Working in the digital space, the word ‘clickbait’ is thrown around often. Conversations in India are just like that these days, ‘clickbaity’. “Finish them off, bomb them into oblivion, Aman ki Asha – what stupidity are you talking about?”
I have heard these and then some in the past two weeks. Whether it was out of rage, intended to shock or just hopping onto a “revenge” train. I can’t say. These came from my own – family and friends who decided what was right for India like they believed in it.
I have been wanting to write about it for sometime but the fear of confrontation stopped me. Do I want to fight with my own? I did not. But I also thought if I did not say what I wanted to, I am just another coward wanting to keep the peace (pun intended here!).
It took a piece written by my former editor Prasad to open the floodgates of memories. It was October 1999, and a few days after Amrit was born when I received a beautiful hand-written letter from my then colleague Kamran, congratulating me and calling my baby ‘amrit ka pyala’. I showed the letter to Appa who had seen two wars in 1965 and 1971 but had never met and interacted with a Pakistani in his life. He was taken aback by what Kamran had written, and was touched with the love and affection that came from his words.
Just two years before this, in December 1997, I was on my first international flight to Muscat from Mumbai via Delhi – and as the aircraft passed through Pakistani airspace, it sent a chill down my spine. I shouldn’t have worried, and after we touched down in Muscat, the husband’s office driver who came to receive us was a Pakistani – so full of warmth and affection and so eager to make me feel at home in Muscat.
At the Times of Oman, where I joined as sub-editor/reporter in 1998, we all sat in a circular newsroom – Indians, Pakistanis, Filipinos, Arabs, and Omanis. Though we all had our differences – when it came to World Cup cricket and supplements – we bonded over food and the sense of two so-called “enemies” living and working together in a foreign country.
Our colleague Shehzad’s wife sent us the choicest delicacies during Ramadan and Eid, she also once cooked us a complete vegetarian meal at home, Kamran married Mariya and named his first-born Suhani after Rani Mukherjee’s character in Saathiya, we ate the choicest Pakistani mangoes (chausa) in summer and preferred Pakistani basmati over the Indian brands. One of them (not naming him here) told me I looked like a smart Pakistani when I wore a particular style of salwar kameez. I remember retorting, “Why can’t I be a smart Indian?” And together, we laughed.
Did we feel wary of them or did they feel we were the “enemy”? Definitely not. We were friends and colleagues working and arguing late into the night shift. Clarence Rufin went through my stories with a tooth comb and helped me come with great headlines and we debated on everything from Kamal Haasan’s Anbe Sivam to 9/11 and sang Bollywood songs during rare power breaks.
Twenty-one years later, Kamran remains a close friend, committed to peace between the two countries. And eight years back, he published a piece of mine on Sai Baba in a Pakistani paper of all places, because he thought my spirituality would resonate with his readers, never mind the difference in religion. Despite the many differences, and the physical distance – which might not reduce in my lifetime – we still remain friends.
So, when friends in India say I am “opinionated” because I want peace between both countries and I will not label Pakistanis as “enemies”, I don’t think I need to justify who I am friends with and why?
All I have with me are those fond memories of the Times newsroom, the workers in my husband’s office and the chance meetings I have had with friendly Pakistanis in parks and malls.
I wouldn’t trade these friendships and memories for anything in this world. And I will always believe that “peace has a chance”. All you need to do is believe in it.