about our Urdu accent and dressing, we told him the truth and shared details of the visit. That is when he confessed he had recognized us. He seemed very excited and the first thing he asked was if he can visit Pakistan? “Janta ka kya dosh hai es sab fasaad mai, ye sarkaroon ka khail hai” he said. It was a hot day. Taj Mahal was quite crowded so much so that we got divided into two groups without finding each other for three hours. This experience was very frustrating given we had no roaming on phones and no other way to communicate. The guide got equally worried and helped us a lot more in finding the other group. On my way out of Taj Mahal I saw a group of women and men dancing around Ganesh Mahraj throwing colors at each other. The symbol of love, the dancing, and colors (from the Indian movies) had just got all real. Fascinated, I took some pictures when a little girl from the crowd held my hand, put colors on my face, and asked me to join the crowd. “Come! Come with us” she said in English. I replied in Urdu that I am waiting for my friends. She asked me, “How do you know Hindi? You don’t look Indian”. I told her I am from Pakistan and asked for a picture with her. She hugged me and posed for the picture. She slipped away with the crowd and kept waving back till we got out of each other’s sight.
The human-bond that developed in seconds kept my heart warm until we reached Ajmer Shareef, the land of Sufi Hazrat Moin uddin Chishty. We were oblivious to the exhaustion from the long road trip until when we woke up the next morning in a small yet beautiful and clean hotel near the Dargah, having peaceful sleep. When I opened the window of my room, I saw the minaret of the tomb, the very sight of which swamped my soul. I could not wait to visit the Dargah. We were invited by the Gaddi Nasheen of the Dargah, Syed Salman Chishty, to his house for breakfast and lunch. He was also our reference for the Ajmer visa. He guided us throughout the pavilions of the Dargah and the main shrine – all of which was a journey of spiritual awakening. People from all religious backgrounds prayed, cried and traded their Holy Books at the dargah. All of them in so much harmony with each other which the Great Ghareeb Nawaz envisioned and taught. We wanted to spend a day more at the dargah but were time bound. The conference was starting in a day in Chandigarh.
The car we had booked for the long road trip, the alternating seats, the Bollywood music on, the playing cards, the making adventurous plans for our next visit, the laughing till the stomach huts, the being out on the dhabas in every next city, the haggling with camera at all spots, we for the most times forgot that we were in an enemy country. We told no one we are from Pakistan. No one recognized us either. The journey was no lesser than reliving the movies ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ and ‘Dil Chahta Hai’.
At the conference, what was most enchanting was that participants from other countries were not as much as the cynosure of attention, love, and respect as were the Pakistan participants: from organizers, volunteers, and Indian participants. We got invited for lunches and dinners, sometimes by total strangers. “Aap tou hamare mehmaan hain” they all said. On the cultural night families would come to take pictures with us. Many people had stories of partition how their ancestors migrated from different areas of Pakistan and that how they would love to visit those places in their life. My favorite person of all the people I met in India was Talwar Uncle. I had heard a lot about him from my friend Aliya, who he and his wife call daughter. She always so highly of him that I was really looking forward to meeting and get his blessings in person. He hosted us for a dinner where he repeated and persistently said he loves Pakistan as much as he loves India. He was born in a city near Lahore and had vivid memories of partition. He keeps record of every Pakistani who has visited his place. He owns a well-trained dog and lives with very caring wife: both of whom he loves a lot. When I got ready to leave his house, I found another calling in visiting India given his un-conditional love and hospitality.
Soon after the conference ended, we left for Delhi. During my stay of 10 days in India, I never got the feeling that I was in my enemies’ (as they say) land. The only not-so-favorite moment during the 10 days stay in India was a TV show that I participated in as audience. The session of the talk show “Punjab Speaks” was on peace but oddity arrived in the live program. The host and the guest speaker (one out of them a senior political reporter) constantly blamed Pakistan with us present there. We decided not to make a mess After the program, she spoke to us very nicely exonerating herself of what she had just done. This small incident was enough for me to comprehend how people in powerful positions from both sides have publicly been inciting hatred and misinformation for their own selfish games – when off the camera they know that we are just no different.
No wonder why being so close in our habits, in our struggle, in our shared dreams of peace, in our similarities, we (Pakistanis and Indians) are so apart. Distorted history from the text books, distorted facts from media and leaders with political interests are few of the reasons for the enmity of the two countries, beyond that we are the same divided by boundaries. People who know about my trip to India asked me (excited) how my experience was? And I tell them how I felt at home and welcomed. I tell them that people of India do not hate Pakistan or Pakistanis for that matter. I encourage them to visit whenever they get a chance. The trip is not over yet. I would go to India again and visit other cities that I couldn’t manage to see during my last visit due to visa restriction. Five years back I promised my friends that I will wave at them from the Wagha border. Five years into the promise, I not only marched to the common border we share but also crossed it. I invite my friends from India to cross the border into Pakistan and see for themselves that the people of Pakistan do not hate India or Indians for that matter.
Saadia Sabir is a graduate in Gender Studies from Fatima Jinnah Women University and works as Virtual Programs Coordinator with Foundation to Support Education Worldwide (FSEW). She is a rock-climber, hiker, reader, and a believer-cum-practitioner of gender equality.
by Shayan Khan (Pakistan)
I don’t know how many of you have heard the saying in typical punjabi accent “Lor Lor Ai” (Lahore Lahore Hai – Nothing beats Lahore) about Lahore, Pakistan, the city I was born in and where I grew up. I, for one had never used this term. Lahore for me is home. Period. It’s a place where my close-knit divorced parents’ reside, my father always making sure he is a three minute drive away, as having a second family doesn’t change his love and need for being literally a phone call away from his daughters. The whole of my extended family, friends and most importantly my grandparents who are practically another set of loving parents, define what Lahore is for me.
Also, Lahore means good food and great hospitality. From the interior part of the city to the ever popular local dhabas (roadside food stalls commonly found in the sub-continent), we are the biggest foodies the world will ever get to see if only Travel Channel takes the chance that Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York took and visits us.
Then one day I got married and it led me to live in the U.S. for a year. I was living in an apartment in the downtown amidst Americans, so seeing somebody South Asian would make me want to jump outside the window or more realistically open it in time to say hello. They made me nostalgic. Any and every person who looked remotely Pakistani or Indian unconsciously put a smile on my face because they felt like home. Yes, we (India and Pakistan) got caught up between borders but like families and neighbors resolve their matters and live in friendship; we too need to live amicably. Because it’s getting too old, it’s childish to pick a fight for so long, no religion advocates it, and most importantly it involves lives. And start with empathy. Someone’s life is as significant or more than your child’s or your parent’s. This is what leaders in India and Pakistan should understand.
I have studied, researched and taught business and strategy. It talks about pretty words like ‘synergy’. In almost each class I attended, the Professor would come in and ask with an expression of possessing wisdom, “So class, what is synergy?” The sleepy head’s hand would quickly pop up and he’d spurt the words before anyone else could say ‘Sir, when the sum is greater than the whole’. Of course it is. By the end of the four year programme the class sings in cohesion when the question is repeated for the umpteenth time, “when-the-sum-is-greater-than-the-whole-(yes-we-know)”. But, hey, what is synergy again? I think we still need to get that right. India and Pakistan are neighbours. And as it is, it’s not as if we are progressing as a society. At least, sort what can be sorted. Like resolving issues that both population face – health, illiteracy, water crisis, corruption to name a few. The least that both countries can do is to let young people from both sides synergize, connect, meet and interact with each other. Ironically, in the year that I was in the U.S., I was presenting a research at the American Marketing Association Conference in Chicago being held on the 14th and 15th August, 2015. It was there that I got to meet so many of the renowned Indian Professors and getting to know them made me feel ecstatic. It was the first time I was presenting my work at an international platform like AMA and the confidence that my work received from all the Indian academicians there was motivating. Their supportive eye-contact, the more than the regular number of nods reassuring me through their body language and lastly the literal pat on my back with many congratulations that I received at the end of the conference made me feel blessed in an inexplicable way.
Later, we Pakistani and Indians celebrated our Independence days together by taking pictures and indulging our inquisitiveness about what it’s like on the other side of the border. Of course, we invited one another over to our places but our smiles knew that there was a higher probability we meet again in some other country at some other conference.
Since I don’t want to end this on a sad note, just something that always amused us all was how I went on greeting everyone with my crisp Good Mornings at 7 a.m. But the moment I saw someone South Asian I went onto say Aslam o Alaikum, Sorry Professor….Namaste…I mean, Good Morning! (Flustered). They’d all lovingly forgive me with an understanding of how our values have engraved in us to see someone elder of our ethnicity and offer a greeting. How our values and culture are so similar, and yet there is so much that keeps us apart.
It’s been a long time since the British Raj left…let’s celebrate our independence. Let’s celebrate it together without the enmity and hostility that we have harboured for so many decades. Lets revel in friendship, togetherness and all that brings us closer.
This article was edited by Dr. Nidhi Shendurnikar Tere (Vadodara, India)
Shayan Khan is a researcher and lecturer of consumer behaviour, marketing and strategy with a love for food, travel and books. She is a member of the Lahore chapter of Aaghaz-e-Dosti and also an alumni of Global Youth Peace Festival, Yuvsatta. Shayan lives in Lahore, 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