A story of rare friendship.

By Pratibha Rajasekar

I would like to think that I am a typical Indian woman with average Indian experiences; however, I don’t really fall into that category. This has both been a great thing, and sometimes, very few times, not that great. Both my parents worked for the Indian government and as such were posted to many different countries. This meant that my sister and I were lugged around to all of these places. This resulted in learning different languages and immersing yourself in various cultures which were vastly different than what we were a part of.

The first such assignment for my parents was Islamabad, Pakistan. Trust me, I was scared shitless. I was just 8 and the absence of social media didn’t make much of a difference. “Roja” filled that void quite beautifully. I was expecting men and women wearing scarves and carrying guns and wanting my head, I am nothing if not dramatic. Anyhoo, being in different countries meant that most of the times we were sent off to international schools, but as luck would have it, there were no seats left in the third grade in the international school in Islamabad. My parents, god bless them, decided to enroll me in the public school and that’s where I went, towards the end of the school year and harboring a fear for my life.

Pratibha and her classmates in Islamabad.

On my first day, I was welcomed by the principal and told very clearly that I was the only Indian in that school (Yeah thanks a bunch…) She was pleasant enough and till then I didn’t really have much to be scared about. I was escorted to my new classroom. After the hustle and bustle of D.A.V in Delhi I was very surprised to see only 16 students, and that was including me. Even more surprised to see only 3 girls, again including me. I was asked to give my introduction, which I stumbled through as my spoken English was very bad. Sensing this, a boy in the class asked me to give the introduction in Urdu, but he spoke in Hindi. It’s important to understand why I was confused, it never dawned on my eight year old mind that Hindi and Urdu are pretty much the same verbally. It seemed funny then, but now when I think about it, the veil between our two countries, makes us seem alien to one another whereas in reality we are very alike.

This started getting clearer to me in one way or another throughout the time that I was in Islamabad. The food was very much similar to the food I was used to having in Delhi. Everyone enjoyed Bollywood movies, DDLJ and Rangeela were humongous hits there, not that they were released in theatres, but there was a black market where video cassettes of all Hindi movies were available.

I noticed that everyone was polite; in fact, I was reprimanded in class once, as instead of saying “aap” I said “tu”. This would seem silly to most of us who are Hindi speakers; however, in Urdu, everyone, no matter what age or profession, was referred to as “aap”. When I moved back to India, I was ridiculed in class because I called everyone “aap”. Go figure.

A little over a year later we came back to India for holidays and I felt awkward. Everyone thought that we were having a terrible time in Pakistan and assumed that it was a relief to get back. Don’t get me wrong, it was great to be back and spend time with family. But I loved my life in Islamabad. I had made amazing friends at school. We weren’t allowed to mingle with them outside of school due to my parent’s job but the time spent at school was pretty great. And it was in school that I met Kinza.

Pratibha with her friend Kinza

Kinza joined Islamabad School of Arts and Sciences in the middle of 4th grade and we became friends for life. And trust me; being best friends forever was not so easy for a kid like me with parents who had a job like they had. I want to talk about her since there was no internet when I left Pakistan. There was no way for anyone to stay in touch except by post and due to the tension between the two countries, post never reached us in India. So now you can understand, that besties for life status was not really an option for us. But Orkut changed that for me. I would like to say that I kept searching for all my friends from Pakistan, but I never really did. I thought that it had been years and no one would probably remember me. Plus, I wasn’t really sure how they might have felt about me as too much had happened between India and Pakistan and I assumed that this ill will would be targeted at me too, after all I was from the enemy country. Thankfully, I was proven wrong by this amazing human being. In 2006, when I was in university, I got a message from Kinza asking if I was the same Pratibha who studied at Islamabad school of Arts and Sciences. I was in shock, but managed to respond in the affirmative. She took my number and called me within minutes. In the years after Islamabad happened, most of my classmates had left the country. Kinza was in Canada and even then, this girl, she never stopped trying to get in touch with me. I wish you could feel what I feel right now as I write this. It’s incredible when someone gives you a part in their life and doesn’t let boundaries, physical or otherwise, get in between the friendship that you shared. I am in no way taking anything away from my fellow country people. I have had many friends who would and have, gone above and beyond for me. It was just not what I expected from a citizen of an “enemy” country.

The Oxford dictionary defines a patriot as a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country with devotion. Loving, supporting and defending our country, doesn’t mean that we cannot love and support another. It doesn’t mean that we are incapable of compassion and kindness. I am grateful, that the people I knew in Pakistan were capable of empathy and did not blindly believe that all Indians are meant to be hated. Because I know for a fact that all Indians do not harbor a hatred for our friends next door. We need to look past the divide and not blindly believe what is being said or implied by the media. When we can have so much anger, when an English movie depicts us as a poor country, where everyone lives in a slum, why do we still depict every Pakistani character in our films with varying shades of evil who hate Indians? We need to make a change for the better and stop being a hypocritical society which embraces negativity. We are people who are sharing time on the same planet and are living pretty close by. I am sure we can muster enough love which can permeate through our mutual boundary.

Voice Of Ram is the personal blog of Ram Subramanian. Click on the red bell icon to get updated on his posts. You can follow his views on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.