On both sides of steel gates dividing the two nations and amidst chanting crowds, hurling emotions and drumbeating boots, patriots refueled their nationalism. Unaware, they engraved the hard and bloody line of control further. Tremors of which can frighten their succeeding generations. Living and celebrating different national realities are justified, however only without demeaning the other. What occurred in 1947 was meant for a new beginning, not to create the Indo-Pak conflict, but to prevent it.
After graduating from Oxford, Anjali returned to India. With her, rode back a bundle of memories tied together by a ribbon. From classrooms to summer balls, grocery to boxing-day sales, homesickness to the first taste of freedom, it knotted her emotions and experiences. Having them scattered, she was now looking for this ribbon.
Searching through the gaps in firm gates at Wagah border, she was filled with both blues of separation and joys of reconnecting. She was anxiously looking for that ribbon, her best friend at Oxford, a Pakistani, Maria.
Maria went to the same program as Anjali. Similarly for her, Anjali held the brush painting her memories at Oxford. Sharing strong cultural ties, she found in Anjali her own reflection, a home away from home. Together, they formed an unfenced tale of Indo-Pak friendship.
Longing to get her glimpse, on the other side, Maria was surrounded by passionately hurled patriotic slogans. As she spotted Anjali, she rushed towards the gate and waved at her. “O’ girl why are you waving at her? She’s a non-Muslim,” smirked a nearby old aged man dressed in a green flag-themed turban. Realising it was not Oxford, Maria registered this remark. The irony of his words stung her. “Anjali is one of the most spiritual persons I have met in my life, so what if she is a non-Muslim,” she wanted to spit back. The bloodshed of 1947 still haunts us. Religious oppression and reactions of that time on both sides continue to cultivate this hatred. Believers of coexistence, however being few, must counter propagandists of religious animosity.
As Maria unblocked external ideological barriers and walked towards the fence, Anjali located her. With delight, she called her name out loud and waved back frantically. “Don’t wave at her, get a visa instead,” slapped the Indian border security personnel at her. Undoubtedly, expectation of love and politeness from soldiers whose history is filled with blood and sacrifices is an excessive ask. Their training carves the other’s country as a significant potential threat. But Anjali persisted, “No law prevents me from waving at her. Eyes don’t require a visa. They can look beyond borders.” She continued waving rapturously. Anjali and Maria shared heart-stopping glances amidst crowds of people who would not understand their bond.
Support of hate by an overwhelming civilian majority in both India and Pakistan is disappointing. Their governments, in lieu of power continuity, do not abstain from playing a loss-loss strategy. Despite being aware, they have led various proxy wars and caused instability across their borders. If Anjali and Maria could develop such a bond at Oxford, at least Modi and Sharif must lay foundations of a national resolve in their own countries. Only regular cultural exchange supported by official policy can synchronize both societies. Anything schematic and one-off will be glitzy but never long term. Initiatives like cricket diplomacy can no longer bridge the existing and unfortunately widening gaps.
However, with widespread poverty and manipulated mindsets in both countries, this must be gradual and under sheer caution. Complete defencing for trade and cultural exchange in the presence of ideological fencing can suspend cooperation for years, for instance by a terrorist act. Setting up of necessary security measures and intelligence sharing mechanism must receive priority.
Anjali believes, “Separation is a reality. Getting to know Pakistan through a loving Maria was never a surprise. Instead, I saw my expectation. I get saddened at Indians and Pakistanis taking pre-dispositions of animosity and ending up constraining their gained independence.” Such perceptions continue to shut the 1,800 miles long border. However, with education and development, tolerant and progressive societies can help nurture a peaceful and sustainable Indo-Pak relationship.
To India, as it held the majority, Pakistan broke away. To Pakistan, it gained independence. Maria admits, “I can be emotional about our forefathers’ sacrifices. But I must not raise another generation for remembering our sacrifices. Instead, to them, peace should be nothing novel.”
With Modi’s unofficial landing at Sharif’s home in Lahore and revival of talks, there is hope. But Pathankot terrorist act and alleged arrest of RAW agent happened too. People on both sides deserve more than just another short throttle at friendship. Something similar to what Anjali and Maria shared, a peaceful and sustainable coexistence.
Note: Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.