A gate divides us. My neighbour is not a person, but a country. A country cut off from my own. A country that looks a lot like me, that dresses a lot like me, that speaks a lot like me, but is not me anymore. Or mine. We do not share secrets but keep them to ourselves lest those whispered words are misused. From being entwined bodies touching silken skins, we are said to have transformed into different people.
We have no option but to say we are different. India and Pakistan have gone to three wars to prove this. There is still disputed land. During the Parition of 1947, people lost homes, families were separated. Most important of all, they lost the sense of belonging. My mother is an Indian; her sister is a Pakistani.
That gate divides us, manned by burly guards who perform a ‘Beating the Retreat’ ritual every day, morning and evening. To save us from each other. From the other side when I was a travelling, I could see my country, my people, and hear my songs, my noises. Even before my book was planned, I had made a few trips. Each time there was a sense of incompleteness. On one visit I celebrated Independence Day there. For them it meant independence from us. I stood watching the lights and firecrackers with someone who I thought understood me. I gave him a note to wish him well. He did not respond with a similar gesture the next day – my Independence Day. We were neighbours who could not knock on each other’s doors without suspicion.
It was the reason I wrote this poem. What else could I do?
My Friend, My Enemy
My sky too has a crescent and stars
My leaves too have sprung from similar trees
When I ask you who you are
You look the other way.
You are not born of your own womb
Your lids opened to another world
Forget those eyes you tell me
And find your truth.
One day your truth and mine
Were the same.
Today, for a few acres of your land
You deny me.
Conscience, soul, body, hungers
I satiate with eyes shut
But I feel burdened by history
I am not what you sought
The ballads sung to me sprung
From a different soil
I cross imaginary continents
To become rootless
In unaccounted-for miles
I grab your shadow
A child of the night
You say I let darkness delude me.
You fool only yourself
By shutting morning’s door
In my face.
I peep through the hole in the wall
And quench the thirst of my vision.
Try as you might
Can never break my prism.
I took the picture from the Pakistan side. You can see my people across. More images here.