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Memoirs of a little girl growing up in Pakistan and her perception of the Kashmir conflict

I was born in 1973 in a small beautiful country called Pakistan – this was the time when the India-Pakistan conflict was still at its peak. This was right after the 1965 and 1971 wars between the two countries. I was awfully blessed to be born into a completely non-judgemental and extremely loving family - they never ‘taught’ me to hate India or Indians, rather they always looked at this whole conflict as a waste of human life and energy. I grew up hearing wonderful stories of my grandfather’s time in India – his “haveli” on Abu road, Agra (India) and his wonderful friends (all INDIANS!) – Dr Mahajan, Mr Ramchand, Dr Pandiya, Mr Paimla, Mr Ghareebdas and the list goes on. It was extremely fascinating for me that my grandfather could read and write Hindi! I learnt to write a little bit of Hindi from him... and sometimes I would wonder, while scribbling Hindi on a piece of paper back in Pakistan, “Why is Kashmir a problem? Why are they fighting over a piece of land? Why is there so much hatred? What for?”

As a child, I could never understand or relate to the animosity – the so called ‘hatred’ between the two countries. I remember, my parents talking about their Indian friends very fondly and that always warmed my heart with pride (yes, even as a kid) that my parents could not relate to the whole negativity associated with the India-Pakistan conflict or almost refused to be part of it. I was almost religiously taught to love, accept and respect everyone - no matter what they believe in or where they come from or what they look like - poor or rich, black or white, Hindu or Jewish and the list goes on!

I remember at school, we were always taught that the ‘other’ half of Kashmir belonged to us. It would always make me wonder, why would people kill each other for a piece of land? Although, that little girl has turned into a mature woman now, but even that mature woman finds it awfully hard to believe that people could waste human life for a piece of land! But yes, growing up in a non judgemental family in Pakistan and being aware of the Kashmir conflict and the immense amount of ‘portrayed’ hatred between the two wonderful countries really taught me something priceless - you can actually love and accept people regardless of what they have ‘done’ to you! It’s as simple as separating human ‘behaviors’ from the ‘humans’ themselves – so you end up judging the ‘behavior’ while you still love and accept the other person! You rate the behaviors as good or bad but you refuse to judge the person as a whole! I’m proud to say that my parents taught me this simple and beautiful philosophy of life in a way that I could easily relate to it even as a child. So in short, while I still couldn’t find any explanation for the conflict between India and Pakistan, I somehow refused to give in to the media generated brain washing!

While growing up in Pakistan, I did not have any Indian friends but I could still relate to their culture by watching Indian television channels in Pakistan, specially the “Doordarshan”! As a young girl, it was my dream to go to India and tell people that, “we do not hate you because of the conflict in Kashmir, but we really wish to resolve it at some point – peacefully!” It is still a dream... as I have still not managed to get a visa to go to India and hug random people and tell them that Pakistanis don’t hate Indians!! But as a young girl, I did manage to go to the Pakistan-India border near Lahore - The Wagha Border! That was the closest I could be to the Indians while still in Pakistan! I still get my eyes teary when I think about the scene at the border! It was a cold December night and people were piling up at the gates installed by the two countries with tons of soldiers on each side. It broke my heart for some reason, while people tried to peep and look at each other from the opposite sides with certain kind of wonder and a shimmer in their eyes... it broke my heart, when I looked at them and thought who could tell these two nations apart? We all looked the same! I tried to look for the ‘so called’ hatred that the media/politicians in general talked about all the time, but I simply failed to find it anywhere on either sides of the border! It was right before the flag ceremony that this magical moment happened – a moment that still brings tears to my eyes and makes me want to refuse to believe that there is any conflict between the 'Indians' and the 'Pakistanis' – but yes, there sure is some ‘man-made’ or more like ‘politician-made’ conflict between the two countries!! Now coming back to the magical moment... I remember holding on to the cold iron gate at Wagha border and looking at all the Indians on the other side. Suddenly, there was this old woman who comes and looks at me with tons of warmth in her eyes.... she held my hand through the cold iron gates and said, “beta (In Hindi, it mean my child), please remember that we do not hate Pakistanis and you should tell everyone back home that we love you all!” I could not believe my ears or my eyes... out of all the people out there, she came to me to convey this message!! It almost felt like I was the ‘chosen’ one! I felt blessed to be there in that moment, where I could cherish this priceless exchange of unconditional love and warmth with this complete stranger. As touched and emotional as I was in that moment, I still managed to gather my thoughts and told her, “We love you too! There is no hatred and there is no reason to hate each other for a piece of land – it’s just not worth it”! We had to let go as the ceremony was about to start and I never saw that woman again in my life. It’s been gazillion years, but I still remember her name (Sheila) and I clearly remember her affectionate face. I can still feel the warmth of her message – it was simply a message of unconditional love and acceptance! A philosophy that we both shared! It is one of those memories that I would take to my grave, but a message that I would like to convey to as many people as I can in this short life span!

The message is very simple and clear when you think about it – unconditional love and acceptance of each other as human beings! It almost magically lifts all the burden of hatred from your chest when you accept the other person unconditionally without judging them for ‘who’ they are or ‘where’ they come from – India or Pakistan, ‘this’ side of ‘that’ side of Kashmir! It’s been one of my challenges as an adult, to convert people and make them believe in this philosophy of life, specially my wonderful, beautiful, amazing Indian friends! I have tons of Indian friends now, who (honestly speaking) were extremely sceptical in the beginning of their relationship with me – but love does conquer all!

Now coming to the current state of the Kashmir conflict and the surrounded issues of hatred between the two nations – the blame game will continue to ruin whatever little that we are left with! Honestly speaking, we first need to get the ‘average’ Indian and Pakistani to let go of their lifetime’s worth of brain washing against each other! We really need to come together before we can stand against the politicians and make this miracle a possibility, where we can see Kashmir as an independent and Free State! I say “INDEPENDENT AND FREE STATE” because I DO NOT wish to have it on my side of the world (ie, Pakistan) if it still means that a child is going to lose his mother or father or any more siblings! I’m SO done with this repulsive dance of blood and antagonism! Millions of innocent people from both sides have already lost their lives! How many more to go before we settle this conflict? Why is it so important to put a ‘tag’ (Pakistan or India) on this piece of land? Can’t we just let them be? Can we, as Indians and Pakistanis, even begin to relate to the mental, emotional and physical trauma that the people of Kashmir have been going through these past 60 years? It’s so easy for the politicians to talk about it while they sit and talk about the issue in their fancy air-conditioned parliaments!!!! I almost shiver while I think about it! It is all so easy for me to sit here in my peaceful surroundings and write about it! Isn’t it about time that we (as Indians and Pakistanis) take the responsibility and do something drastic/constructive about it? Can’t we just let go of all the ‘politician-made’ hatred and get united to break the kashmiries free from this never ending painful war situation? All this bloodshed and a lot more for just a piece of land............? Something that I have been wondering about as a little girl growing up in Pakistan.... and now that I’m an adult, who’s travelled all over the world and seen the ugliness of reality but somehow, I still haven’t ceased to wonder about the same old question, “killing and torturing innocent human beings to 'tag' a piece of land as mine or yours – Is it really worth it???? My answer is a clear-cut HELL NO!!!! What's yours??


Elsie's picture

Sheila and Beta

"You should tell everyone back home that we love you all.." - your memory of the old women you met at the border mirroring your dreams as a child gave me the shivers. The point you make is so clear to so many of us this in the world and I completely support and stand behind your answer "HELL NO" it is not worth it. Thank you for your beautiful post.

Corine Milano's picture

Thank you for a powerful

Thank you for a powerful post, Saima.

namit's picture

india pak friendship

Dear Saima,

I fully support and endorse your views.There is no point of fighting over a piece of land if we cannot make the inhabitants happy.The fact of the matter is that the people of Kashmir are the real losers when it comes to animosity between the 2 beautiful countries.I believe confidence building measures in right earnest can be a starting point in order to resolve the long standing deadlock between the 2 countries.Foremost in these CBM's are people to people exchange.
However the road is not simple.There will be terrorist attacks and more hatred campaigns against each other.People from either sides need to show to exemplary patience and perseverance.And media needs to back them and potray them as the real heroes.


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