Neha Maqsood defies expectations and explores her closest friendship.
Last year, on my arrival to Bristol, I was unpacking my suitcases with my parents in my new dorm room. I had left the door ajar to allow any new flatmates to come in and introduce themselves. In the midst of conversing with my parents in Urdu, in bounces a short, chubby brown girl with glasses, who confidently introduces herself. We’ll call her ‘N’. She exclaims excitedly: “are you also from India? You were speaking Hindi just now?” I giggled softly alongside my parents and replied: “no – the neighboring country!”. There was slight chuckle on her lips, as she squealed, even more happily: “oh right! Pakistan!” stretching out the last syllable for a full three seconds. From that moment on, a friendship between two brown girls, arriving from two different countries that share a tumultuous history, began.
For those wondering what ‘tumultuous history’ I’m referring to, allow me to give you a short history lesson. I expect it’ll give you more of an insight into the topic than most British history textbooks. The British Empire colonised the subcontinent – now Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. They plundered and looted the place, leaving it to sort out the ensuing mess for itself. Pakistan’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, decided that Muslims should have a state of their own, separate from the Hindus, resulting in the formation of Pakistan. Mid-1947, ‘Partition’ occurred, during which each Muslim or Hindu travelled to their new chosen homeland, marking the beginning of a long-standing rivalry between Pakistan and India.
One Friday night, N and I went out for some much-needed fish and chips. Out of curiosity, our waiter inquired about our respective hometowns. When N politely responded: “I’m from India and she’s from Pakistan”, the waiter’s jaw dropped. He stopped taking our order and started pouring out a stream of questions: “But how can you two be friends? Aren’t your countries in a war? You two must get into fights all the time over who deserves Kashmir the most?” But the truth is, we don’t. Each time political issues peep into our conversation, we choose to discuss them in a civil manner. There are people out there who cannot fathom the idea that a Pakistani and an Indian could be friends, who assume that because of the tense relationship between the two countries, the friendship between two millennials will automatically be tense as well. Unsurprisingly, these people tend to be non-Indians and non-Pakistanis.
There are many people, like the waiter at Catch-22, who cannot comprehend the idea of a positive relationship between an Indian and Pakistani. My British classmates inquire with questions like: “How do you two even get along? Aren’t you supposed to hate her?” This is based on the assumption that we would have allowed our country’s rocky history to influence our personal relationships; my peers assume that a Pakistani or an Indian would naturally inherit the prejudices of the generation before us. It has reached the point where even my close relatives have discouraged our friendship, referring to my Indian friends as ‘spies’ or ‘murderers’, who carried out atrocious acts against Muslims and Pakistanis during the Partition. It is an unfortunate truth that for many that the past cannot be separated from the future. It is even more imperative, then, for millennials to end the animosity that exists between Indians and Pakistanis, so prejudice will not be ingrained in our own children’s mentality.
Despite the tensions and unrest, there have rarely been two nations which share a border and are not practically identical culturally. Hindi and Urdu are remarkably similar languages, and the appreciation that each nation has for the other is enormous. I grew up in a family where Bollywood music and movies were never off-limits, and watching the new Hindi blockbuster of Salman Khan became the norm. It was, in fact, Bollywood and Lollywood music and movies that first provided our friendship with some common ground and brought us together. We have allowed melodies of Indian music to seep into our dance-hangout sessions, and have permitted the critique of newly released Pakistani movies to dominate our discussions at dinner.
I often think it’s ironic that an Indian and a Pakistani are now studying in a country whose forefathers once colonised our respective nations. Both of these countries resisted British rule, and were united in their effort to bring an end to British colonialism. Years of struggle, both pre- and post-Partition, have in a way established an unspoken connection between the two nations which were once one; they will always be bound to one another by the mutual struggle and hardship their people faced under the British Raj.
Despite the taunts and jeers, the gossip of my family members and people’s constant questioning, race will never determine my decisions in making friends. The friendship that I share with N is a pure and innocent one. I believe that the strength of our friendship mainly derives from the fact that it has taught us to be accepting of other ethnicities and has allowed us to grow as people. The importance of breaking down barriers and removing prejudices cannot be overstated. I consider myself lucky to have been conversing in Urdu with my parents on the day I moved into my dorm. Had that not been the case, I would never have been mistaken for an Indian, and more importantly, I would never have met the Indian girl who changed how I see the world.
I am a Pakistani and my closest friend is an Indian, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Illustrations by Maegan Farrow.