Every time I told people that I was going to Lahore, Pakistan, I was met by one of two reactions. Either they showed utter shock and disbelief and turned to my mother and went all “how can you let her do this?!” or they called me brave for attempting this journey. (Must be noted here, I was going on a school trip, to visit another school.)
I’d been told to be wary of the people on the other side of the border- how they’d be apprehensive if they learnt that I’m Indian, how I should not publicize the fact that I’m Indian, how I should watch my back etc etc.
And I believed all that… Until the moment I actually met the people on the other side of the border.
The people on the other side of the border are till date, some of the warmest and fun loving people I’ve ever met. I’ve traveled across the length and breadth of India, but the kind of heartfelt welcome we received in Pakistan, still has no match. The hospitality can only be described in a hindi phrase: “Dil Khush Ho Gaya”. After 5 days of meeting the most amazing people, I couldn’t find it in my heart to want to leave.
And it wasn’t just the hosts of the conference. The average Pakistani seemed nicer than the average Indian. (Also, more good looking, it’s like during the partition all the good looking people decided to migrate to the Pak side-very unfair if you ask me)
But here, I’d like to talk about one particular dost I made: Fiza Shahzad. The first time I met her, it was very formal- she was officially on a panel, judging me after all. But as the conference drew to a close, Fiza and I developed a strong kinship. We talked a lot and bonded over many things, and the only thing going through my mind was how nice (and incredibly smart and gorgeous) she is. And I felt like smacking all those people who’d told me negative things about Pakistan on the head with a danda.
A year has passed since I visited Pakistan. And the tensions between the two nations are still growing. But even after a year and even through all the nuke threats and distrust between the states, Fiza is one of the most loving and supportive people in my life.
A year has passed and even now I message my friends on the other side of the border to Fangirl over SRK’s DDLJ or Kaju barfi or the latest musical numbers doing the rounds.
And to those who say that the two countries are grossly different, here’s an opinion from someone who’s actually been there. The entire time I was in Pakistan, I felt like I was visiting different parts of India. The Badshahi Kinara looked like one of my favorite shopping places in Delhi, Cannought Place. The Badshahi Mosque reminded me of the Jamia Masjid in Agra. The heavenly Food Street reminded me of a Hyderabadi Restaurant I’d visited as a kid. Looking out a bus window during the journeys felt like being on one of the National Highways back home. Except for maybe when I had to buy something, I never once felt like I was in a different country- a country that the media and politicians portray to be evil incarnate at that! Every nook and corner reminded me of home and the people of family. And the best part?? I now have a family on both sides of the border.
So here’s what I have to say to the ‘secular’ politicians and ‘netizens’ who are against peace between India and Pakistan, to the people who harbor such inhibitions and deep rooted mistrust that even the mention of the other nation sends their blood boiling, to the generations who’ve seen a united land and the generations who’ve seen the land torn up in savage wars: Forget the hate. Let go of the mistrust. Open your heart to new friendships and embrace peace, once and for all.
These two lands were once one. And just because there’s now barbed wire and huge gates separating the two, doesn’t mean that the people need to be separated too. It’s been nearly 70 years since the Partition and countless years after the wars that followed. It’s time to bury the hatchet.
I’m an Indian. And (as shocking as this may sound) I have Pakistani friends. I’ve spent 6 days in Pakistan of my own will, and loved every minute of it. I’ve made unforgettable memories and friendships. And I still love my own country too.
Is aman ki aasha ko marne mat do saathiyon! Ab humare hawale hai aman saathiyon!
(Don’t let this wish for peace die friends, this peace is now in our hands friends.)