Even though I consider myself to be a liberal and open-minded person, I was a little apprehensive about interacting with the desis from the other side when I went to Hong Kong for my undergrad.
I remember having a deep seated fear about how they might be prejudiced against me because of my Pakistani nationality. In my mind I had thought they would want to strike up a debate about the Kashmir issue at any given time! How would I even deal with a bigoted Indian Hindu who insisted on insulting my country and religion?
With those thoughts in mind I arrived at the City University of Hong Kong only to end up with a Hindu girl from Delhi as my roommate and what followed was something that would make Aman ki Asha proud.
It all started with the AC, while our countries remained at odds over the Kashmir issue, Samya and I simply could not decide upon the right temperature for our room.
They already had half of Kashmir, so no way was I going to freeze in my bed and let my country down. Especially not when she would turn the temperature extremely low and then pull out her Razai! After a few weeks of skirmishes, b an almost unprecedented act of diplomacy we were able to reach the middle ground.
There were frantic calls from parents and hushed warnings not to discuss the matter so of course we did exactly what we were told not to, regular debates on Kashmir and constantly sharing updates from local news channels.
This quickly evolved into a regular roasting session of the dramatic Indian media and jokes about the way our parents had warned us to not talk about this, I mean who cares if they kill a few trees up in Kashmir? Or hum nein tou Abhinandan bhi wapis kar diya. Turns out our peace talks were far more successful than the usual diplomatic fiascos and somewhere between jokes about how Kashmir hamara hai and arguments on cricket we became best friends.
When we came back from our respective countries after the winter holidays, I received a custom-made badge of the Indian flag to pin proudly onto my bag while she gushed over an Ajrak kurta that my mother had sent for her.
She was nothing like what I expected, and it was not just the similar culture and the bond of being desi girls in a foreign land that made us close – it was Samya and her insistence on being so curious about my world and embracing it wholeheartedly.
On the surface Samya and I may seem to be polar opposites considering she is somewhat of a flamboyant party animal and I prefer quiet late night hangouts at the harbour. But all those nights we spent looking for the perfect desi meal kept our bond alive.
The similarities and minute differences between our cultures constantly fascinated us and often led to deeper conversations about our nations, how was there so much hate when we were so similar?
There is something so heartbreaking about eating inedible college food alone in your room when you are used to hearty meals and the chaos of your family. This was where Samya came in and I realised that she was no longer just a roommate or even a friend, she was family. Who else would text my mom and ask how she made daal just because that is what I used to have for sehri?
It wasn’t just that, she used to scold me like my mother used to back home when I wasn’t eating right or tease me just like my sister did. When she took me to the clinic when I was unwell, I realised how different our relationship was compared to what I had expected it to be.
This realization had been slowly building up, but it was during Ramzan that it hit home, this Hindu girl from Delhi was so much more excited about my rozay than even me and she was doing her best to make sure the culture of my home was maintained during this time. How could she possibly be my dushman?
We often joke about how we will end the animosity between our respective countries and to be honest maybe we have already started doing that on a minuscule scale, as she tells her friends back home that the Pakistanis aren’t that different, or when I share my own experience. The two of us have a very simple dream and that is to one day show our countries to each other. But our nations have a long way to go before we cross the border easily and maybe the problem is not just the governments or tricky diplomatic situations, maybe it is all of us and the prejudice we have so readily accepted.