By Priyanka Rajani
October 29, 2013
After more than two decades of belonging to a country, I find it quite hilarious when people hear my name and automatically assume I’m from India. Thank you for that, Priyanka Chopra. The most popular reaction to my name goes something like this: I say “Priyanka”, you say “Chopra”. Not kidding.
But this is all fun. What’s not fun is to constantly have to explain why I still live here. On my first-ever visit to India, when I arrived at the police station to inform the officials of my arrival, the clerk’s first question for my uncle was “Wapas Kyun Jaaney Derahay Ho?” A question I was forced to think about during my entire stay. Those people don’t speak my language and I don’t like Hindi much. But that place was safe. My mother wasn’t worried I’d die every time I went out for Chaat.
In Pakistan, till recently, my biggest problem was all the attention my name garnered for me. People elsewhere in the country were being called names and kicked out of classrooms for their ethnic backgrounds or religious beliefs — but we won’t discuss that here. What I will discuss here are the various reactions I’ve encountered (in Pakistan) with regard to my religion and (in India) with regard to my nationality.
Once, a kind Punjabi man from Lahore, after realising he’d had a three-hour Partition related conversation with a Pakistani Hindu, said I was “his own daughter, Pakistan’s daughter, because I was born here”. He even promised to visit when he came to my city. And this isn’t even the nicest thing ever said to me. A couple of years ago, a friend’s grandfather, upon realising he was in the company of a Hindu, said I should tell my father that “his brother in Lahore” would look after me and that I should call him if I needed anything. The man was 11 at the time of Partition. He was amongst those who had lost loved ones and made the difficult journey to cross the border 66 years ago.
My journey across the same border was different, of course. After a life lived on the wrong side, I found that India was exactly what Bollywood movies had taught me to expect: only bigger and scarier. The only problem was that when I wasn’t with my family, I was a stranger; I couldn’t read the signs on the roads. Once, at a Rajasthani restaurant, my Urdu caused a waiter to ask me where I was from. My cousin and my aunt were quick to reply for me, “Dubai se aye hain guests”. They had their reasons, I suppose. Sentiments run high when it comes to India and Pakistan. If we keep these sentimental values aside though, I know we live in troubled times. But that isn’t just true for the minorities here. It’s true for everyone.
The street I live on, in Pakistan — the country I was born and raised in — has suffered several bomb attacks during my short lifetime. Buildings that were torn apart were rebuilt just to be attacked again. People were killed and there was destruction everywhere. This is how I learnt what ‘terror’ means. All of this and much worse is experienced by Pakistanis on an almost daily basis.
People from across the border leave me messages on social media websites, asking what it’s like to be a Hindu in Pakistan, whether things are as bad as their television sets cause them to believe and I laugh. I laugh each time because that question seems naive and I only have one answer: the one thing that unites all Pakistanis today is the fear with which they live and contrary to what one might want to believe, no one is safe from that. All of us live with a combination of rage, confusion and helplessness but we survive, day in and day out.
To keep it simple, it’s scary to live in Pakistan — Hindu or not. And as much as we’d all like to escape the dread of this life, there isn’t any other place I’d much rather be living, after all, Umeed Pey Dunya Qaim Hai — all we need now, is the Himmat.
Priyanka Rajani is a sub-editor at The Express Tribune and is a graduate of the Lahore University of Management Sciences.