I have read about you, I have talked about you and I have even befriended some sweet children of your land but I have not seen you. I don’t know what you look like. I have not played in your arms; still, I am curious about you. I am from the other side of the border, a child of the enemy as one would say, who simply wants to know what life looks like beyond these man-made borders.
How different or alike you are to your sibling, India and how do you keep up with your mehmaan-nawazi.
Dear Pakistan, will you welcome me, if I say I want to see what Hindustan looked like before I was born? Will your valleys embrace me when I come to see you? Will the Indus quench my thirst, just as Ganga does?
I have read about you in my textbooks, I have studied hard on cold winter nights to take history tests that asked me a dozen questions about you. How the Mughals adorned you with gems and embellishments, how Bhagat Singh conspired a revolution in the lanes of your heart and got immortalized in the history forever. I want to get lost in one of the streets of Punjab, only to come back reincarnated.
I spend my Saturday evenings watching the sunset at the Jama Masjid in Purani Dilli. As the sunlight hits my face, a strange but comforting wave of peace hits me as I see people around consumed by the sweet sound of azaan. Would you let the tranquillity of the Badshahi mosque consume every inch of my body while I stare at the same seamless sky which we share without any divide? The same sky, which carries the sound of qawwali and that of the bhajans of the temples to the almighty.
I am curious. Do the Himalayas look the same from Pakistan? How is your Kashmir different from ours? I have not seen the Hindu Kush ranges, I long to see them; can I sit in your lap and gaze at them in awe? I have heard the Anarkali bazaar and the Chandini Chowk are hardly any different. Sometimes I get lost in the chaos of Chandini Chowk while I venture the small gallis on footsteps with my camera. I wait for the day to get wilfully lost in the streets of your Anarkali bazaar.
The ancient shops of our Purani Dilli look beautiful and vibrant during the evening. The streets smell of delicious kebabs and biryani. The early winter mornings in November are surreal. As I hear the morning prayers both from the mosque and the temple, the aroma of the nihari and the fog which comes out of my mouth when I speak and cover myself in my pashmina fills the air. People say this is the closest I can get to experience what Pakistan feels like. I know it might be true but I want to really see it for myself. I want to visit your land, roam around in your streets, eat your food, and then come back home with a lifetime of memories carefully wrapped in papers of nostalgia.
They say I am an anti-national because I am curious about you. They call me names because I want to spend some time with you. Imagine, if things were different, we could have enjoyed Abida Parveen and Rekha Bharadwaj together on the same stage, on the same land! We could have been witnesses to Fariha Parvez’s thumri on a cold winter night while sipping adrak wali chai and maybe Coke Studio Pakistan and India would have been the same, producing iconic, breath-taking music as we always do. We could have called Sadat Hassan Manto ‘ours’ and maybe, Wasim Akram and Sachin Tendulkar would have played in the same team.
My motherland is your twin, your children played with hers before the divide. Would you let me in to see how you have brought up your kids? Do they stick to the idea of ‘open-heartedness’ and warm ‘mehmaan nawazi’ that you are famous for or are they different? Will they treat me the same way as they treat everyone else? Would you let me in to see what the poets and historians described in so much detail?
I wish to meet my nation’s twin who shares the same history as my motherland. Who I never had a chance to see, to meet, to touch or talk to. All I did was gaze at her peacefully, with a book in my hand and a cigarette in the other while the crowd around me dropped slurs and slogans against her.
Dear Pakistan, I will visit you sometime, when the bilateral conditions imposed between us would be a little kinder. When things will be much better than today when this ‘child of the enemy’ will be the first to book his tickets to come and meet you. Even though, every bit of my existence is an ode to my country. She has brought me up with everything I could have asked for; she has made me who I am today but to see you and feel your warmth for once, is all I crave.
I sometimes find myself daydreaming about visiting the Lahore gate in Delhi and wishing that it was a gateway to the Delhi gate in Lahore – what if I walk in from the Lahore gate and come out from the Delhi gate? One day, I promise you that I will come to you, embrace you, and see everything that I have read about you.
Until then, take care.
A curious, lost child across the border
Painting by Satish Gujral
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