Dare To Dream And Have The Courage To Follow It!!
It had been about seven-eight months of stay in this foreign land and I had slowly but progressively adapted to the ways and means of this place called United states of America. I had started enjoying the college and participated in as many events of different types as I could.
For one such event, I had volunteered for an organisation that worked for educational causes for young girls. They had arranged a pre-event brunch so that they could assemble all the volunteers and assign their respective responsibilities. The brunch was organised in a hotel in close proximity to the university. So I had decided to walk to the venue after finishing my classes for the day.
I didn’t expect to see any known face over there but was pleasantly surprised to see one. It’s always good to see a known face in a pool of strangers. Sameer was a year senior to me and since he didn’t have much course load for this semester he had taken up a few volunteer activities.
“Would you like to have some good Indian food?” asked Sameer towards the end of the brunch. “Sure, why not” was my prompt reply. “We will get it for free” added Sameer with sparkling eyes. “Nothing better than free food in this foreign land and when it gets to free Indian food, it can’t get better than that. But who’s gonna give free Indian food here? Is it good?”
“Don’t worry. There is a group called IS (International students). They meet fortnightly in a church not very far from campus. Many students go there have fun and enjoy some great Indian food.”
“Oh. But what’s their agenda. What do they do?” I asked curiously.
“Nothing. They just meet. Have some spiritual talks. You are not forced to participate in the conversation. You can if you want to. But that’s your choice. Other than that they play some simple games and enjoy some friendly talk with the dinner.”
“Well, in that case, I sure would like to join in.”
“Great. I’ll just call them and inform that I would be having a guest with me and ask them what time they would pick us up from the campus and drive us to the church.”
“They’ll pick us up?”
“Yeah, they do.”
After making the phone call, ” I have informed them that you would be accompanying me and they will pick us up at 7.30 pm from the campus. It’s already 7.00. We should leave now from here. It would surely take us more than 30 minutes to walk up the campus from here.” Said Sameer.
So we left the banquet hall where the brunch was organised and started walking for the campus.
“So how did you get involved in this and since when did you start going here?” I asked trying to expel any doubts and fear of going to a new unknown place by getting to know about it as much as I can. I always preferred to be cautious about where I go and with whom in this alien territory. Past seven eight months had obliterated my misbelief about the US being a very safe country. I would put it on par with my home country, India when it comes to safety issues. And I, like any other foreigner in any other country, was more vulnerable here in terms of safety than the natives.
“I started going in my very first semester. One of my friends introduced me to Rashid uncle. He is a very nice guy and the one who organises everything with his family. He is from Pakistan.”
The last four words hit me like four big punches. Sent down some tremors down my spine.
I thought ” There’s no way you could be serious. You want me to go meet a group of strangers who are from Pakistan at an unknown place when it’s already dark enough. I don’t even know many people here. What will I do if I need any help there.”
I didn’t utter a word for the rest of the walk to the campus. All those movies and news and talks I saw on some idiot box and heard from people about the India-Pakistan rivalry started to haunt me.
As minutes passed by, I tried to regain my composure.”Common dude. What the hell are you thinking? It’s all bullshit. Nothing wrong is gonna occur. No need to panic for no reason at all. Not all people in Pakistan are bad.”
With these thoughts, I remembered a cute Pakistani girl I had met few days back in another event. I thought she was nice and beautiful and we had a really good conversation for more than an hour. I had met few other Pakistani students over the seven-eight month duration here. They all seemed nice and normal like anyone else. What should I fear now then?
Another interesting memory I floundered upon was of a video I had once stumbled upon while researching for one of my projects. It showed a bunch of people trying a social experiment. They selected some random people from India and connected them over a phone call to another random group of people in Pakistan. And they were asked to talk for a minimum of 10 mins. After initial hesitation, everyone without any exception ended up having as normal and joyful conversation as one can have with a stranger. And almost everyone’s call clocked more than half an hour.
These memories gave me some consolation but didn’t put me up completely at ease. I still felt vulnerable and nervous.
A sudden loud music seemingly coming out of nowhere brought me back to the reality from my world of thoughts. The loud music was coming from Sameer’s cellphone. He had received a call from Pravin saying he and uncle will reach the campus in two minutes and will see us the bus stop adjacent to the library.
It was another five minutes walk to the bus stop. We reached there to see Pravin standing beside a car. Sameer greeted Pravin and introduced me to him. I entered the car to see a middle aged fair colored man sitting in the driver’s seat. He certainly didn’t look Asian which led me to think who he was if he wasn’t Rashid Uncle.
“Hi, Steve, How are you doing? Haven’t seen you in a while.” Sameer spoke to the middle aged fair colored man.
So there are Americans too in the organisation. Interesting.
“I am doing good Sameer. Was in Ohio for some official work. How have you been?”
Their conversation continued as the black Ford Explorer started its journey. Steve looked sophisticated in his black jacket. For some supernatural reasons, he looked threatening despite his simple looks. My heart started beating faster.
“Its gonna be a small drive.” I kept repeating to myself to prevent my mind from meandering into the dark shades of human behavior.
It had been 15 minutes of drive and the Ford Explorer still ventured out in the dark roads with no signs of any human settlement in the nearby vicinity. I bet if somebody would have measured my blood pressure by this time, it would certainly have shown somewhere near 180. There were no lights on the street. The traffic on the road too was very negligible. There were hordes of trees on either side of the road as if it were a jungle. My ears had stopped working. I didn’t have faintest of the idea about what they were conversing about. I was completely gripped by consternation. My worst fears seemed to dance in front of my eyes. I knew what terrorists did to young engineers and why.
“I won’t let them brainwash me. I won’t become a terrorist no matter what they say or do” I said to myself in what seemed to be a determined voice. There had been many news reports on the issue. Terrorists would lure young engineers and brainwash them with some absurd things, convincing them to work for the terrorist groups. They needed these engineers to implement their devilish plans and to stay ahead of the government and police force in terms of technology.
“Should I jump from the car? This can’t be happening to me. All my dreams, my ambitions would be shattered. My parents toiled so hard to send me here, to be successful. These bloody terrorists want to destroy everything. I won’t fucking let them brainwash me, no matter what.”
Gripped in fright, I whispered to Sameer sitting next to me, “Where are we going?”
He probably sensed the panic in my voice and concern on my face. He promptly replied with a smile, “Don’t worry. I am with you.” His soothing words did no good to me. But the signs of settlements did. The explorer soon entered populated part of the city. Pretty soon the explorer made a turn to enter a church premises and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.”
I quickly got out of the car and soon others followed. Steve looked much less menacing in the better lighting on the church premises. Sameer now introduced me to Steve and I silently cursed him for introducing him so late. We all turned towards the door of the church hall. With every step, I felt my fear evaporating slowly. As soon as I entered the hall I saw another face I knew very well and all the terror in my heart disappeared in an instant. Pangs of relief hit me like a breeze of cold air. Past one hour was the longest hour of my life. I was greeted on the door by a man whom Sameer called Rashid. He had a big smile on his face and warmth in his voice. For a moment I forgot this was the person from Pakistan whom I was dreading all the way from campus to the church.
The group consisted of Rashid uncle, his wife and his kids, Steve and his family, an Australian couple and their kids, few grannies and grandpas and about 20 students, all from my university and majority of them were Indians. I had the opportunity to interact with few of them. Then we had a spiritual session followed by a fun game. And eventually came the most awaited dinner. The dinner consisted of a variety of Indian delicacies, all equally delicious. The dinner, Sameer later told me, was all prepared by Rashid Uncle’s wife. He said he would often hang out with Rashid Uncle’s kids at their home or even outside as they were about our age.
By the end of it all, I left the place more shocked than I had arrived.
Here was a Pakistani man, rather a Pakistani family, showering their love on a crowd which consisted mainly of Indian students. They cared and entertained all these people as if they were their own. They were as peaceful and affectionate beings as any other humans on earth. But what left me most spellbound was they had forgotten all the Indo Pak rivalry, all the poison that came with it, all bitterness that some group of people are still trying to inject in the minds and hearts of the people of both the nations. They were oblivious to all that and serving the Indian students selflessly.
I began cursing myself. How could I as young, educated, responsible citizen of India in a globalized world knowingly or unknowingly do such a thing? Why did the word Pakistan instill fear and hatred in me? How could I let all the false rumours and stupid movies and news plough seeds of contempt and disgust in me against my own neighbour?
The Indo-Pak rivalry is so clichéd that it has unwittingly planted the seeds of disdain and enmity in our hearts. More than half a century old rivalry and constant anguish and acidity it brought with it has left us devoid of the pleasures of having a peaceful and loving neighbour. It has now become more of psychological battle than anything else. It’s high time both countries and it’s citizen move forward to the path of love and affection. Together they can conquer the world. Bring in a new hope of peace to the war-torn nations by setting it’s own example. The love is already present in the hearts of citizens of both the nations, it just needs to manifest itself at the national level especially in the political and military relationships.
While thinking of it now, I laugh at the absurdity of it all. It couldn’t have been more ironic, the two warring neighbours have found love and peace in a far off foreign land.