I find it deeply perplexing, that moments in history that one does not contribute to in any tangible way, can alter the course of ones life. My two weeks in India gave me the chance to meet a number of people who’s grandparents were born in present day Pakistan. I found it unsettling in so many ways, that a decision made by our grandparents, to move in 1947, is what so intrinsically defines us now.
I travelled to india with a number of preconceived notions – notions of clear differences and distinctions between two nations, notions of different accents and mindsets, notions of tolerance and intolerance, notions of love and resentment, notions of misplaced nostalgia, notions of chaos, notions of discontent and most importantly, notions of being completely alien to this undiscovered world of over a billion people.
Things never really are what they seem. The first thing that struck me about India was its sheer size, the sheer magnitude and vastness of it all, and the crude realisation that amid all the madness, there is something about the system that prevents it from imploding. This was accompanied by the sudden epiphany that 90% of my time in India will be spent commuting from one place to another.
In two weeks, I have attempted to skim the surface of India’s northern cities and it’s southern rivers and She has welcomed me as though the haunting line that divides us is a mere figment of my imagination. I have breezed through immigration. I have found myself wondering how I haven’t yet had an accident in Delhi and whether all the cabbies here are secretly engaged in a game of “chicken”, I have seen all the chaos of home and all the order of the first world. I have realised that you rarely feel more alive than when you almost get hit by a bus every five minutes while being driven around in a cycle-rickshaw in Chandni Chowk. I have noticed that Indian street dogs are as resilient as the MQM in Karachi and as lazy as Nawaz Sharif’s cabinet. I’ve seen all of Delhi’s monuments from the Qutub to the Fort, enveloped in a dominant yet silent grandeur, humbly embodying a rich and colourful history the city so forcefully represents.
Down in Kerala, I have seen what it means for separate nations to reside in a single state. South Indians are largely oblivious to most other Indians let alone Pakistanis. I have soaked sun on a boat in the back waters and witnessed natural beauty like never before. In Agra, I could sense the Taj Mahal acknowledging my presence in all it’s cliched majesty, standing relentlessly beautiful amidst thousands of people.
I have haggled with shopkeepers, seen people fall ludicrously sick, said yes to all the right things, rekindled old friendships, made new friends, reunited with older ones, I have heard “salaam” “namaste” and “sat sri akaal” all in the same day, I’ve been proud to come to the realisation that I know a lot more about Bollywood than any of my Indian friends and at the same time been blown away by how enamoured my Indian friends are by Pakistani culture, I’ve danced till my legs hurt, laughed till my jaw hurt, been silly, been embarrassed, been excited, but most importantly, been truly content.
Now that I am leaving, it hits me that I was never an alien here. What was alien were my preconceived notions. I felt no differences, I felt no resentment, and no intolerance. What I felt was love, a whole lot of love, and an understood, understated regret on either side of this imaginary line, that our relationship status was at best, complicated.
My nostalgia is no longer misplaced. I have no qualms in saying that I felt at home in a place that could very well have been my home. On a very basic level, only now have I realised, after criticising the rush in Delhi and the lack thereof in Kochin, that our alphabet, our script may be different, but our language is exactly the same.
India, you have been incredible. Until we meet again…..
Originally published on Facebook on February 25, 2014.