A Foreign Conspiracy

I was transported back in time and space when I moved to Newbury a couple of years ago. Newbury is a small English town situated by the river Kennet. It could be best described as a neighbourhood being pulled straight out of a Jane Austen book and put on the map of England, right in the heart of Berkshire. The tranquillity of this small town remains undisturbed, in spite of the fact that it is not the 18th Century anymore.

The city girl inside me was utterly distressed by the fact that I had a whole year ahead of me before I could move back to ‘saddi Dilli’. But, some places have a tendency of growing on you – just like they do in Jane’s books. Until that happened, I used to hop over to London every weekend because I felt the city had a ‘Hindustani‘ soul. Not Indian, but Hindustani, like the undivided nation before the midnight of August 15, 1947. The English may have ruled over us by the way of division, but London unites us in the present day. And so does Newbury (or any other place outside of the subcontinent), after a while.

A shared history is something no partition can wipe from our hearts and souls. This fact came as a realization on one of those days when my desi heart was longing for things the real, unadulterated England could not provide. I was officially depressed, moody and PMSy that day and the world just had no choice but to deal with it, or melt into chocolate. Staying hungry and foolish was my plan for the day and I would not let anyone ruin that by feeding or fooling me.

As I walked aimlessly through the streets of Newbury, the words ‘Punjabi Grill’ stared at me from far away. While it isn’t a big deal to find an Indian restaurant anywhere in the UK, the ‘Punjabi Grill’ was going to be the spanner in my depression. It turned out that the ‘Punjabi’ in the Grill was for West Punjab –the one India let go after partition.

A belly-full of chana masala, butter naan, dal-makhni and kheer later, I was a changed person. It wasn’t possible to decode the east of Punjab from the flavors of the Punjabi Grill – the spices blended to create familiar aromas and tastes that both nations live with in spite of the fence that divides them. The meal wasn’t Pakistani or Indian – It was rightfully, Punjabi. The boundaries that divide Punjab dissolved and prejudices gave way to a glassful of Lassi. An old Gurdass-Mann song was playing in the background. For a moment, I thought I was imagining things. Then I realised that my happy stomach had passed on the feeling of satisfaction and contentment to my brain which could now decipher music instead of fasting,  feasting on depressing thoughts.


A realisation beckoned along with the words of the song, that stories of people of both the nations loving and accepting each other were not just stories. The fact that an Indian girl was welcomed and served with love at a Pakistani eatery would only have been possible in a Karan Johar movie until it happened to me! Until that day, I had never thought about the fact that we love the same food, we dance to the same beats, sing the same songs, watch the same movies, read the same authors, play the same games and even use the same cuss words. For me, it took a desi meal at a foreign nation to whole-heartedly accept the stories of brotherhood that our grandparents narrate so fondly. If dal-makhni is all it takes for us to rekindle our love for each other, I won’t mind sending kadhai-fulls of it across the border.


Photographs courtesy Google Images

Food metamorphosed into poetry, and I started scribbling on that paper napkin which had something beautiful written on it. I don’t know what it was because I can’t read Urdu, but the alphabets were pretty and I am sure, so were the words. My grandfather could read and write Urdu – if only I had asked him to teach me, I would have been capable of deciphering the picture perfect words on that piece of paper.

My own words came to the rescue, and I handed over my scribblings to the man who had served me. Here is an excerpt from the paper-napkin-poetry:

Politics of power for a bigger share
Honesty died; Beg-borrow-steal!
A nation they could divide, but people still care
Though, a long lost connection they conceal
But a oneness exists, I feel
For that statement, question me why
And a real life incident I would reveal
Earth they divided but there’s still a common sky. 

Down the lane is a Pakistani eatery where
Served with love, I had a heavenly meal
From across border comes a prayer
Of peace, love, life and a world so ideal
Neighbours don’t hate each other, is surreal
Love is Chana Masala, Butter Chicken and Dal Fry
Served with a smile behind the so-called-enmity veil
Earth they divided but there’s still a common sky. 

A word here and a few words there
Crossing obstacles, real and not so real
I extend a hand of friendship with a flare
It ignites a touch which could really heal
I can’t turn the time’s wheel
But something I can do is try
To wrap up wounds and strike a deal
Earth they divided but there’s still a common sky. 

A fence they created, a treaty we seal
Boundaries remain but love transcends
In this foreign land, over a steamy hot meal
Earth they divided but there’s still a common sky.

Common men of India and Pakistan understand that we are not just neighbors, but we share an identity in the pages of history. Unfortunately, the not-so-common-men choose to ignore it since that fateful night they decided to put up a fence. People of both nations love and respect each other and want to cross over the boundaries to understand what their long lost land looks like now. They don’t hate each other, but live in harmony at a foreign land, where there is no interference from the politicians of both nations. Who is the culprit here then, disturbing the equilibrium?

A state of co-existence is not really impossible. Everyone loves a friendly neighbor with whom they can gossip, share meals, trouble them to babysit, hop over from the rooftops to their side and feast on the unripe mangoes they have laid out in the sun to dry. There’s no denying the fact that both countries love their pickles and preserves. Fruit, spices and chillies lying in the sun to dry isn’t an uncommon sight in India or across the border. We try so hard to preserve these items which have such a short shelf life. If only we could also preserve the love which existed once upon a time when there was no India and no Pakistan, but a combined Hindustan. They say love knows no boundaries. If only it could seep through the pores of dark fences and preach love thy neighbour, unless, of course, we’re fighting over a cricket match. Love evaporates when it comes to that!


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