On departure at Indira Gandhi Airport, New Delhi her father, a man with steel nerves, exclaimed with a mask face, in a matter of fact manner,
“Now that you are going across, own the place, own the people, and own the problems the way you have owned the man from there.”
Without a trace of extra humidity in his eyes, he turned back towards the exit, without waiting for her to cross the immigration line for the last time as an Indian. The daughter, with a heavy heart, stopped to watch till the silhouette of her father, her mentor, blurred into the fog of the pre dawn.
Half a day later, the same day, in the same time zone (with a mere difference in half an hour), the same season, she stepped onto a ‘different’ land she was advised to “own”.
The faces, the attires, the language, the snail-pace of the custom officials was quite similar, with only minor difference in salutation of “Namasteji “ there on departure, while “Assalam Aleikum” here at arrival at Jinnah Terminal, Karachi.
But for her the smell at the airport was distinctly different, so was the taste of water she drank from the cooler, and as she moved out, the afternoon breeze that slapped her for the first time was quite hot and humid, unlike the cool breeze she had felt early morning in Delhi. The feeling within was weird, impossible to explain. It was neither regret nor its antonym.
The details of experience that each of the five senses from smell to touch went through, are still afresh as of today.
Today, it is a bit over 22 years from that day of February 19, 1990. A couple of years from now, she would have lived almost as many years as a Pakistani, as she lived as an Indian. A lot has happened in these 22 years. A lot means a lot.
From a dogged patriotic Indian, who cried hysterically on even a hint of anti Indian sentiments from the countless paroxismally patriotic Pakistanis, she gradually graduated into someone who now feels as hurt or happy for Pakistan as for India.
It did not happen overnight.
“You will find a plethora of stupid reasons to with fight each other, and to vent outside anger at home, but for heaven’s sake, never make India-Pakistan as one of those silly reasons. This will neither make India nor Pakistan any Heaven, but will certainly make your home a Hell.”
This singular advice from a cousin in Karachi, in the same situation, did not mean much to her, when it was said. However the golden words found numerous occasions to rebroadcast themselves in her head, pleading reason to maintain sanity.
More than anything else, what must have really transformed her was perhaps the dignity and poise with which her Pakistani spouse literally faced and braved the reciprocal mocking and even bullying from patriotic Indians, relatives or otherwise. If she got perturbed and came to his rescue, he would set her aside with a whisper: “Oral diarrhoea, beyond their control.”
For those who wished to discuss India Pakistan with a level of objectivity, and understanding, they both reversed their roles. They were, and in fact still are, the unsaid ambassadors of the other side in their countries of birth, attempting to bust the myths, and distortions piled up over decades.
However, they still find a sizable ‘visionaries’ on both sides, which never seem to budge from unseen prejudices. Their dogged convictions tend to take comical discourse…
“I know it. I am telling you….”
“How can you be so sure? You haven’t been there. I have lived there.”
“No, but I am sure. I know.”
One wonders if she has still learnt to laugh it off, like her husband. But certainly the pangs of the pain are a lot less.
Not only did they not fight at home on this, they even gave their children the space to choose their preferences through experience. Unlike a typical mother, who would glorify her mother’s side, while demonise her in laws place; it was a conscious effort on her part not to confuse the identity of her kids. It was perhaps as a concerned mother, that she wanted her children to love their homeland as much as she loved hers as a kid.
Seeing is believing, and her two grownups now take pride to announce “We love India, but we own Pakistan” not just in words, but in their actions too.(The wrath the two of them have faced since childhood, because of their parents identities, till date, would be another saga, best narrated by themselves).
However, not being a super human, what she has really not learnt to laugh off is the message of ‘not’ belonging to Pakistan or to India, which she receives, off and on, bluntly or subtly.
Cricket matches, which boil passions on each side, almost always place her on a pedestal where her allegiance is questioned, at every expression verbal or facial, both home and abroad.
Having strong opinions on political and social issues and a compulsion to vocalize critical views has its own price to pay, if you happen to be a ‘fortunate’ Indian Pakistani. Objectivity is not your prerogative, and to presume “You’re being biased”, is everyone else’s. They are always right, and you are always wrong.
“We thought you became a Pakistani”, “Didn’t you give up your nationality?”, “Does it not happens in your India?” “Worry about your Pakistan.” are just few of the judgements that are hurled at her, time and again.
Is it that being a Pakistani by birth, better than being a Pakistani by choice?
Is it that the passport being taken away makes her twenty four years of being born, grown up and groomed as Indian meaningless? Does the soul to be an Indian, also needs a passport?
Or is it that possession of passport of one side bars one to belong to the other side by virtue of birth.
Or is it being both an Indian Pakistani at the same time, an anathema, worthy of being distrusted?
She would be lying, if she said she accepted these meaningless comments with a big heart. It pains, it really pains. Sometimes it pains a lot more.
Time and again, such off hand comments serve as a reality check for her that ‘no matter how much she may boast that she belongs to both the lands, she is owned by none’.
Going back to her seemingly emotionless father, she was later told by her Mom, on the way back home, he had remarked in a heavy voice:
“The loud mouth that she is, she will certainly be a loss to us, but she will not be a gain, and more of a pain for the other side.”
P.S. This cry is not directed at any single person or incident, but at a pattern of reactions that shoot, off and on, owing to an identical mindset which many many on both sides share. However, it is the understanding & acceptance from friends both ‘real or ‘virtual’ who make our ordeal worthwhile.