By Chintan Girish Modi:
I read this morning’s news with great delight. Soon as I signed into my Twitter account, two fabulous news items grabbed my attention. ‘Cabinet nod to easier visas for Pakistanis in some categories,’ (http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/nri/visa-and-immigration/cabinet-nod-to-easier-visas-for-pakistanis-in-some-categories/articleshow/12884360.cms) said The Economic Times. ‘A year on, India-Pakistan trade relations leapfrog,’ (http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/one-year-on-india-pakistan-trade-relations-leapfrog/472745/) announced The Business Standard. Wow! It was amazing to learn that friends from Pakistan will now find it easier to get multi-city, multiple-entry visas to India. Of course, it wasn’t an overnight development. There has been a build-up to this in the last few months. We have reached this place thanks to the efforts of numerous individuals and civil society groups (http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Repository/ml.asp?Ref=Q0FQLzIwMTIvMDQvMjIjQXIwMTAwMQ%3D%3D) who have held on steadfastly their deep faith in the power of peace and their hope for friendship between India and Pakistan.
Why do I feel so invested in the peace building process between the two countries? I have been asked this so very often in the last two months, especially because I have no Partition history to speak of in terms of family that had to move to either side of the border in 1947. That is a difficult one to answer if one is seeking a logical explanation. It is all too simple if one is willing to trust manifestoes of the heart.
I visited Pakistan in February 2012. I felt immediately at home. (http://tribune.com.pk/story/348586/love-you-lahore/) In fact, I had no doubt in my mind about being received with warmth and affection. The monster across the border was an unreal one, I had felt for long. On the fifth and last day of my being there, I did not want to leave. And my students felt the same way. We were a huge delegation – teachers and students from four different schools in India, led by the Routes 2 Roots NGO in Delhi, and welcomed into Lahore by the Citizens Archive of Pakistan, co-founded by the recent Oscar winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. The trip left me with a heartwarming experience and a lot to share with people in India who would approach me with questions about what it felt like to be in a country they have been brought up to fear, even hate. (http://www.teacherplus.org/interventions/crossing-the-border)
After my return, I find myself possessed with this incredible enthusiasm to reach out to people from both sides of the border who are voices of sanity and peace. While geographical borders that seek to define the autonomy of nation states prevent us from meeting in person, the Internet has opened up a whole new universe of connections. I feel blessed for having found so many allies along the way. People on both sides are hungry for friendship. They want to call the bluff of misguided and ill-intentioned people who want to fuel divisiveness.
Now that the visa process is becoming less cumbersome, more people from Pakistan will be able to come visit India, and see for themselves a country that they are so close to, yet so far from. Though the current good news is limited to people from the business world, I feel hopeful that this will extend to other people as well. People from Pakistan who have relatives in India will be able to travel and spend time with their loved ones. Young men and women who want to study in Indian colleges and universities will be able to enroll in academic programs of their interest. A lot more writers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, poets, theatre groups, designers, journalists will be able to come to India, especially those without the ‘influence’ and ‘connections’ required to secure visas. Facebook and Twitter friends will be able to see each other in person, roam the streets they have talked about and shared pictures of. Indians who have never seen a Pakistani will get to see many of them. The stereotypes they hold will begin to disintegrate.
Will it similarly become easier for Indians to get visas to visit Pakistan? I hope so. Many people who have heard my experiences want to experience Pakistan themselves. In fact, I want to go again and again. If people can go to the US and the UK to study, if they can go to Dubai for a shopping festival, if they can go to Thailand for a honeymoon, why should it not be possible for me to go to Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad, Kasur, Nankana Sahib, Bhitshah, Taxila or Gilgit?
Ha! Wishful thinking, you may say! I am not going to stop dreaming. And I will wait, with a lot of joy, for the day these dreams will come true.
Chintan Girish Modi teaches at Shishuvan School, Mumbai (www.shishuvan.com) He also works as a researcher with the Kabir Project (www.kabirproject.org) and with the Hri Institute for South Asian Research and Exchange. (www.hrisouthasian.org) He tweets at http://twitter.com/#!/chintan_connect