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Saturday, Oct 19, 2019

Shall we overcome?

In Germany, nine out of ten times on TV you'll catch some clippings on war, writes Varupi Jain in Berlin Dairy.

india Updated: May 10, 2005 21:07 IST
Berlin Diary | Varupi Jain
Berlin Diary | Varupi Jain

Europe marked the 60th anniversary of the end of the World War II on May 8. I am tempted to reflect on my mixture of fascination and discomfort at the way the war is handled by the media in a country like Germany. Let me explain. You switch on the TV at any time on any day in Germany and nine out of ten times you'll catch some clipping, some footage, some documentary or some film on the Holocaust and the war. Nobody would deny the historical significance - if that is the appropriate word here - of the war for Europe as such. However, despite the pathos - again a questionable word - any world citizen would today attach to the war, at times the constant reminders are overdone to the point of immunity.

What accounts for my fascination, however, is most significant and highly underrated from a purely South-Asian perspective. The sheer obviousness of the fact no longer makes us stop and wonder how well a consortium of former arch-enemies has given up past differences to propel an entire continent towards economic, cultural and social prosperity and peace.

And where are we? Lost in cricket matches and all that? Musharraf sahib came and left. Heads of two mammoth states entangled in one of the most controversial relationships of modern times were splashed all across world press. Birth certificates were dug up, best culinary skills were on display, invites were exchanged, dawats were hosted. But so what? Now don't tell me that headway has been made, talks were positive, economic cooperation has been set off, peace is in the pipeline. Don't tell me that we should wait just a little bit more. Well, how long? Sometimes - at least sometimes - I am tempted to believe that the junta has run out of patience and has long abandoned the battle on either side.

I can recall one of those rare occasions when a German train got delayed and missing my connecting train to Stuttgart, I got stranded in a rather obscure little village station. The next train, when it arrived, brought along many drunk soccer fans - shouting slogans, calling names and shattering beer bottles. They can be a dangerous lot, I had been told. My insecurity settled deeper as I somehow boarded the train. Theatrics of drunken abrasiveness only grew stronger while I tried to shovel my luggage to the next compartment, looking anxiously at the only person who seemed to be in his senses and looked rather South-Asian, almost Indian, I thought. Perhaps sensing my insecurity, he approached me and helped me pull my bags as though it were the most obvious thing to do. He told me that he is from Islamabad and added, almost over-confidently, that he did not find the need to confirm that I belong to India. As we reached the last compartment, which was the only one vacant, the train halted. "Shukriya," I said, as he prepared to get down. "Shukriya kaisa," he replied "jung to saltanat ki hai, awaam ki nahin…" 

On another occasion, I boarded a crowded bus in Berlin and was almost shocked to hear someone call out from the side. "You look like you're from back home…" I am from Delhi, I nodded. The Indian-looking elderly man introduced me to his Indian-looking friend from London. Then, for those ten minutes that I travelled in the bus, I also travelled through his childhood spent in Dilli and his favourite playgrounds in Chandni Chowk. His lively narrative almost made me taste his pet parathas and fly with the many kites he had looted and flown in Delhi. As though sensing my unease at breaking his monologue while readying to get down, he scribbled his name - a conspicuously Muslim one - on a piece of napkin and next to it, his address - a street not in Delhi but in Lahore. Feelings and reactions abandoned me and I got down, shouting back a 'khuda hafiz'. Khuda hafiz, he called back with a ring of laughter, "I am an atheist but khuda hafiz anyway".

For the first time I sensed a psychological line of control dividing me from this Pakistani whom I would perhaps never meet again, but with whom, I share a bond - perhaps older than his or my life - which will outlive both of us. This feeling was only reinforced as I realised that the place I was stepping down at was none other than Berlin - a city which stands for division as much as it stands for reunification. Can Kashmir be our Berlin someday? For those moments that I walked down that street of Berlin, those heavy things like borders, religions, divisions and war reasserted themselves as universalities - universal not just in their existence but also in their superficiality and hollowness.

May the right historical forces fan the fire of peace, which has been brewing on either side of the Line of Control for quite some time now.

First Published: May 10, 2005 14:58 IST

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