Peace is the way for Indo-Pak

Peace is the way for Indo-Pak


Pakistan and India- Can peace break out? A question that seems to be on everyone’s minds. Let me tell you about my experiences with this. What happens when a Hindu girl, an Indian, and a Muslim boy, a Pakistani, fall in love and marry just when the daughter’s father is due to be promoted Chief of the Naval Staff? Love knows no boundaries and barriers… But 30 years later our son in law Zuli, a US citizen, cannot get a visa to come and meet his octogenarian parents in law unless he renounces his Pakistani citizenship! This is my story:

Merely repeating that ‘the World needs Peace’, has become an almost meaningless cliché today. Given our current situation with an authoritarian state that leads the discourse of bigotry, xenophobia and hate– we instead need to search for and find creative and uniquely original examples and different narratives. That the xenophobia is directed especially to one community, with the constant identification of Muslims with Pakistan, and the repeated refrain of “Pakistan Chale Jao” [Go to Pakistan] makes any talk of peace with that country especially challenging.

There are many of us who have worked for dialogue and people to people interaction between our two nations for several decades and it has been a saga of hopes raised only to be dashed to the ground depending on who is in power and whose domestic agenda demands a more aggressive or conciliatory stance. The fact that there are still so many initiatives for Peace pegging away against all odds, certainly is cause for optimism, however cautious.

So how do we pitch our narrative in a manner that will touch hearts and minds?  The challenge before us is to be able, somehow, to cut through the majoritarian, prejudiced propaganda which is being spewed out from macro levels, i.e. National and State level leadership, right down to the village, mohalla [neighbourhood] and family levels where it is nurtured and shaped.

In my experience, while there might be any number of compelling grounds– historical, economic, cultural and strategic– for building good, civil relations between the countries in South Asia. The internecine conflicts and bitter hostilities, made worse thanks to the ideological mindsets of the present regime, make it difficult to persuade and convince our public. The sheer seductive power of appealing to the narrowest forms of nationalism and linking it with a religion xenophobia is often the most difficult argument to overcome for the masses of our people.

I have wrestled with this question for nearly five decades– almost from the time that India decided to fight Pakistan and play a role in creating the independent Nation of Bangladesh.

More and more I have been convinced that we need to be creative and imaginative in the strategies we deploy to convince people that human beings are the same regardless of their religion, their caste or their nationality. 

Telling personal stories still remains one of the most powerful ways of communicating a message. Somehow, personalising an often difficult political issue makes it easier to accept. So let me share one such special “Personal is Political” tale:

It has taken several incidents to prepare us as a family to be able to face with conviction the challenges we faced at various points in our lives as we have progressed through the years.

And the first major incident takes us all the way back to 1947, when there was a mob frenzy in the capital after Partition was announced. My husband as a young 14 year old saw his father confront an angry mob who came to their home in Delhi and demanded that their Muslim colleague be sent out of their home in Bengali Market. His father told them that they would have to kill him first. And the mob, cowardly like all mobs, turned tail and ran away. This was a defining moment in his life and served as a building block in our commitment to a secular, just and tolerant India.

Many years down the line, now I was married to the Naval guy whom I met when he came as my father’s ADC [Flag Lieutenant in Navy Lingo]. My father happened to be the first Indian to head free India’s Navy and we had grown up under the influence of Western progressive and cosmopolitan thinking. Or at least so I thought– until in 1970, my brother brought us the news that his choice of life partner was a beautiful and talented Muslim girl. What we thought was a cause of celebration turned into a long period of stress and tension in the family because my mother refused point blank to accept her son’s decision to marry a Muslim. Imagine our shock and surprise at this reaction. We began to seriously ask ourselves how well did we as family really know each other and some of our deepest values, our mindsets and positions on so many issues that we had taken for granted. Eventually we resolved the issue thanks to an intervention by my ‘orthodox’ mother-in-law who was quite clear that if the two young people were happy and had made up their minds– then religion and community should not be a factor!

The chain of communally charged riots in different parts of the country were all signalling the growing fault lines and a seeming inability (or was it a lack of will?) to address this at many levels. 

And while we made noises and went on peace marches and held candlelight vigils– none of these really addressed the core issue of an existing problem; deep rooted and deliberately kept alive and burning by powerful actors looking only for means to capture power.

Ultimately, there comes a time when one is left with no choice but to take a clear political position– there is in fact no such thing as neutrality– and the fence does not exist; so can one not therefore sit on it! That is the moment when that central philosophy held so dear to us women and the womens’ movement truly comes alive– namely the reality that the ‘Personal is indeed the Political.’

Such a moment came into our lives in a seemingly innocuous and undramatic manner when I met a young man named Zulfiqar Ahmad on a bright and gloriously sunny fall afternoon sitting near the goal post of the college football field at a college campus in Massachusetts, in 1984. Our daughter, Kavita, had just joined Mount Holyoke College and had met Zuli at a class by Professor Eqbal Ahmad where they found themselves sitting next to each other. That chance encounter turned into a deep and abiding relationship– which in today’s India would invite the wrath of the Right wing ‘fundoos’ and probably be termed “Love Jehad”.

‘Communalism Combat’ – a fledgling journal and a great initiative started by two young and idealistic people who believed deeply in the constitutional values of secularism and the liberal framework of Justice and Egalitarianism articulated by Baba Saheb Ambedkar, dedicated their entire issue of August 1996 to the Fifty years of the Partition of India. Their evocative cover page, which I have tried to capture here, asked in bold letters if this was not:



And the Communalism Combat dedicated their back page to the love story of Kavita and Zuli– written and narrated by their parents. Those were still heady days; when provocative headlining did not invite a sedition charge or accusations of being anti-national and UAPA was not quite on the drawing boards.

With a photograph of myself and Zuli and Kavita along with a former son in law, the box boldly announced the subject with this audacious caption.

Initially, for Ramu it was tough to accept this situation as he wryly asked me when I broke the news to him on my return from my first trip to the USA: “There are over 100 odd countries in the United Nations– did your daughter have to choose a Pakistani?!” I tried to calm him down by saying that they would most likely outgrow this so he shouldn’t worry. In this event the relationship later led to marriage, it was clearly a match made in heaven. They kept waiting for her Papa to retire; and Papa meanwhile kept being pushed up the ladder. Eventually, we told them that they had our blessings to go ahead and get married and they should not wait. If this was going to affect Ramu’s selection for the highest post, well, so be it.

He informed his Minister of Defence– the musician cum [nuclear] physicist Dr  Raja Ramanna– who jovially said that Kavita, an independent adult woman, could marry Zulfikar Bhutto for all he cared– as long as she was not a dependent. And he in turn informed the then Prime Minister, Shri V P Singh, who said “Ramdas, please attend your daughter’s marriage. You have my good wishes”. This was April 1990. In October the same year, Ramu was selected to be the next Chief.

Today this story and outcome would be unthinkable. That was a time when we still could boast of mature, liberal and open minded leadership.

An interesting aside with which to close. 

After retirement we both have been active members of the Pakistan-India peace movement, the movement for a nuclear free world and for bringing retired soldiers to work for peace on both sides of the border. During a visit to Karachi, we were invited to have a tea meeting with nearly 100 retired Pakistani Naval officers. At the end of the formal interaction, one of our hosts stood up and asked hesitatingly, “Admiral Sir, is it true that your daughter is married to a Pakistani?” “Yes,” he answered and there was a ripple of disbelief around the room. I was promptly invited to tell the story of this romance– everyone loves a love story –especially this kind of a sub-continental drama. When I finished telling the story, everyone present stood up and gave us a standing ovation.

And the senior Pakistani officer present said this could only happen in India– which we took as the biggest compliment to our secular democracy.

Alas, that was another time–another place– it could never happen in today’s India.

But change is possible, examples like these pave the way to it. If stories like these rekindle the spark for inclusions and dialogue, then I hope mine inspired you. So join us in this exciting project to work for peace; tell our stories, share the good news, counter the fundamentalists and one day Inshallah [God willing] the tide will turn and we shall overcome.

Hum Dekhenge! Lazim hai ki hum bhi dekhenge– voh din jiska vaadaa hai!

[Translation: We will see! It’s compulsory that we shall see– that day which was promised!]

Writer: Lalita Ramdas

Illustrated by: Ruchita

Water’s Story

Water’s Story

I was 13 when I first saw the ocean. Before that I lived in-land where the only bodies of water were isolated lakes, twisting rivers or pools of stagnant ponds. I grew up believing those were the only kinds of naturally occurring sources of water: linked but isolated, forever travelling on their own path or stuck chained to a single place. And then one day I got on a plane, marvelled at clouds and endured turbulence, and landed in Karachi. My first visit to the beach, seeing the Arabian sea spreading out farther away, reminded me of our geography lessons. That all rivers, each supposedly a separated body of water, empty out into the same basin. They join the Indus and drain into the sea, further pouring into the Indian ocean to become part of a greater collection.

I was close to 20 when I realized that water drains in a reflection of society. We are individual rivers, amalgamating into a greater collective. No matter where we begin, no matter the paths we take, we will always end up in the same oceans. But we overlook those connections when we face diversity. We share our rivers and seas with our neighbors, we stare at the divisions between us while water flows causally through it all and meet in a dance as they mix.

Water has history, water has stories, water has seen both turmoil and calm. Yet, it is flawless in picking up and continuing on as in sync as before. Our history, our turmoil, our peace; they all stand as evidence of our lives lived in that same harmony, but we let the water lay lines in the sand so we can turn away and easily deny them. We try to forget but water remembers, and it makes us realize too. It falls as rain, is gathered in our homes, is the lifeblood of civilization itself and it believes with a distinct conviction in the good in us, the good in our humanity, because it has witnessed proof of it long ago.

If we learn this lesson from the ever present element, which has been immortalised even in our narratives through its valuable existence, then it would be impossible to see divisions, impossible to consider ‘otherness’ when bonds of unity wait to be renewed and generations of friendships lie just around the corner.

Writer: Hafsa Ahmed

Illustrated by: Ruchita

Rekindling Lost Friendships

Rekindling Lost Friendships

I grew up in UAE, a country known for its multicultural and multinational diversity. I went to school with many South East Asian and Middle Eastern students. Our schools ensured that we celebrated each other’s ethnicity and culture.

In second grade, I had a best friend named Asma. We were strangers in class, but it all changed in one day. My father was taking me to play in the ball pit at a children’s play arena, and to my surprise I saw Asma in there too. 

I gasped, shocked to see anyone outside my school universe. I asked her in shock, “Asma, what are you doing here?”

She looked at me wide-eyed too. “Skye, what are YOU doing here?”

After that day, we decided to be best friends. We sat next to each other every day in school, we spent our lunch breaks together, and even discussed homework together. We would talk about our love for the arcade and make plans to meet there every day.

And it mostly worked. We couldn’t go there every day, but our parents would let us hang out there once a month and that was enough for us.

Over the years we spoke about our life outside the country. I would talk about my summer vacations in India, and she would talk about her vacations in Pakistan. I would tell her about the warmth and bustle of Mumbai. She would tell me stories of the vacations she spent on the hills of Murree, a place where she would sometimes see snow. I told her I wanted to visit someday, and she told me that I would always have a home there.

Asma had to switch schools in 7th standard, and we didn’t stay in touch. We didn’t have each other’s number, and we didn’t have Facebook then.

But when we did have Facebook, I decided to find her. I thought it would be difficult to find her, but in 2007, when Facebook was still very new, it was relatively easier to find an “Asma Shaikh”. She accepted my request within minutes! I wanted to rekindle our friendship again.

But it didn’t happen. For the first two years, all we would do is occasionally poke each other and wish each other on our birthdays.

Then one day someone from our school alumni posted a class photograph of us. I reached out to her and we started talking. We bonded over both Hollywood and Bollywood movies. I told her I had moved back to Mumbai, and she told me she had moved back to Lahore. We were happy where we were. We bonded over so many important things, like life, and the universe, and the importance of mental & spiritual growth. We became really close friends.

We would laugh at the twitter fights that would happen online. We remembered our friendship from our school days, and how our parents would trust each other with our lives, and wondered how either of us could be the enemy.

Things are different now, she tells me. We laugh about how we’re on enemy lines now. We cannot visit arcades together anymore, we’re not welcome in each other’s home.

But there’s online bowling, and Netflix Party, and so many gifts that technology has given us.

Maybe one day she’ll eat Pani Puri with me in Mumbai, or I’ll take in the fresh air of Murree. But for now, I’ll just send her a text, and a movie trailer, asking her if she’d be down to having another Netflix Binge Party.

Writer: Skye Cardoz

Illustrated by: Ruchita

Dilemma of Languages

Dilemma of Languages

I believed in many silly things as a child, but one that stood out was that if I act like a certain group, then I would surely become them. This started off with simple childish fun by impersonating super heroes, but it would soon change. When I grew older, I began watching some popular Bollywood films with my friends. The dialogues were in Hindi but at that time I could not tell it apart from Urdu. It was not until I would mistakenly start to use Hindi words in everyday conversations that I would learn the difference. My parents would say ‘Beta (son/child), that is not how we say it in Urdu’ and proceed to tell me to correct my speech, that Urdu is our national language and we should learn it properly. I thought by learning or using Hindi I would become less Pakistani. 


More years passed and we had given our final exams, my last one was English- a second language made compulsory to study till high school. I still find it strange that no one would bat an eye when I would mix English and Urdu in casual conversations, in fact it was quite normal to do so, because I still remember my younger self hearing how mashing two languages together is not how to properly learn them. And then I found myself in University, the great melting pot of all cultures. To no one’s surprise, I met many Indians there. I could sometimes overhear them talking in Hindi to each other, the words of another language so recognizable and familiar in my ear, even when it was not technically my own.


One day, before the professor walked into class, the same group were chatting away- switching from English to Hindi to even Spanish spoken by some of them. I sat and pretended not to hear but my acting skills must have not have been up to par because one of the people turned to look at me and said with a chuckle ‘Oh, bet you could understand that!’ in Hindi. When I nodded and smiled back politely, they all grouped me into their discussion about some event or the other and we talked back and forth in a mix of English, Hindi and Urdu. Little did I know that slowly but surely I was beginning to see the reality of what stereotypes had obscured from me. 


Because what I was coming to understand was a greater truth than the restrictions I had faced when I was younger. Yes, Urdu is my national language and I speak it with pride. But do we know where it comes from? The myriad of meshing dialects, phrases and words? The script might be written in Arabic, but you can still read and hear the cadence of Persian, of Punjabi, of Arabic, of Bengali, of Hindi itself. And so much more, our language has laid bare the traces of its unity. It’s born out of so many others, spoken across nations. And it gives us an opportunity to relate, to connect, to talk freely with our neighbours, our friends, our family. 


I hope people remember this, I hope they never forget. There will always be a million ways to communicate, but we will be blessed to not have a dilemma for our languages if we celebrate each of them that grace our home.

Writer: Javeed Akhtar

Illustrated by: Ruchita