Published in The News @AmanKiAsha on September 2, 2011
Panchee nadiya aur pawan ke jhonke, koi sarhad inhen na roke;
Sarhad to insanon ke liye hai, socho tumne aur meine kya paya insaan ho ke
Birds, rivers & gusts of wind, no borders inhibit,
Borders are for us, think what have we gained being Humans ?
This couplet by Javed Akhtar from a Bollywood blockbuster entered my ears and shook my soul.
“Wow! Javed Sahib knows how I feel each time I go to the Indian consulate in Pakistan to apply for visas for my family to visit my parents in New Delhi.”
“In January 1990, a girl in her mid-twenties in New Delhi ties the knot with a Pakistani man in his late twenties. Happy, but quite unsure how the things in her life would unfold after that. She wasn’t a poor small-town girl getting married to a well-off cousin in Karachi in compliance with her parents’ decision. She was a typical city girl, who made it to a premier medical school in Delhi and was full of patriotic fervour for her homeland. Her parents did not become a hurdle, but advised that she decide it with full insight, and not regret later. It took her four painful and paranoid years to come to this decision. The young man across the border, putting aside his ego in the face of repeated refusals for years, convinced her that they could make it.”
Twenty years on, I can confidently say that we have made it. Our life together hasn’t been all tulips and roses of course. We’ve had our share of ups and downs, in addition to the usual hurdles any usual couple faces. Both of us being passionately patriotic about our respective homelands, it hasn’t been easy. What helped us was the erasing of psychological borders, knowing that humanity on both sides of the border has the same needs and aspirations. We promised to uphold sanity in our heads and not spew patriotic venom against each other. Not that outsiders spared us. Any bitter comment against the other side by a “patriotic acquaintance” from either side affected me more than my husband.
At times I would be reduced to tears after such taunts, to be comforted by my husband with a “mitti pao” attitude. It is not easy when someone passes a snide remark about your homeland. Any news of a bomb blast or riots in my city, would have me sitting paranoid, glued to the TV, wondering about the safety of my parents and siblings.
In kindergarten our children faced questions from curious friends – like,
“Do your have fights at home during a cricket match between India and Pakistan?”
My son would come home crying that his friends teased him about having an Indian mother, saying,
“Your mom is a traitor!”
It took him some years to feel confident that his mom wasn’t a traitor.
But the only time I really, if ever, regretted my decision was when I had to queue up outside the visa window at the consulate of a country I called my homeland. Miserable is an understatement of how I felt when the man behind the counter looked at my children, asking for details, as if I was taking little terrorist recruits with me to my beloved city.
And then on our return to Pakistan, my husband would be pulled aside by the airport security, questioning him about the frequency of his visits across the border. One has to live it to feel it.
My siblings and I grew up with our eyes open to the world issues, with parents who taught international politics at a university.
We were trained to look beyond our boundaries and feel for the suffering of others be it in Palestine, apartheid in South Africa, or Gen Zia’s martial Law in Pakistan. I salute my parents for raising us as “human” beings with a wide horizon.
Some attribute my “Indian roots” to my comments on news blogs or Face book regarding political matters in Pakistan. Yes, I am proud of my roots. But I also have a husband and two kids who are passionately patriotic Pakistanis. They love both places. And so do I. I claim that I own both countries, and love both too. Karachi is mine as much as Delhi is.
We know there is good and bad on both sides. We don’t indulge in mutual blame games. We have erased the psychological borders at home and we respect our political borders. And we love this feeling.
What if the one and half billion across both the borders could also erase the psychological borders? After all, people on both sides of the border are made of the same flesh and bones, we share the same genetic pool. I wonder if I will live to see that day.
Dr Ilmana Fasih is a gynaecologist and health activist of Indian origin, married to a Pakistani. Contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, September 02, 2011