CHENNAI : Ihave had the opportunity to meet people from far-reaching corners of the country and from different parts of the world — a lot of them being freedom fighters and activists. I cannot say I remember the exact moment of introductions, the where, when, and what of the first meetings. But, in the case of my first Pakistani friend, I remember every single detail.
I was looking for a flatmate in London. I found a person on a Facebook accommodation group who was going to study the same course as me. On a private message, I sent a template text that I had sent to three dozen people on that late July day. Zoya replied in a few minutes and we hit it off instantly. We both liked the place I had found and wanted to chat to see if we could seal the deal. Having agreed upon a time, I sent her my mobile number.
The first text I received from a +92 code was hers. It is at this point that I discovered Zoya’s nationality and Pakistan’s telephonic code. I recall being curious about how it would go — I had so many questions — what was it like to belong to a country that I had only read about? What is it to be a woman there? because I was also nervous about asking it all wrong and sounding ridiculously romantic. A few minutes into the call, my fears were put to ease as each question about the country and the culture was met with a pause and then an answer, till we moved onto ourselves, our families, and other logistics. What was supposed to be a fifteen-minute phone call lasted ten times as long, and the rest as they say, is history, though in ours we end up not living together.
We met in person in the land of the coloniser and the partitioner, and found that we had more in common than our feminisms — in London, we are both brown and treated just the same. Zoya says I’m not her first Indian friend, but she is my first friend from Pakistan, and in the second, third and twelfth friend I have now from across the border I can say I have more in common than not. The differences seem limited to our passports and their love for Bollywood music — the latter being one I have with anyone north of Tamil Nadu.
The idea of Pakistan exists only in history books, the imagination of the land limited to breaking news, but the common ground that exists is diverse and has many offerings on the menu whether one’s interest is in cricket, Quandeel Baloch, or the good old kebab. Meeting in this middle and forging friendships that are rooted in our feminisms have made us wonder, Indians and Pakistanis alike, about the ways in which we have been asked to hate without giving love a chance, the knowledge that is denied to us about each other that keeps active the constructed dislike, and the polarising on the basis of religion that is cutting deep into the possibilities of peace.
To talk about Pakistan now is political and bound to draw unwanted attention but when the WhatsApp forward about West Mambalam protests and behind-the-screen calls for war are making the rounds, it is important to talk about Pakistani people. That they are human in flesh and blood, vastly similar and not too different is not new, and not political, no? This is what feminists from both countries in their statements, and women from both countries in their appeals are saying.
The messages emerging on social media and global shout-outs being held in several cities have a singular nature — say no to war, to give peace a chance, and to practice radical softness. Friendship is revolutionary, love is resistance and where there is both, there can be no war; also, feminist international relations in a feminist world will not allow for the discussion of might and size, because there are other meatier, mightier, and meaningful matters to consider.