A Pakistani in India
History, unfortunately, has given Indian and Pakistan varying reasons for hostility. It is sad to see two nations with so much in common distrust and, in general, hate each other. The media rampant with messages of anger against the ‘other’ and thus, choosing the path of friendship or normalisation is a mission of passion.
Travelling from Islamabad to New Delhi, however, has changed my perspective to a great extent.
During a recent month-long stay in India’s capital, I found myself feeling as if I were a local, thanks to the similarities in language, culture and ethnicity. I fit in like a hand in a glove.
Most of the time, I roamed the streets, markets and historic places. At times, I thought I was walking through parts of Rawalpindi, Karachi or Lahore!
The way of talking, the markets and the people are just like us. The congested markets of Delhi took me straight back to Rawalpindi.
In fact I met a delegation of parliamentarians last year when they came to Islamabad and they were surprised at how similar Delhi and Rawalpindi are.
I didn’t get into any debates over my nationality in India; I didn’t need to pretend I was Indian.
That’s because as far as the common man knew, I was Indian, I was a Delhi’ite.
Contrary to misconceptions, no one chased me and no one investigated me.
I asked about the price of salt, as I had heard many stories in my childhood of how an Indian spy unknowingly exposed himself in Pakistan when he demanded five rupees worth of salt for a glass of lassi at a restaurant.
Lo and behold, there was no difference in the prices!
Whenever I did identify myself as a Pakistani, all I was given was respect, love and affection.
A lot of people didn’t believe that Pakistanis talk just like them and even dress like them. They were so surprised at our similarities.
While talking to his family members on telephone, an Indian shopkeeper proudly informed them that a Pakistani friend was in his store.
My green passport was a source of contention though.
The owners of restaurants, net cafés, money changers and franchises of cellular companies are under strict instructions by the home ministry to carefully deal with Pakistanis.
The Muslim community is particularly more careful while dealing with Pakistani Muslims in New Delhi.
I was under the belief that I would get an Indian phone number with ease, but due to the colour of my passport, it took a week for them to process my request.
When I expressed my dismay at this, the people showed sympathy and stated that they were duty bound since my name is ‘Khan’ and not ‘Sharma’.
The Indian media is suffering from Pakistan-phobia to a great extent and the politicians also sometimes jump into the foray in pursuit of cheap popularity by giving anti-Pakistan statements but this trend has changed in Pakistan to some extent.
People living on either side of the border are unhappy with their incompetent and corrupt systems. They assign all sorts of blame to the governments and security establishments of both countries.
Many people believe that,
‘Hum aik hi hain, bus ye sari larai naita logoon ki hay!’
(We are the same people, the fight is only among the rulers!)
This gave me a ray of hope.
Now, the challenge is to find a middle ground for real stakeholders (the common man), who become aliens as far as the governments of the two countries are concerned.
PHOTOS: AZAM KHAN
Read more by Azam here.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.