By Shruti Sonal:
“Oh my God! They’re like us.” This was my mother’s reaction when she first realised that people across the border are not aliens, but just like us. The credit for this happy realisation goes to the channel Zindagi, an initiative by Zee Corporation to bridge the cultural gap between the two nations.
The journey in my household began with apprehension, fuelled by emotions of jingoism. ‘Why should we watch their shows? Don’t we have enough of them?’ Yet, being humans, our curiosity got the better of us. What could their shows be about? Terrorists? Politics? Good-looking musicians? Like many others, our idea of Pakistan was shaped by stereotypes that insisted on portraying it as a violent country whose only aim was violating ceasefire agreements along the LOC. Hence, we were mighty surprise by the content.
They portrayed love stories, feuds between family members and that too, in a non-dramatic way. To an audience used to watching sets equivalent to a king’s palace, and actors decked in jewellery which could pay our nation’s debt for an entire year, the austerity almost came as a shock. Their homes looked like regular homes. Their actors looked like… people. As we got hooked to the shows, we were awe-struck by the poetic charm of the script. The beautiful Urdu words almost seemed exotic. Soon words like permission were replaced by ‘ijaazat’, a feeble-sounding please was taken over by ‘darkhwast‘. The smile on my house help’s face widened when I described her food as ‘mashallah!‘ instead of the usual praise.
Next came the horrific realisation that these shows didn’t last a decade, but only about 25 episodes, for the characters only had one life and no evil-twins. This March, my mother and I spent an entire day bidding a tearful farewell to Fawad Khan’s ‘Humsafar‘, only to wake up the next morning and switch over to ‘Bezubaan‘. Quite amazingly, the story of this show was different from its predecessor- something we don’t often associate with Indian television. Even more interestingly, the shows had realistic female characters who had an identity and substance of their own, and were not merely defined by family ties and societal expectations. Coming from a nation where the Taliban presence ensures a steady flow of stories revolving around gender violence, it was a pleasant surprise.
Two months ago, just when we were weeping our eyes out while watching ‘Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Haseen Sitam‘, a show based on the partition, my father entered the room. Looking helpless, he asked us. “What is this Zindagi channel? Everyone in my office watches it too.” My mother and I excitedly said, “Come join us!”
As we spent an entire Sunday watching the television marathon of the same show, guess what was the first thing my father said? “Oh my God… they’re like us!” For the first time we realized that people on the other side had suffered equally during the events of 1940s. The positive response the show got diffused the claims of some sections of society that it’d lead to communal disharmony.
The shows opened the gates of dialogues at home. On the screen, the lanes of Lahore could easily be mistaken for the roads of New Delhi, the buzz around Eid resembled the excitement surrounding Diwali. Apart from arousing a curiosity about the Urdu language, it also made us more aware of the cuisines, places to visit and fashion trends across the border.
The word “Pakistan” has acquired a different meaning and is spoken with a softer connotation. Every time I hear news about firing across the border, I pray that it be over and not defer cross-border migration of talent. On Twitter I met people from the other side and realised that they watch and adore our shows too. In a small but significant way it made us see that the bigger reality is not altered by lines on a map.
Thus, we have formed a sphere of our own – a bullet proof cultural sphere, which can’t be penetrated by hate. In that sphere, the borders humans have worked so hard to draw, have melted away. In that sphere, we are not two nations constantly at war, but ones that had touched each other’s hearts.