peace in a pod Society

India and Pakistan: Affinities beyond map lines

The potential for conversation is infinite.  

The distance between two places isn’t measured in kilometres, or by the length of time it takes to get there, or even by the ease of travel by air or rail or road. It’s about the distance in our minds, the gulf that widens or narrows by the stories we tell about each other, and in the red tape that one has to untangle to traverse it.

For any Indian who has travelled abroad, and has met another South Asian, there’s often an immediate sense of fellowship, a knowledge that you can slip into shared cultural references. Yet, Pakistan and India are neighbours who love to hate each other — in popular media, in politics, and on the cricket ground.

Teen talk

Suveer Bajaj and Umair Kazi are 30-something digital media professionals from opposite sides of the Indo-Pak border who met as teenagers during a college conference. They quickly discovered how much they had in common, including their Sindhi heritage. If it was so easy for them to talk to each other, shouldn’t it be just as easy for the two cultures to communicate?

And so was born 883 to Infinity, a podcast launched in February this year, focusing on “content, culture and creativity” in a way that focuses on the similarities and resonances between Indians and Pakistanis. Mumbai is 883 kilometres from Karachi (closer than Delhi, which is around 1120 kms. “Wouldn’t it be convenient to just get into a car and drive there for a weekend — I drive to Goa all the time,” said Suveer, speaking to me on a Zoom call. “But even if I started driving I’d never get there!” And, he notes, the potential for conversation is infinite.

Myriad influences

The usual trope of India-Pakistani stories tends to be the cleavage of 1947, and Suveer is emphatic: “This is not a partition podcast; we’ve opened up the canvas to look at a variety of influences across both cultures.”

Instead, the podcast looks at a broad range of cultural themes, from food to cinema to comedy and, of course to romance. In a series of three episodes dubbed ‘Veer Zara’ the hosts speak with couples who have found love and negotiated marriage across the border. In another, fashion designer Yousuf Bashir Qureshi talks about what identity means to him, and how it encompasses bits and pieces of both sides of the border.

Moments of reflection

While the conversation between the hosts is easy and punctuated with humorous banter, they do not shy away from serious — and sometimes thorny — subjects. In an episode that explores how the two countries relate to the Israeli-Palestine conflict, there are moments of reflection that verge on discomfort where the friends try to understand the deep histories of West Asia and its resonances with those of the subcontinent.

Even as we recognise that they may be speaking to a small audience of the converted, Suveer and Umair are hopeful that there will be a ripple effect, and already have plans to work with this idea beyond the podcast. The associated ‘883 to Infinity Art Project’ invites artists from both countries to “jam” on episode themes, and the first of these, ‘Train to Pakistan’ illustrates the hosts’ first trip to the other side of the border on the Samjhauta Express.

And even as states play politics that keep people apart, it’s hard to deny affinities that are built on shared vocabularies, foods, and a history that precedes the drawing of a line on a map.

Usha Raman, Hyderabad-based writer and academic, is a neatnik fighting a losing battle with the clutter in her head.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2022 8:38:18 PM |

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