Every day, at sharp 4, in a village called Wagah, there is a mad rush as people try to form a straight line which will extend to a kilometer or two. It involves pushing around, shouting and hurling abuses. It also involves being shouted at by people in uniform. They don’t mind it. They are eager to be in the front of the line, even though there is enough space for everyone. They are eagerly waiting for an event which has to start after 5:30. They are so eager that don’t even mind leaving behind their cell phones, an indispensible mode of communication. And these people are not just tourists. There is a sizeable section of locals, for whom it is like a daily ritual.
Then after rounds of checking and being under constant surveillance by people with big, scary guns, they are allowed to enter and settle down. Here again, there is a rush as people find for that ‘ideal’ place to sit. That ‘ideal’ place is not one which would protect them from sun or would give them a perfect view of what will happen in front of them. They will choose a place which gives them a better look of what is on their side. The moment they will find the ‘right’ place, they will forget everything. They will try to lose themselves in history and will try to re-imagine the past. They will continue staring while an imaginary reel would be rolling in front of their eyes. And then, they will see people settling. They will now be on the edge of their seats to see them clearly. And what! They are amazed to find that they look exactly the same. Some of them would even wave to the people sitting on the ‘other’ side. Others would just stare at them and would be lost again. Then when they would see the birds, they would envy them. They would wish that they could sit on them and fly down to the ‘other’ side, to see these people more closely, to see the other side more properly, without any restriction. They would look up and envy the boundless sky who is also smirking at them. These people pretend to be angry with the sky who looks more beautiful and has a certain pride. They are also jealous of the wind. They try to smell it and think if it will smell the same on the “other” side.
During the whole ceremony, which will be taking place in front of them, they will stare at the ‘other’ side. And when the ceremony is over and they are ordered to leave, they would keep on looking back, trying to capture as much as they can. They would try to capture and take it back with them.
This is the bond between India and Pakistan. It is often unsaid and is poorly expressed in treaties and diplomatic visits, but it is there. An average Indian and a Pakistani have the same secret desire to cross the border, atleast once. They want to see what people eat, how they talk, how they look and how they think on the ‘other’ side. And if it is to be believed what those lucky people who have visited says, they will be highly ‘disappointed’ because it is just the same there. We share a common history, a common language, a common culture and even a common desire. This desire is found in the talks of average Indians and Pakistanis.
So it is a common thing among Indians to reveal how their grandparents had migrated from Pakistan. It is also common for the listeners to then pester them with more details and then be disappointed as the fact of migration is the only thing that they can recall. A friendly conversation between an Indian and a Pakistani is very predictable. It will always start with a fascination about each other’s politics, culture and mainstream cinema and will then migrate to the fact about common history and will end with a moan about the idea of separation.
It all seems very predictable but it shows the common desire which is to forge strong ties of friendship and brotherhood. India and Pakistan has even the same challenges to fight with. So why to keep the falsely constructed distance?
Let these barriers only be political ones because socially and culturally there are no barriers. These barriers have been constructed and have to be demolished. The barriers of suspicion and hatred are also constructed and have to be demolished too. And these barriers cannot be removed by people with bodyguards or with guns. They can be removed by the faceless in crowds and voiceless in a chorus. They can be removed only by the so-called “common people” or the aam insaan.
The hope lies in the civil society. We need to realize that we are not different. Our thinking is the same. Our language is same. Our ideals are the same. We need to realize that the common person on the other side of the border also has the same suffering as we do. S/He is also oppressed by the politicians, is dying with hunger, struggling for employment and being tossed around by religious fanatics.
We need to realize this and in this realization, lays not just peace but the fulfillment of our own desire. It is not possible to turn back the wheel of time. We cannot go and delete a chapter in history but we can definitely add a new one. We can add a chapter which says, “and they lived happily ever after..”
This article by Devika Mittal has also been published in the Pakistan Observer & Rising Kashmir