While I was chatting with Tamara, my Brazilian counterpart (Stranger 2), a girl with a thickset body, with long black hair tied in a bun came to us, looking worried and asked us if we had any pain killers. Tamara had one in her bag and was looking for it. Meanwhile, the girl, let’s call her Rupa, started to talk to me. She was clearly from the Indian subcontinent and she started telling me why she was at the airport at 2 in the morning.
Before I start, here’s a little bit of history for those who don’t know – India achieved independence in the year 1947 but the country was partitioned and Pakistan was born. In the years that followed, there was a huge exodus where a lot of Muslims moved to Pakistan while many Hindus moved to India. Many people lost their lives and livelihoods in this process, but now time has passed. Although there has been some bitter relations between the two nations, I know I speak for the citizens of both nations when I say that there is no animosity in our hearts for the other. But after extensive media brainwash, I know that doubts have been sown in many people’s hearts when it comes to peace between the two nations.
Anyways, back to the story. Rupa told me that she and her mother had come to the airport to send Rupa’s 90-year old grandmother to Chicago where Rupa’s uncle was going to receive her. Shortly, Rupa’s mother, Saira, came back asking us if we found the medicine for her mother. That was when I noticed her, lying on a couch – she was a frail, fragile woman with wispy hair- all bones and she looked like she could collapse at the slightest touch. She was not able to sleep on the airport couch because her back was aching pretty badly and thus, needed the medicines. Tamara gave her what she had and in the midst of this, I told Rupa that I was headed to Chicago too. As it turned out, her grandmother was flying to Chicago on the same airline as mine to meet her son. She asked me if I could help her grandmother if she was lost or unaccompanied at O’Hare and I readily agreed. I was ready to do whatever little I could to help her. As soon as I did, the mother and daughter duo immediately started talking to me in Hindi. Since I understood and spoke the language fluently, I was able to hold a conversation with them for quite some time. They were very happy to have someone to talk to and halfway through the conversation they asked me where I was from. “India,” I said.
Rupa replied, “My grandmother is from Gwalior! She moved to Pakistan after the partition.” Now before I could react to that statement, her mother, Saira, interjected, appearing worried – “She just as much an Indian as anyone else. She keeps thinking of her homeland.” This was followed by a barrage of statements all emphasizing the fact that Saira’s mother was a lot more Indian than she was a Pakistani.
I was taken aback – it really looked like Saira was trying to appease the “Indian” in me, under the fear that I would not agree to take care of her mother, just because she was a Pakistani. That was when I had to put my foot down. I made it very clear that her mother’s nationality meant nothing to me. She was a woman who was in need of help and I did not see anything beyond that.
It still saddens me when I see people putting country borders or religion over the greater good. It is a matter of virtue to help without being parochial about race or sex. I don’t blame Saira for justifying the mother’s citizenship. I blame the people who let that feeling creep up in the first place – the media, the corrupt politicians and those wielding the money, arms and power who would benefit from our constant squabbles. The governments of India and Pakistan or the cricket teams and their rivalry do not represent the feelings of the masses. For us, an ailing Indian is the same as an ailing Pakistani and we will rush to their aid if need be. Yet again, this is not a problem localized to India and Pakistan. This is a widespread epidemic between many nations and I believe that it can only be addressed by the masses.