By Dipanjali Singh
“There are such similarities between the two countries and our cultures that those in power must dramatically militarise the borders in order to instil some semblance of an ‘otherness’.” A professor who had organised a college trip from India to Pakistan ages ago, would steadily paint for us a scene of the Samjhauta Express crawling across the Attari station to Wagah – silent and slow in the presence of authority. And then would come the almost ridiculous denouement of similar familiarity across the border, despite the administered paranoia. The bazaars of Lahore were reminiscent of Delhi, the skill to haggle down the price equally amusing; the daal and roti, meat and naan equally fulfilling. These conversations lastingly ignited a desire to go and see the foreign neighbour-country for myself. This, despite the shrill pronouncements of the insurmountable enmity between India and Pakistan, which rests on years of hostility between the powerful in both the countries, and the inevitable seeping down of suspicion and hate. Yet, time and again, it is the common people in both the countries who mark themselves as more than their states and extend solidarity to their peers across the border.
With the second surge of the Covid-19 virus and its deadly effects in India, social media have been flooded with requests for plasma, medicines, oxygen, and hospital beds. Ordinary people are directing resources towards those who need them, organising themselves into groups and building a people’s repository of needs, supplies, and government negligence. Both the active resourcefulness of ordinary people with limited means and the smug philosophising of those in power are for everyone to see. The system has collapsed and stays there with almost no efforts to rebuild and remodel it for the welfare of the people.
In the midst of this destitution and #SOS tweets, Indians have been offered succour and solidarity from the people of Pakistan. Hashtags like #pakistanstandswithindia and #indianeedsoxygen have been trending in Pakistan, registering the assertion of thousands of ordinary tweets that hatred sometimes pales when humanity calls. Not only the Pakistani government, but also the Pakistani civil society, including writers, artists, cricketers, have remembered India and offered assistance. Organizations like the Edhi Foundation offered a fleet of 50 ambulances along with services by emergency medical technicians which would be headed by Faisal Edhi, the Managing Trustee himself. The statement released by the foundation stated that they were “willing and ready to deploy our team into any critical areas of concern at your direction without hesitation.” Their only demand to the Indian government was assistance and help from the local authorities. Marshalling their resources in the service of the people of India, humanitarian organisations like these, bolstered by the overwhelming support and admiration of ordinary Pakistani people, have managed to bridge a distance which is often slated to be unassailable.
In another instance of solidarity, a video floated on social media of a group of artists dedicating the A.R Rahman composition “Arziyan” to those suffering in India. The added lines read, “Hosla na haaro yeh waqt bhi tal jaye ga; Raat jitni ghani ho phir savera aaye ga”, offering hope and the promise of a new dawn to those across the border. The comment section of the video shared by artist Zeeshan Ali archived love which leaped beyond borders through ordinary acts. The internet has become a medium through which the young in both the countries have connected through Bollywood, cricket, and memes as both sides figure out (often hilariously) the thoroughfares of growing up in a desi household. An Instagram page “notmanoj“, which has garnered more than a lakh followers in the span of a few months, aims at fostering conversation between the neighbouring countries through humour. This platform has thousands of young people from India recounting how a “twitter friend” from Pakistan checked up on them during the Covid-19 crisis, offering conversation and solidarity. The general mood asserts “Ek dhakka aur do, saare borders tod do.” Manoj Mehta, who runs the page, believes that in these small instances the nations are humanised, associating each other not merely through speeches and government orders, but through everyday people in everyday affairs. The tension that exists between the two nations, thoroughly and continually watered by the governments, provides a ready framework of reference which the young seem to challenge through humour and wit. Manoj tells me, “I want to build a narrative that is a counter to the state-sponsored one. We have a wicked sense of humour and overlapping cultures. The set up for the joke is already there.” These are instances of the young carving for themselves a space which is not encumbered by oppressively powerful narratives – a carnivalesque, momentary escape away from the dictums of the powerful which allows for imagining something novel. This is an important conversation which must find a space, with the hope that the communities who are actively silenced will also feature in this attempt to engender dialogue.
With cases reported every day and thousands of deaths, India continues to scrounge for necessities which should have been their right. Criticism on both national and international levels study the disregard at the level of authorities and attribute the staggering rise to red herrings, empty rhetoric, and strange philosophising on the part of the government. In looking beyond the noise of India-Pakistan hatred which is backed and sustained through enormous money and power, people of both the countries have allowed themselves a small space for genuine conversation. This, one hopes, brings with it not merely a dedicated rejection of hateful speechifying, but also serves as a reminder of ordinarily potent humanity. These everyday attempts at dialogue are a good place to begin.
Dipanjali Singh is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in English at the University of Delhi.
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