Thursday, June 01, 2006
The traffic was gushing in the busy streets under the gloomy sky. My eyes roved for a cab. With cars speeding by, I compared every gesture of this foreign land to my country but failed to console my heart. The artificial orderliness of the place fed my desire to go back, even if war haunted the roads of my motherland. This first trip overseas was not out of choice. Every moment reminded me of my parents, relatives and friends back home.
With all turmoil inside, I waved at the cab. The driver readily stopped. I forced myself inside. I could feel my heart resting as the cool air pampered my hair. After naming the street and the house number, I waited for the driver to respond but he remained silent.
His look mirrored his origin and I assumed him to be sharing my nationality. The silent ambience made me feel a bit uncomfortable. I couldn’t stop myself from asking his name. Bhaiya, aapka naam kya hai (Brother, what’s your name)? Salim, he replied. Aap India se ho (Are you from India)? Nahi, Pakistan se. Mere abbu batware se pehle Hindustan…. (No, from Pakistan. My grandparents resided in India before the partition), he responded.
From an early age, Pakistan was taboo for me. The only relation we had with Pakistan was the past of irreconcilable pain. Listening to him, tales of grief and despair filled my heart and the cries of my relatives echoed. It reminded me of my grandmother who was still living with the tragic past of losing her brother during partition. It also brought back to me the childhood memories of anxiously waiting by the window for my father who then served in the defence forces. To divert my mind, I started looking outside. Many thoughts dragged me to the endless emotions of the past.
Salim intervened and brought me back to the present. He asked me if I had come from India. He spoke about dreadful conditions of the people back home. I felt a bit calm as he seemed to share the same concerns that I did. I spoke to him about India. He heard every word with concern and then began his side of the story.
He spoke of his brother who died fighting on the border. The family went through hell in retrieving his body back from India. His voice broke down as he told about his financial crises. He felt helpless as he faced problems in supporting his large family in Pakistan and could not meet their expectations. He aspired to stay with his family and work in his country. He missed their presence and concern.
He made me realize that the common people did not want war, bloodshed and loss of human lives. He seemed to strongly believe that one day humanity would prevail. I was amazed by his sheer optimism. Salim had changed my opinion of people on the other side. He reflected a truth that one does not need education to understand mankind but just a heart of love.
Time passed without realization and I reached my destination. I got down and walked towards the house. I felt light and connected, as though everything would be all right. That, the future still stood a chance. I turned around. I wanted to share my new found optimism. I walked up to the car and thanked him for the ride to which he responded with a beatific smile.
I felt that even if culture, religion and beliefs categorize people; we are all tied with the common thread of humanity. Even though we in our insecurities shackle ourselves down, in the end it is the innate humanity which God has endowed in us with which we triumph; and so did it today.