Published in Aman Ki Asha, The News on January 24, 2012.
Ilmana Fasih shares some stories of building cross-border bridges through the social media
A world without borders was my childhood dream. The desperation and the need for this dream to realise, came out in the open when I embarked on my ‘pyar border paar’ journey, after deciding to tie the knot across the border. I’ve been on two decades of a topsy-turvy ride riddled with visa travails, with the hope-hopelessness cycle going round in vicious circles. Not had I ever dreamt in my wildest of dreams that my hope for a borderless world could be realised in my lifetime. By a ‘borderless’ world, I mean erasing psychological rather than physical borders.
Perhaps on ground it still remains a dream, but on the virtual terrain it has turned into a reality, with the booming world of social media, especially twitter. It is a visa free, passport free utopia where no one is asked their colour, creed or credentials.
It does not take long for one to get addicted to this borderless terrain. The most fascinating thing for me is to see Indo-Pak friendships burgeoning through social media. Thanks to this factor, we can all be a family beyond borders and beliefs, tied with passions common on both sides of the Indo-Pak border.
Indians and Pakistanis wish each other on Eid and Diwali via Twitter and Facebook, and send virtual firecrackers, mithai and biryani across the border.
The #shair hashtag which ‘trended’ on twitter some time back merits a mention. Every day, it attracts Urdu poetry loving twitterati in India and Pakistan. As Rana Safvi , who started this trend, begins to tweet the topic or the poet of the day, other #shair fans start to contribute their tweets with unmatched enthusiasm. So common is the passion for #shair on both sides, that it is almost impossible to identify which side of the border the tweep belongs to.
Rana tweets: “Twitter ne nikamma ker dia, warna aadmi hum bhi aadmi the kaam ke.” #shair
Comes the reply: “140 characters mein baat ker lete hain, DP to DP borderpaar, mulaqat samajh lete hain.
Political differences and arguments also emerge on twitter, but more than anger, what trumps are the vibes of friendship and harmony. The same thrill is felt on facebook too, with some limitations.
Some time back I was approached by two sets of people keen to tell their story of cross-border friendship developed through social media.
One was Ram, a boy in his mid twenties, from West Bengal, India who became friends with Maria, a girl in Punjab, Pakistan through facebook. As their friendship led to a better understanding and respect for each other’s cultures and beliefs, the vibes spilled over to thaw any cold feelings that their families had for the other side. When Ram’s father fell ill and was admitted to hospital, Maria’s mother and sister prayed for his recovery. He recovered, and Ram’s family attributed the recovery to Maria’s family’s prayers (duas).
Now, as Maria is about to be married, Ram’s family is sending her a present as a token of their friendship and gratitude for her family’s prayers. Ram explained that their families had no links to anyone the other side, and hence had no other reason to be warm, but for their friendship.
Maria and Ram have vowed to keep up their friendship even getting married to their respective spouses, and one day, when they can obtain visas, they hope to meet and ensure that any children they have are able to meet each other.
The second story is that of a love-struck couple who prefers to keep their identity and respective nationalities confidential. They contacted me with a request that I should intervene, (having gone through a similar ordeal), and convince the girl’s parents that tying a knot across the border can work out.
Like many others, they ‘met’ through an incidental chat on twitter some six months ago. They then added each other as friends on facebook. The exchange of pictures and other information led them to develop a better understanding of each other, until they reached a point when they decided they needed to share their lives. Both are in their early or mid twenties, and feel they are mature enough to embark on this journey.
The hope and enthusiasm that they had attached to my help made it hard for me to explain that I would prefer to stay away, and that they needed to deal with the situation themselves. Life is as such a struggle, and with a cross-border union, it gets tougher. Hence, let this be the first hurdle they need to cross together, before embarking on the real lifelong journey.
The couple cited the Shoaib Akhtar-Sania Mirza marriage as an example, but the girl’s parents pointed out that they were ordinary people, not stars. Hence they chose me, an ordinary Indian woman married to an ordinary Pakistani man to plead their case.
With this borderless world of twitter and face book, it is easy to predict that in future, there will be more virtual friendships which people will want to turn into real relationships.
As I explained to them, I would want everyone to appreciate that such decisions are never taken either in a haste or without realising the pros and cons of this life changing decision. Life is tough in any case, it gets tougher, and more so, after an Indo-Pak adventure. Since there are decisions which when taken can effectively be non-reversible. The decision of one of the spouses to forego his or her passport for the other side cannot be reversed, whether the marriage works or not. Secondly, when the couple has children, their nationality is one or the other. So if the marriage fails, the woman may have to suffer a lot in terms of losing her children, if the children happen to have the father’s nationality (or vice versa).
I have personally seen a couple of cases in which things did not work out and the mother and children were left stranded across the border, unable to meet again at all. I also know a woman, who is bearing all her husband’s abuses including his second marriage, only because she does not want to lose the children who have the father’s nationality. Moreover, her children are very young, and she can’t think of separation, as she has no family support or financial standing in her husband’s country, for which she left her own.
All this is certainly not intended to dissuade anyone from daring to cross the love border. But those who think of it should be fully informed of all the issues involved before embarking on this toughest exam of one’s real life.
The young twitter couple I mentioned is adamant that they want to tie the knot and transition their relationship from the virtual to the real world. I wish them good luck in their future journey.
The writer is an Indian gynaecologist and health activist married to a Pakistani. She blogs at