Tanzil Fatima;  a whirlwind of brownness, Biryani expert, but a Pakistani

But then I realized something.

I grew up hating Pakistan.

I was born in India, in 2001. After the Kargil War (one of the biggest wars between India and Pakistan) had wrapped up and the intense fight had come to an end. After two years of battling it out we won, but at what cost? Soldiers were dead on our borders and we had deepened the cut between the already severed nations.

For all those who don’t know about us, India and Pakistan are two South Asian states, India is a Secular Republic, while the state religion of Pakistan is Islam. However we are sister states, two countries that were one, severed by colonisation and the foreign policy of nations that were far away from us. We were partitioned in 1947, right after our independence and that is when the bloodbath began. The wonderful and dainty Englishmen left the country with a pool of blood in their wake, a parting gift of sorts I suppose. Post-independence India was anarchy-central, with no established institutions and a weak interim system of governance, resulting in the lack of ability to control the massive population. Hindus (the majority in India), wreaked havoc, as the Muslims tried to leave to go to their new country on the call of Mohammed Ali Jinnah.Meanwhile, the Hindus fleeing Pakistan were killed by the hoards, almost 20,000 people dead. Thus, began 72 years of bitter relations and continuous fighting.

Growing up in a country so divided within itself, by race, colour, gender and religion, it was almost impossible to see how peace could be reached between these two sister states that had long left the nest of Hindustan to fly off in their own separate ways.

The news, the media, the people, even some of my own family, had instilled this deep hatred in me. Whenever, I thought of the nation across that barbed wire fence, I thought of jihadis, of failed politics and a lost cricket team. They were nothing more than a symbol of what a nation should not be. So, if I grew up with this kind of hatred, what was I expected to do? I formed my prejudices, my preconceived notions. I had my arms prepared and I was ready to defend my border.

But then I met Tanzil.

She had it all. Be it tikka, korma, or naan. Be it henna, lehengas, or churidars. At times, I felt like she was more Indian than me. But while I talked to her, I noticed one thing. It was   almost impossible to distinguish her as a Pakistani. This was alarming at first. How were “they” not different, how could we be the same as “them”?

Maybe they were the same, maybe we were led to believe wrong, because believe me, when Tanzil makes her Sindhi Biryani, it will put any Hyderabadi chef to shame, and the intent with which she describes samosas with that warm gulp of chai, it almost seems like I can see the rain.

I grew up hating something which I knew little about, wanted to know little about, but told a lot about. But as I came to Pearson College I realized that the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is much more than the nation that we portray it to be. It has the same colour, food and depth that India has. It has the same level of amiable craziness, and above all the same love for chai.

***

Joy Nath was the epitome of brown. Butter Chicken expert, yet an Indian.

But then I realized something.

I grew up hating India.

In 1999, I came crying into this world, in Pakistan. Growing up in the centre of the 18 million populated city of Karachi, Pakistan, life was almost… shocking. It was a little after the Kargil conflict had begun. Shelling, air strikes, open firing. Thousands of refugees. Blood everywhere. Lost lives, lost loves, lost the loved. Why? Because of the Lost Land.

India. Synonym for hatred, loathing, betrayal and violence. In homes, on the TV and even in school, India was seen with an incredibly profane light, in an otherwise profanity-prohibited society.

Indians? Oh, the ones who betrayed the Muslims in the War of 1874? The ones who made secret agreements with the British and stole half of Punjab? The ones who pushed pigs into the mosques while Muslims prayed? The ones who stole Kashmir? The ones who annexed into Hyderabad? The ones who killed thousands of our people?


“Ya Allah,  have you seen these women dancing naked in their movies?” “Who on Earth worships a cow?” “Wow they massacred another hundred of our Kashmiris. Isn’t that new.”


India was a place to be disgusted and to an extent feared. Fear of their presumably violent inclinations. Disgust regarding their treatment of women as portrayed in Bollywood and in the streets, when ironically Pakistan is nothing different.

Until I met Joy.

He knew more about Urdu literature and my poets than I did. He could play the drums for a typical henna night better than I could. He knew and understood my religion more than I could ever do the same for his. And even though saying this will cause a lot of chaos between me and my mother, Joy makes better Butter Chicken than anyone.

Sitting with him and joking about the ways our teachers treated us in school, was strikingly similar. The same punishments. The same accents. The same comfort food. The same smells. The same heat.

I remember the day he dressed me up in a sari. I usually do not flaunt around my clothes but I truly did feel vibrant that day. For once, I truly felt beautiful.

Looking at Joy, I feel no difference between him and I. Singing Bole Chudiyan with him feels like home. Talking about our hugely celebrated weddings reminds me of home. Eating food that he cooks tastes like home.

He reminds me of home. My home. Pakistan. Outside these borders he is just another one of my people. He is not different. He and I are the same.

When will our countries ever understand that?

***

14 February 2019. Valentine’s Day: the day of Love.

Both of our phones had lit up. As we stared at the screens, we saw the news of 40 Indian soldiers who had been killed while they were in transport to their base. We both knew that this would not be left alone by our countries.

After all we are a tinderbox subcontinent waiting for the slightest spark to blow up.

India. The next day our entire government was hell-bent on revenge. They wanted blood for blood. The ideals of Gandhi were long forgotten. The Air Force within two days claimed that they had done a tactical air-strike on Pakistani soil. We even threatened nuclear war.


How much of this was true? Who should we believe?

Pakistan. The country blows up with reverse accusations. There were protests for reconsideration, that Pakistan would never resort to violence as a state based on the religion of Peace. An Indian surgical air strike carried out in response to the Pulwama Attack. The Indian pilot taken as hostage.

How much of this was true? Who should we believe?

As we sat in Canada, we thought how much more fighting could our subcontinent tolerate? There had to be a point where there would be an end to this.  

The next day.

As we stood together in unison, with our flags in our hand, smiling at the camera, we knew that hope began here. These borders and conflicts could have separated us…

…But they didn’t.

Joy Nath & Tanzil Fatima

Author Joy Nath & Tanzil Fatima

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