When distrust and misgivings, mostly based on sketchy information about each other, are diluted, it is hoped the political atmosphere too will be improved
By M S Verma
Many positive and imaginative steps are being taken and every attempt is made to create a cordial atmosphere to remove distrust between the Indians and the Pakistanis. On country-to- country political level, there are contacts but the-people-to-people contacts are very few and mostly co-incidental, not deliberately arranged. But from what I learnt from my experience during my two year stay in Kabul with Pakistanis as my neighbours, people on both side of the LoC are eager to have good relations. I was a lecturer in English in Kabul University in the seventies. I reproduce below a section from my writings.
"Bhai Jaan, hamein Awara film dikhaiye," the lady said. She was a spinster and was the sister-in-law of our Pakistani neighbour who worked in Pakistan Embassy. Both of us were posted in Kabul, Afghanistan. I was a lecturer in English at Kabul University. It was 1974 and the Indian and the Pakistan Embassies had respectively furnished flats to us which just coincidentally happened to be adjoining.
Besides the lady, there were her brother-in-law Mr. Khan, not the real name, his wife, two young daughters, and a grown-up son. The members of the family almost regularly visited us and spent the evenings talking of various things except politics and politicians.
If ever any reference was made to politics of politicians, it was detested. Ours was an insignificant chit chat clearly aimed at lengthening the togetherness of the two families rather than anything else. The family left no opportunity to be as close to us as possible. We enjoyed their company immensely. The behavior of most of our Indian compatriots on the other hand was snobbish and rarely ever relaxing.
We saw the film at Baharistan, a distant cinema house and it was a freezing-30 degree cold. I remained ill for a week as it was a night show and the upper classes being full, we had to compromise by buying tickets for the lowest class, sharing the wooden bench rows with the riff-raff. Nevertheless, our Pakistani neighbours were satisfied for having watched the film of their choice with their friendly Indian neighbours. The intimacy and informality were strengthened as the time passed.
I am a vegetarian. At Eid the lady of the Pakistan family brought a piece of meat in thick gravy with lots of fat. I wouldn't even dare touch meat in India but now in spite of my firm but modest protestations, she insisted on my trying the meat. I put the piece into my mouth and it kept rolling there.
There was no question of its going down the gullet. My face perspired and I felt very awkward with the neighbours looking at my predicament quizzically. Finally, I had to excuse myself and went to the bathroom and spat the piece out and flushed my mouth as best as I could. Of course, there were other such embarrassing incidents but all passed in good humour.
On one occasion, I was shopping in the posh bazaar. Just across the road the Pakistani Embassy was situated. I was approached by a very polite and cultured gentleman who asked me in sweet Hindustani if I knew where Pakistan Embassy was as the cabby had been fleecing him for a long time.
I asked if he was an Indian and he told me that he was a Pakistani. I at once felt a kinship because of his demeanor and the language. Of course, I felt bitter about the unscrupulous cabby and pointed out to the gentleman the Pakistan Embassy just across the road.
My idea in mentioning such things is just to give readers an idea of how very much our Pakistani neighbours sought our proximity with unprecedented humility and warmth. I savoured sewayian at Eid. We too reciprocated by sending them our delicacies at festivals. For about a year we were neighbours and then they shifted to another location. The contacts, however, were maintained as long as we were in Kabul.
Unfortunately, the common people of both the countries get rarely to meet on equal terms and in an informal environment where the essence of good feelings for each other could be gauged and assessed. The existence of a miniscule number of hot heads on both sides can't be denied. When any cultural or other exchanges are mooted, there are constraints mostly on account of political or security considerations.
Our films, musicians and artistes to a great extent narrow down the distance. Almost in all the cinema halls in Kabul, Hindi films ran to full houses. In those days, Dharmendra and Hema Malini were a craze. People hummed film song tunes at our sight. Even in the University beautiful girls hummed the tunes outside my classroom loudly enough for me to hear.
Once I was moving in a bazaar when some female voice was heard calling us 'Dharmender Hemamalini'. On taxi dashboards their pictures sandwiched the picture of their then President Mohammad Daoud. It all pointed to the great hunger of the Pakistani and Afghani friends for very close and cordial relations with the Indians. I never noticed any animosity against Indians in Kabul or from Pakistanis.
Mr. Saxena, on deputation from Patna University, was also posted in Kabul University and he regularly played tennis with his Pakistani acquaintances. His proximity was so good that he was granted special permission by Pakistan Embassy to cross Pakistan in his Toyota car which he had purchased in Kabul with proper permission of our authorities on his way back to India at the end of his tenure.
In these circumstances it is essential that, political considerations apart, people of both the countries should at least welcome more and more opportunities of mutual contacts. When distrust and misgivings, mostly based on sketchy information about each other, are diluted, it is hoped the political atmosphere too will be improved and this well-meaning and timely campaign will certainly gain momentum and may sometime show tangible results.