I am a US citizen who grew up in India. Growing up, I had a, how to put it diplomatically, somewhat negative view of Pakistan. When I moved to the USA, I made a lot of friends from the subcontinent, without paying much attention to exactly where in the subcontinent they were from.
I was driving in Rome once and I ran into a gentleman who looked Indian and was accompanied by his three sons who were active and energetic. He seemed on the brink of a meltdown and I offered him a ride. It turned out he was from Karachi. “Why did you help me?” he asked. “Well, you look like my cousin, we can understand each other, we both played cricket badly, we both like a guy who was from your part but luckily settled in mine (Mohammed Rafi), and I am only saying this in half jest, that since I want to see Rome over the next three days, it is essential to take your sons away from the city center!”
Then I started thinking, I have a ton of friends like him in the USA, I can help him in Rome, why not where we grew up? Then I was immediately reminded about the past, the wars, the borders, the disputes and thought, how do we reconcile this? How do you negotiate that? Let us take an example of Akbar and Salim negotiating. It is our common past and history.
If they start the negotiations with Anarkali, they are going nowhere, but if they start with somewhere else, progress can be made. We stay away from contentious issues amongst us in the USA. Except for cricket, of course.
I remember praying fervently as a kid to get Zahir Abbas out but had a grudging admiration for his talent. When I watch cricket at my Pakistani friend’s house, if the food is good, I can even clap for Pakistani batting, if they are doing well, rare as the occasion might be (couldn’t resist it). Maybe a match with intermixed teams, Indian bowlers, and Pakistani batsmen in one team may shake things up a bit.
We knew that Bollywood does well in Pakistan, but when I was in medical college, a Pakistani drama called “Tanhaiyan” had gone viral on VHS tapes in India. The people in the serial looked very relatable. Whenever we are exhausted trying to find dissenting issues, we don’t have work any harder to discover ties of history, past, culture, genetic pool, cuisine, art, and poetry.
If both sides start with a bit of understanding. For example, the Indian government has no control, whatsoever, on the artistic/cinema community, and since Bollywood won’t always come up with a Bajrangi Bhaijaan, there will be movies with diametrically opposite viewpoints.
An age-old dictum can be used to deal with it. Sort out the issues of territory, sovereignty, and security as if cultural ties don’t exist and nurture the cultural ties as if the other issues don’t exist. Keep these issues siloed. Hard but not impossible.
In the last century, how much grief the world was brought to bear due to the border between Germany and France, and now you don’t even need a passport to cross it. India and Pakistan are far apart yet from free borders and customs. I am the rare Indian who has been to Pakistan, for the English portion of my medical test for US licensing. Granted that I am friendly, charming to charitable eyes, and speak Urdu fluently, but I was still astounded by the great hospitality and goodwill.
I feel that I speak for the majority of Indians when I say, we wish the people of Pakistan well. We know that happiness and prosperity are contagious. We are all for you catching and spreading them.