Thunder of military boots crashing against the metaled ground, long barrel guns and their bonnets piercing the thin Autumn air and in the background are the deafening chants of “Pakistan Zindabad” making the roaring counter cries of “Hindustan Zindabad” almost inaudible. This is Lahore, Wagah Border, 2009, which has been displaying the same jingoism since 1947. The border-gate opening (and closing) ceremony marked in pride, revenge, and honor- an entertaining spectacle usually witnessed by several hundred people every day.
My instilled dislike for the Indians, which I never truly understood, was now ignited more than ever. As I continue to roar with my Pakistani against the Indians I see an old man, probably in his late 70’s struggling to find a seat. Filled with an exorbitant amount of love for my country, I immediately scoot over and make space for the old man who had seen all the sufferings Pakistanis had endured at the hands of these ruthless Indians. Without a word, he sits next to me but something about those wrinkles and frown lines from years of experience spoke louder than all the deafening screams.
“Thank you my child,” he says. “There need to be more like you in this world; coming out to support your country on a Sunday with such zeal is impressive.” I nod in the affirmative though I’m disappointed that I missed the brusque handshake between soldiers from both sides. But still he continues, “You know I was one of the soldiers who fought in the 1971 war. I still remember it like it was yesterday. How I fought non-stop till the sun rose to protect my country. How I was ready to take a bullet in my head just to save my homeland. When I see you I am reminded that there is still hope, that a flame still burns in the youth to support their grounds.” I feel his passion, his words, though few hit me like the force of a thousand elephants and once again I am proud, now more than ever to be a part of a nation as great as Pakistan.
The ceremony ends and I watch the old man (whose name I never got to know) join the rest of his family and calmly walk across the Wagah border and into Indian Territory. My jaw drops and I have racing thoughts, “but he was… and he said… and I thought…” but the fact of the matter was he was an Indian whether I wanted him to be or not.
And that’s when my innate feelings for Indians disappeared and new images replaced the instilled ones. Ones that showed Indians and Pakistanis as so closely related that if they were shown to any Pakistani he would burn them. But was it not true? Did we not descend from the same ancestors? We did. But our deep-rooted differences blinded us from our similarities.
There is a bond of humanity that binds us all. I resolved then to never let the preconceptions of prejudice in any form – national, religious or cultural – Blind me from the innate humanity of others. That day I learnt a lesson that I carry throughout my life with the same intensity that I felt on that day. That day I realized that everything revolved around that dreaded “c” word: choices. We all had them but we willingly refused to acknowledge that we did. That day I realized I was not fighting for my future but for my parent’s past. That day, I retreated from a war that had no enemy. That day, instead of succumbing to stereotypes, I emerged as a better person- one that did not look at Indians as enemies that had been sworn to my but humans like you and me. That day, I think I solved the eternal controversy – I made my own destiny.
by Talal Almas