Published in AmanKiAsha The News, October, 19, 2011
“Relationships change minds and not knowledge”. Aun, an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, began his story with this quote from the well-known writer Reza Aslan.
Aun had come over to my place to share his experiences as a Pakistani living in India. He’s among the miniscule percent of Pakistani elite fortunate enough to have received the best education and grown up with adequate exposure and a wide horizon. Until age 16 he lived all over Pakistan as his civil servant father was transferred from on place to another.
Despite his elite education and exposure, he said that he always thought of India as an “enemy” country. The mention of India brought to his mind war, the conflicts between India and Pakistan over the past six decades. For this, he largely blamed his schooling as well as the media that always portrayed India as Pakistan’s adversary.
His views drastically changed when he had the opportunity to actually live in India for some years, after his father was posted to the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi as Minister (Trade). But Aun’s initial response to India was not very positive. He remembers the shabby New Delhi airport and “lots of slums and poverty” on the way to his hotel. He also initially hesitated to interact with locals during his first few days.
At the admission test at the British school in New Delhi, Aun met another prospective student, an Indian boy named Saurabh. In the few moments they interacted before the test, they discovered they had the same mother tongue (Punjabi), loved cricket, and craved biryani. From that day onwards, Aun embarked on a wonderful and fascinating journey of harmony and everlasting friendship with people from his neighbouring country. His best friend at school was Saurabh.
Sitting at my place, Aun recalled his economics teacher telling him of her own change of heart when she visited Lahore for the first time. The fear she felt, as an Indian and a woman, while boarding a taxi driven by a bearded driver melted as the driver, gauging her apprehension, reassured her and took her around the city. And at the end of it all, he refused to charge any money from his Indian ‘guest’. No longer could she stereotype every bearded Pakistani as an extremist.
There are countless such stories of such small but enriching experiences of love and hospitality that counter the hatred and bigotry. I know many instances of shopkeepers at Lahore’s Gawal Mandi, and New Delhi’s Pallika Bazar refusing to take any money from the ‘mehmaan’ (guest) from the neighbouring country.
Aun told me that, despite his apprehensions, he quickly and easily made a fleet of friends among his Indian schoolmates, none of whom had any qualms in accepting him as one of them. His eyes twinkled as he recalled his friends in New Delhi coming over to his home to eat Pakistani biryani.
Two touching incidents he narrated demonstrate the compassion that exists among the people from both sides.
The first case involved an uncle of his, who came to Delhi for a liver transplant, needed about 25 units of blood. A shiver ran though me when I heard that it took barely a few hours for Aun and his Indian friends to collect the required amount of blood: the donors willingly gave their blood despite knowing that the recipient was Pakistani.
The other case was that of a Pakistani baby brought to India to be operated on for a congenital heart disease. Again, Aun’s Indian friends got the required units of blood reserved in no time.
“When I visited the baby and his parents back in their village in Pakistan some years later, all the neighbours and extended family came to see me,” remembers Aun. “They all were overwhelmed with immense gratitude for the Indians who donated blood and helped the baby to live.”
Sitting in that small village in Pakistan, their hearts had changed forever; they were no more gullible to the propaganda of hate spread by the vested interests on both sides.
After finishing high school, as he left for further studies in Toronto, Aun knew that he and his Indian friends were good ambassadors for their respective countries, creating a positive impression on the other side. They had no hidden agendas or points to score against each other. They had no real differences. All that separated them was a barbed wire. Aun intends on going back to Pakistan and becoming a civil servant like his father. His dream posting? New Delhi.
He wants to do whatever he can to remove misunderstandings between the two nations. “The only way I think that is possible is to allow people from both countries to interact with each other,” he says.
Aun told me that his Pakistani and Indian friends in Toronto jokingly call him a “Pakistani-Indian”. It’s an identity he feels pride in.
As Aun left for Pakistan recently, I tweeted the last two verses from a poem I had written for my blog some time ago:
“Oh! the lines between our lands sketched,
Let they not on our hearts be ever etched.”
A few minutes later I received an equally emotional reply from Namita, a twitter friend in India:
“am waiting on this side of the barbed fence, looking longingly on the other side, waiting for the gates to open.. #India #Pakistan”
I did not reply to her tweet. I had no words but only tears of anguish and helplessness, in response to her affection.
Dr Ilmana Fasih is an
Indian gynaecologist and health activist married to a Pakistani. She blogs at