One of the greatest needs I feel constantly, all the time, is the need to belong. I don’t like being the outsider, I don’t think of myself as the recluse. I cherish inclusion and celebrate threads of common history, myth of origin and descent and shared cultures. My childhood and much of my adult life has been a voyage across cities, people and belongings. From one Army station to another, from field to peace areas. Across the wondrous journeys I took as part of this nomadic life, a strong string that gave me a sense of belonging was my territorial association and a sense of group solidarity with my nation. I lived in India all my life, I traveled across India and wherever I was, however far or near, I always belonged to India.
The first time I traveled abroad, the joy of now being the world explorer was in so many ways overshadowed by my feeling of not belonging. The sense of alienation was real, the fear of the unknown so pronounced and I precariously tread that new country lest I break a law unknown, let I hurt a sentiment unknown.
I absorb and relish each experience I have had in a different land, within and outside my country. I am richer with the understanding of such cultural, geographic and religious diversity that this world has. But home for me is still India.
Partly because of my exposures on account of my Army upbringing, partly because of the media and partly because of all the literature I had chanced upon, my understanding of Pakistan was always of a place where women were subjugated and men where honing their skills at weaponry. I knew of them as a team we wanted to beat at cricket, a country where killing and dying was the norm and a country which occasionally caused great discomfort to its neighbours. Ajmal Kasab dint help the cause and after reading ‘The Siege’ I wrote them off as a militant camp.
My first brush with Pakistan was when I went to Wagah. With much anticipation and excitement, content post experiencing Punjabi hospitality and food, I made my way to the Wagah border. I hadn’t planned my trip and hence dint have any special passes. I decided I will go early to join the commoners queue. I kept a 3 hour buffer to ensure that getting in is not a hassle, today was my last day at Amritsar and I dint want to take any chances and miss the much famed ‘lowering the flags’ ceremony. I reached the gate to realise that all of mankind had descended to see the ceremony and after much pushing and prodding, the unfair onslaught of the angry sun and understanding the etymology of the term ‘cattle class’ I witnessed the ceremony and looked across to Pakistan. Nothing spectacular, just like India.
Then one day, as I was surfing through channels I came across Fawad Khan and Sanam Saeed telling me that ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hai’, I got hooked and without any forewarning Pakistani dramas made their way into my heart. I came back home day after day to stories from across the frontiers, to stories of people whose dreams and ambitions, emotions and cultural beliefs, whose clothes and contours were so like mine. I through this vicarious medium was introduced to a world out there which I had so easily dismissed. Their mellifluous language, strong characters, family units all struck the right chord with me. Through their stories they won me over and made me realise that while we are separated by a hem, we still are the same people.
Within my country and outside my country, there live people who wake up day after day in the hope of bettering their lives, people who laugh and cry at the same things we do and people who may speak different dialects and tongues, but eventually speak with heart. It is a small realisation, one that has come to me at the cost of great many sacrifices my husband made by letting dramas run over football matches, but one that I am glad I came across.
Through these shared stories I keep going back to, I have realised that belonging is not defined by boundaries but by being able to accept with no boundaries.