In Britain, the ‘Enemy’ Was Just Like Me (NYT India ink)

To see the original: http://india.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/05/in-britain-the-enemy-was-just-like-me/

March 5, 2013, 4:54 am 26 Comments

In Britain, the ‘Enemy’ Was Just Like Me

By RAHUL JOGLEKAR

Before coming to London, I had never met a Pakistani in my life.

Growing up in India, Pakistan was just a concept. And growing up in a military family (my father was in the Indian Navy) meant conversations about Pakistan didn’t leave much room for nuance.

By the time I moved to England in 2008, I had come into my own world view: If Pakistan is the enemy country, all Pakistanis must most definitely be enemies.

My first encounter with a Pakistani was at a corner shop in North London, where I lived at the time. He was from Lahore, he said, and left some 40 years ago for a “better life.” He was an old man with a magnificent white beard and kind eyes.

I always saw him through the prism of the country he came from. But he was always talkative and warm. While transacting over a pint of milk, he’d always bring up the most British of topics — the weather. He once asked me to buy a warmer jacket than the one I was wearing. “We often underestimate how cold it can get in the winter here,” he said.

“We?” I thought. “Who is we?”

With that one word, he had established a commonness that hitherto I had ignored. After that day, our conversations got longer, and I’d often look forward to talking to him about his life experiences — the racism he faced in the 1970s, the problems of raising children in a foreign country and the longing he felt for “home,” even 40 years after migrating from Pakistan.

We never talked about Kashmir, diplomacy or religion. If I happened to mention something political, he’d just nod his head and say, “Two brothers separated at birth will always be brothers. Even if the politicians try to break us.” It was almost as if with that one sentence he had resolved the India-Pakistan situation in his head.

When Pakistan won a cricket match against India, he’d always tease me, and I never forgot to return the favor when India won a match.

The second Pakistani I met was a gorgeous 20-something fellow student at my university. She was from Karachi. I met her through a common friend. Her idols were Benazir Bhutto, Shah Rukh Khan and the Beatles. On Friday nights, she’d hit the clubs, dressed to kill, but was very careful not to smoke or drink.

She may have easily seen more Bollywood films than I ever will, and she never talked politics with me. “What do you think of Kashmir?” I once asked her. She replied, “It is all your fault, but I will forgive you if you promise to set up a meeting with SRK if and when I come to Mumbai.” And she laughed. And I did too.

She wasn’t the enemy.

And then I met a medical student during my hunt for a house to share in London. He was the only one who made a cup of chai for me as I inspected the flat. Still, I eventually decided not to take the room. Sharing a house with a Pakistani was something I was not going to do. I am to this day ashamed of not taking the flat.

I ended up living in an apartment with a quiet Japanese banker who never spoke. It served me right.

In the past five years that I’ve lived in London, I’ve met so many Pakistanis — cab drivers, barbers, doctors and colleagues. Every single time, it has been a pleasant exchange. These “enemies” adore our celebrities, eat the same food we do and look and behave like us too.

In England, Indians and Pakistanis share an identity and an immigrant experience that unites us, overcoming the boundaries that separate us back home.

Suddenly, I have begun to wonder who the real “enemy” was, if there really was one at all