I love Pakistan; like I love India, or my Balwinder Bauji, like poetry, or that guy from school, and my mother. I’ve had this feeling since I was a child, and maybe everyone feels like this; maybe not.
I was in Class 5 or 6 when Papa lived in Dubai; he often brought us songs by Alam Lohar, and lovely stories about his Pakistani colleagues and friends there. It was also the time of Kargil, and hatred for Pakistan was palpable. Dadaji listened to the news on radio every evening, people gathered around him. As the number of deaths kept rising, so did the grief and tempers. I would wonder if only terrorists lived in Pakistan, and then I’d be reminded of all those stories that Papa shared. My father never lies!
In Class 12, with the love alive and strong, I went for a story-writing contest where I wrote on how not all Muslims are hateable ‘Musle’ or dreaded Pakistanis, and how every religion, community and caste has good and bad people. My amateur attempt won the first prize, and I thought many people agreed with me. It felt great to feel more human than ever.
What followed this love was the pining for a union imagined. As soon as I got my passport, I got obsessed with taking the bus to Pakistan. ‘I want to see Lahore once,’ I cried. They might have even agreed after some initial arguments, but a bomb blast in Karachi made my family go berserk. ‘Why not go jump into a well instead? At least we’d be able to have your last rites properly,’ my mother screamed.
Never mind, my love for Pakistan grew deeper as I fell in love with Abrar-ul-Haq too, that Punjabi singer known as the Gurdas Maan of Lehnda Punjab. It was only years later that I learnt he was already married. Heartbreaks are tougher when you’ve constantly dreamt of the perfect happy ending.
I met real Pakistanis finally when I left for America after completing my studies. Imran, Raheel, Umar and Shahbaz became friends to cherish. Upon my return, Shahbaz sent me an Urdu dictionary from Pakistan; the sender’s address — Toba Tek Singh — had me staring at it for long, longingly. When I went to Western Union to send him money for it, the staff there said Indians cannot send money to Pakistan. Strange, how hate travels even to this extent, or perhaps this is the whole extent anyway.
When Imran once e-mailed his article on Islamabad, it made me feel like a child walking familiar streets, feeling the morning dew and my fingers freezing in a shared cold night. Someday, I dreamt, I would research Sufi literature at a university there!
I don’t know what it is, why it is, but every time I think of Pakistan, these things come to me like a movie, playing on a loop in my head, ending with an incredible scene where my mind stops running around in circles. Here’s how that goes.
I am up on a stage at a university, speaking at the dais, about my love for the other side, about Baba Nanak and Baba Bulleh Shah, about Waris and Heer, about the streets of Lahore, and in the end about that violence of 1947. My throat is choked with tears; words stop flowing suddenly, and I am staring at thousands of people in front of me, seated in rows, looking at me. As tears finally flow out and make their way onto my eyelashes before dropping down, the hall fills with the sound of clapping. I weep as loud as I want to, and everyone in that hall can feel what I feel, eyes moist.
(Jassi, a filmmaker, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Translated from Punjabi by Aarish Chhabra)
(‘By the Way’ will be back next fortnight)