Please note that this article is not a part of the “Ink Decibels” series. The series has been temporarily postponed.
9 A.M. on a Saturday in Mumbai does not indicate a lazy day. Keeping up with the spirit of the city, I had reached Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST; a major station in Mumbai) and boarded a local train to Byculla, a station close of the city zoo, my destination for the day. Fortunately, I found a vacant compartment. Before the train could depart from CST, a man entered the compartment with a big suitcase. Skullcap and the distinctive beard left nothing to guesswork: a Muslim. I mentally cursed myself for believing in the same stereotypes I abhor. He came closer and asked me if the train would halt at Dadar, another major Mumbai station. I answered in affirmative, stating that it would be the next station after Byculla, my deboarding point. He enquired whether I would be able to answer some of his other questions as well. I told him that even though I am not a resident of Mumbai, I know the city quite well and might be able to help him. He smiled and said that he is new to the country. I get excited every time I see an opportunity to talk to a foreigner. So, I asked him the obvious question: about his nationality. Even before I finished my question, I realized it was a dumb question to ask. The answer was obvious. “Pakistan”, came his reply. I shook his hand and he took the seat opposite to mine. There were just the two of us in the compartment. He asked me the fastest way to reach Nashik. I answered him but also mentioned that the public buses in Maharashtra were probably the most rickety (I used the Hindi word here, “khataara”) buses he will find in the country. To my surprise, he understood the word and even chuckled. I guess neither the language nor the govt bashing differs across the border. He asked me where I was from and then told me about the cities he had visited in Rajasthan. He explained me the visa process for the Pakistanis in India and the associated regulations. I also got to know that he was a software consultant from Karachi. I asked him about his city and he said that it is quieter and more developed than Mumbai. I find the latter part of his statement difficult to believe but as I have never been to Karachi, I will reserve my stand. We both discussed how Mumbai and Karachi are so similar, both being port cities, the economic and financial epicentres of the respective countries despite not being the national capitals. Then, naturally, our discussion shifted to politics. He expressed how the electronic media in both the countries are presenting a false picture, full of hatred. He said that he felt perfectly safe and welcome in India. At the same time, he said that the Indians (more specifically, Hindus) in Pakistan are also treated with love. They are not harassed the way it is portrayed in Indian media. His eyes almost begged me to believe him. Deep down, I did. Then, he said something which will stay with me for a long time, “it’s all because of politics. Had India and Pakistan been one country, we would have been the biggest superpower in the world”. Clichéd, isn’t it? We have heard this statement so many times. Yet, today, it felt different. We both joked about how hot Jodhpur is in summers, how Indian coke studio is better than the Pakistani one (he obviously disagreed) and how migration to major cities have made them over-crowded. I suddenly realized that the train was entering the Byculla station. I shook his hand once more, bid him adieu and stood up from my seat. I realized I hadn’t asked his name. He hadn’t asked mine. Somewhere deep inside, I didn’t want to know. The train stopped at the platform and I marched towards the zoo.
On 26th November 2008, some people from his country, belonging to his religion, had massacred hundreds on the same CST station from where I had boarded the train. If everyone from his religion or country were the same as those ten terrorists, I would have been dead. Even though he didn’t say it, the pain and sufferings from terrorism were evident on his face. The people of both countries have suffered from the hands of the same monster. This generation, on both sides of the border, have been accustomed to bomb blasts, firings and the uncertainty that follows them. The realization that it can happen to anyone of us, at any time. Today, as I wander in the zoo, the scenes of 26/11 flash across my eyes. Then, as I push them away, the ones from Peshawar school carnage fill me with rage. Does anything actually differ across the border? Same blood-thirsty politicians, same army men serving their countries in an already lost battle and same common man, struggling for two meals a day, scared, hopeless and pleading for peace and love.