Image courtesy: World Bank
I have come across several South Asians while traveling and also while staying in LA and now in Toronto. Just by the colour of their skins I have felt close to them, because they all look like people back home. On further enquiry it is revealed that they are either from Bangladesh, Pakistan or Sri Lanka. I haven’t had the fortune to meet people from the other South Asian countries, but I guess I will feel the same closeness. It’s not that I don’t feel close to people of other skin colours; it’s just that I could use ‘Hindi’ words in the midst of conversations!
But in spite of these similarities, there are a lot of us who want to stand away from each other, that is quite saddening. Recently, I happened to have a conversation with a Pakistani author about some literary event and he mentioned that a lot of Indian writers were offended that a Pakistani writer was chairing the event, because the number of Indian authors were higher. The dislike is quite strong in the minds of some people. And there are others like me, who when they realize that the person they are talking to is from Pakistan, there is a sense of extreme compassion almost like we are compensating for the hatred in the minds of others.
Amongst people I know from these countries, we hardly discuss these issues. I have asked myself the reason for it but have found no concrete answers. But the strange thing is economics unites us in the western countries. In Toronto, there are a lot of restaurants and grocery stores that call themselves “Indian” stores, which are run by Pakistanis or they call it, “Indian and Pakistani” stores. At least on those boards we are together! And yes, there are people from both countries who consider all of us as ‘desis’ and look out for each other.
Moving on to Bangladesh – it’s easier to discuss political conflicts with people from here, because in some ways India is seen as a ‘helper’. There are quite a few times I have asked people from there if they are Bengali, based on their accents and they nod, only to discover much later that the country is different! I am usually surprised by the similarity.
Sri Lanka – yes it is politically murky here and that country has been recently spared from the ongoing war, but people I meet here have admiration for India. They are appreciative of how India has progressed and is so open to change! It is nice to see one’s country from another’s eyes sometimes. I have had the opportunity of watching a Sri Lankan classical dance performance and it is very close to the Indian classical dance forms!
Bhutan – it saved ‘Vipassana’ – a Buddhist form of meditation which took roots in India. Right now it is a country that seems spiritually advanced in the way the its leaders integrate human life with nature. Afghanistan – I have hardly met anyone from here and all my views are media-obtained. Only in the recent Tina Fey movie did I see that our ceremonies are so alike. And of course not to forget Khuda Gawah where Amitabh Bachchan, Sridevi and Danny Denzongpa acted as Pathans. That leaves Maldives and Nepal – which are too close to India, one is a favorite tourist destination and the other, shares the Himalayas.
It is really unfortunate that with so many similarities in place, we always focus on our differences and keep distancing ourselves from each other! The world bank recognizes our potential and has policies to integrate the South Asian regions so that we can help each other become economically strong and solve our health, water and electricity problems. Of course it is mainly religion that divides us, but of what use is the attachment to religion if so many people are dying and harboring hatred because of it?
In the hope that we come together some day to help each other out and stand by each other, I shall conclude. Well, not just South Asia, but the hope is that all countries unite for the sake of humanity and nature. The hope is that we look at the long-term betterment of ourselves not get caught up in short-term profits. May all of us profit together as a community – and community here is the whole world! Amen!
Here’s an example: