kahaniyan · people · screens · society

Screened – Short Story, Fiction

Dear Naina,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been selected to participate in the SouthAsianYouthMeet, to be held in December. We look forward to having you with us and contributing with your ideas for a better world.
The venue is Islamabad, Pakistan and delegates from all over South Asia will be participating in this one week event, from 25-31 December.
We have attached further details of travel and stay, as well as the daily schedule, for your convenience.
We look forward to your participation!
Peace in South Asia ~ The white bird flies ~

The first thing that greeted me on a lazy Sunday morning was this delightful text on my laptop’s screen.
I read and re-read, I could not believe it, I had been selected for a prestigious Youth Conference, where young leaders from all over South Asia would meet, share their ideas, plan for a better tomorrow. And I, Naina Sharma, would be representing India. This was too beautiful for me to believe. I pinched myself, yes it was indeed true.

I felt proud on being selected, proud of my academic accomplishments, proud of my organization that worked for peace, proud of the essay in the online application, which probably got me this opportunity; But my happiness went deeper than that. After all these years of dreaming, I was finally going to visit Pakistan, a nation that has intrigued me through history, through war, through messages of love, through politics, through the amazing dramas on television, through music and most of all through my grandmother’s (Dadi’s) nostalgia.

I wondered if any of her quilts would still be there, intact with the neighbours she often spoke of. I wondered if those neighbours were still there, their grand children, how many of them would there be? Their son had visited when I was much younger, and had carried some old photographs. Did Pakistan still look like that? I wondered whose lives I would experience when I visit Pakistan, I wondered if I would feel like a tourist or at home. Somewhere the task of changing the world took back-seat; I was searching for my roots.

Islamabad, Hmmm, now how far is this place from Multan. I used the Google Map to confirm and concluded that even though it seems manageable on the map, the harassment involved in permit was beyond my patience. Perhaps I could visit Dadi’s Haveli some other time.

I have borrowed from my grand-parents and uncles the romantic perception of Pakistan, which gets hurt each time I watch the news, is threatened when I watch biased documentaries on the internet, and is realistically checked when I read the many wonderful blogs maintained by some of my batch mates who had lived in Pakistan, with whom I studied in Singapore, especially the one maintained by Samira. Samira, my beautiful Samira.

I prepared a quick To-Do list on my cell phone since I could not locate my pen; I am surrounded by screens, all through the day, the night, and also in between. Anyhow, the list was as follows:
1. Call Dadi and inform
2. Ask Vinod Uncle for places that are a must visit
3. Inform Samira/Surprise Samira – decide
Before I could carry out either of the three, my mother came into the room and yelled at me for my Westernized lifestyle, greying hair, and lack of a boyfriend who could be a potential husband.

If only I could tell her about Samira, about how we had fallen in love, about how much we missed being together, but I dare not.

She would never accept it, and I am waiting for a miracle to take place.

In the meantime we would satisfy each other with Skype. Oh, what would I not do to have you come out of that screen secretly, if only I could touch the grace on your face and not that solid surface? It reminds me of the rigidity of our structures, reminds me of how you had cried bitterly on our convocation, fearing that we shall never again meet. I am reminded of our shared grief by this screen which separates and unites us at the same time, this screen, which keeps me connected with you all day, this screen which reminds me of how truly far you are, across the border, doing your research.

You are a Muslim, you are from Pakistan and you are a woman,

Just as

I am a Brahmin, I am an Indian and I am a woman.

It does not sound like any of the matrimonial statuses my mother keenly observes with my brother’s help on his laptop.

She has now put up my profile in the privileged section of special members, for a special son-in-law. He would have probably studied in Europe and would have come back to India, to live with his family, or he would be working day and night for a bank in the West. How perfect! Why does she not find such perfection in Priyanka’s husband? Why, because he works in Sri Lanka? Because he has not adopted a pseudo accent and works closer home? Because the photographs he shares show people who are not as fair-skinned as our once colonial rulers were?
And if she never wanted me to think as such and to live with the stereotypes she has so conveniently accepted, why did she allow me to get such education? Why did she herself ask me to question, to think beyond what I see, to enquire? I wish you too would read more Amma (mother), if nothing else, use your son’s laptop for a better purpose. You would at least witness the multiplicity of opinions; you would at least acknowledge that your truth is not the absolute truth. I wish I could tell you about this conference, but I won’t.

I went downstairs into my uncle’s room. Uncle Vinod was busy reading the newspaper. He saw me and kept it aside, he knew I was nervous and excited, both. I told him about the conference and my selection. He was overjoyed! He hugged me and asked me to tell him more, tell him about the participants, where all would I get to travel, how long it was. Even though I had made him read my essay on “Peace in South Asia” prior to my submission, I had kept the venue as suspense. Knowing that he would do anything to visit Pakistan, I was certain he would encourage me to go there no matter what.

I kept mum and then suddenly burst out, “I am going to Pakistan Uncle!! Can you believe this?”
My uncle’s smile faded. He patted me on my back and kept quiet. I had not expected such a reaction from him, not from him, at least. I searched for something in his eyes, he did not wish to disappoint me, but seemed to have no other option.

“Beta, don’t do this, do not go to Pakistan.”
“But…why? You yourself have told me so many stories, about your home, the kites, the food, the clothes, everything. I also want to experience that culture, which is also ours! You only said that to me!”
“Yes I did, but Beta this is not the right time, you have so many goals to achieve, and you cannot take such risk, of visiting Pakistan in your youth.”
“What are you saying? Oh God!! Are you scared of terrorism! Oh uncle, I can very well die here!”
“Shut up you fool! I am talking about your passport. You know you have to apply for US Visa next year; don’t you want to study further? Do you think you would get that Visa with Pakistan mentioned on your passport? NEVER!”
“This is ridiculous, I never expected you to say something as narrow minded as this. Why can’t I visit Pakistan for a peaceful cause? In fact that is such a good impression indeed. And if a country is so biased that they won’t allow me to enter because of this, I shall fight for my right!”
“Then keep fighting till your old age Beta, I wish you luck, I shall feel sorry for your incomplete education though.”

I stamped my feet, threw my phone and ran into my room. I could not come to terms with such discouragement on his part, with such firmness in his certainty of opinion. I could not accept the injustice of such a situation, I could not accept the fact that I was already faltering, and I could not bear with this never-ending separation from Samira.
I do not know when sleep took me in its embalming lap.

I woke up with the sound of a message on my cell phone. Someone had placed it back in my room. It had a few scratches on the screen. The message was from Samira,
“So you thought you would keep it a surprise  Junko called and asked me to see the list of selected participants. Congrats Love! Can’t wait to see you!! I can’t believe this is happening! We would be united, in peace, in love, in happiness! Hugs!”

Tears rolled down my cheeks as I scrolled up and down through the length of the message. I did not wish to believe the probable myth my uncle had introduced me to, but I feared missing an opportunity to study further, to broaden my horizon. I miss you Samira, and as much as I want to be with you, I am scared I am considering the conditions, I am already thinking of making choices, I am already experiencing a loss which has not yet occurred. We might be inseparable through these screens Samira, reality has but too many constraints.


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