This journey called life takes many interesting paths. What rekindled this thought recently was the 2013 Google India Ad, a video clip on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHGDN9-oFJE) titled “Google Search: Reunion,” which now has over 11 million views and counting.
It was not just me, but my friends from both sides of the India-Pakistan divide now residing in America who admitted that they broke down into tears after watching this three minute promotion for the online search engine. And they were all born long after 1947. One reason for this emotional response could be that we grew up on similar stories from our parents of the partition generation, about their “good old days” across the border which they remembered with such fondness that we sometimes silently asked, “Why did you ever move?”
For me personally, the transition from Pakistani nationalist to India-Pakistan peace maker was not on the cards before 1974, when I arrived here in America. There was no love lost between me and then dushman (enemy) Indians, especially since my father had been their forced “guest” between 1972 and 1973, a civilian engineer caught in the birth of Bangladesh. Ironically he was housed in a POW camp for almost two years located less than 100 kilometers from where he was born. His sister and various cousins unsuccessfully tried to visit him there. Ours is a partition divided family and my last visit to India before coming to America was as a young kid in 1962, a visit I have very little memory of except for fading images of my grandparents.
I admit that I was once full of national pride which carried with it a great deal of anti-Indian feelings. But that started to change when I landed in northern California during the 1970s.
I was once as odd as the checkered three piece suit I wore when I arrived on campus at San Jose State. It makes me smile today but, on my first day, I actually stopped a Mexican-American on campus and asked where he was from hoping that he was a desi! Mind you this was the world long before the internet era and the global information revolution or social media.
But things started to change the first day when I entered the Students Union cafeteria.
Being somewhat of an introvert I nervously looked around and saw someone who could potentially have been another Mexican, but actually turned out to be an Indian. His name is SJ. After purchasing a cup of tea and struggling to figure out how to get the hot water from a machine into my cup, I asked if I could sit down at the same table. He was a few years older and much wiser than me but we must have talked for about an hour that day and after almost four decades now we still keep in touch via email. SJ introduced me to the first Pakistanis I met in America later that week. He also became my first roommate because I had nowhere else to go that summer.
There is something about learning how to survive in a third country that brings Indians and Pakistanis together. That is exactly what happened throughout the 1970s for me because at that time there were not too many of us around here.
If I remember correctly there were about 10 Pakistanis and about a 100 Indian students at San Jose State and many of us just got to know each other because we were all struggling to make ends meet and trying to get an education at the same time. Our medium of communication was primarily our commonality of culture. And even today I stand by that statement. We Pakistanis in the United States have Persian and Arab friends but when it comes to appreciating a good Punjabi beat or a soothing and sad Urdu-Hindi ghazal no other people besides Indians can relate.
There is a great deal more that I could add but space constraints (and self-censorship) restrict elaboration here. I did not change my mind about India without first changing my perception about Indians during the 1970s and 1980s. There was once a time when many Indians, who liked to party, thought that Pakistanis were pretty cool and preferred their company.
But old habits take time to change. I remained a Pakistani-American “cyber warrior” during the 1990s and dueled with many Indians on the internet during that decade. Though I had lost my hostility long before then. You cannot dislike a people and generalize your feelings against them if some of them are your good friends! But for that transition to take place the first step is getting the opportunity to meet them like I did right here in America. This is why efforts like Aman Ki Asha (Hope For Peace) and Milne Do (Let People Meet) make much more sense to me today.
I sometimes still disagree with Indians on Kashmir. But my warrior days are long gone. I visited India in 2004 with my mother and was welcomed by many members of my “long lost family.” I cherish that visit but want to share some of the consequences of my developing affection for that country. I also want to write some choice Punjabi expletives here for the people who carried out the attacks on Mumbai in 2008, but will instead inform them of the results of their terror. The last words my aunt said to me on the phone in 2011 were “Beta tum kab aa rahey ho?” (Son, when are you coming?). She died soon after in India. I did not get to see her again because I could not get a visa—the price of being an American of Pakistani origin.
Ras lives in Sacramento, California. He has been writing for South Asian newspapers and magazines in America for over 20 years.