ISLAMABAD: They returned home with good memories, new friends and a desire for peace between Pakistan and India.
A group of 14 students and five teachers from Khaldunia High School travelled to India in July to attend a conference, which was part of the “Ghummakkad Narain – The Travelling Children’s Literature Festival”.
Though the students, who were visiting India for the first time, were a bit sceptical about how their Indian counterparts would behave with them and thought there would be awkwardness, even hostility, none of it proved to be true.
“We became friends in like two minutes,” said Zainab, one of the students who was part of the trip. “It was like we had known each other for years.”
They have been in touch with their Indian friends on social networking websites since their return and said they’ll be excited to host their friends from across the border in the near future.
The festival was organised at the National Museum Institute in New Delhi by UNESCO and Nivesh, an Indian non-profit organisation. Students of Khaldunia made it to the event through the efforts of Fauzia Minallah of Funkor Child Art Centre in Islamabad.
They performed Saadat Hassan Manto’s play “Akhri Salute” and a poem by Pablo Neruda at the festival, and gave presentations on the Indus Valley civilisation.
Apart from that, they had many fun interactions with Indian people. According to students, the Indians, especially the ones whose ancestors belonged to Pakistan, held the country in high regard, while shopkeepers offered them discounts once they found out they were from Pakistan.
Narrating an incident, one of the students said they encountered a man at a cinema, where they had shown up wearing shalwar kameez, who thought it was an Eid special. When one of the boys told him they were from Pakistan, he hugged him and exclaimed, “You’re my Muslim brother.”
Language similarities also helped them mingle with locals in New Delhi. “Whenever we would talk in Urdu, they would say our Hindi is so good,” said Faiza, another student.
Wadaam, also a part of the group, said Pakistan should allow more Indians to travel to Pakistan so people could know more about each other. Pakistan and India recently signed an agreement to ease visa restrictions.
The students also painted one half of a mural with an image of the flowing Indus River along with symbols and alphabets of the Indus Valley. The mural was taken to India, where the other half was completed by Indian students. The latter also presented a handmade poster to the contingent with “peace across borders” written in bold at the top.
“The only differences between the two countries are between our governments,” said Faiza. “The people don’t have anything against each other.”
Moreover, students also got a chance to meet Anil Shastri, the son of former Indian prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, during the festival’s closing ceremony. They asked him some challenging questions about regional politics and the perception of both countries in the world, which made it an academically productive visit for them as well.
They said they were inspired by women empowerment, standards of education, sense of security and religious freedom they observed in India and hoped Pakistan could achieve the same.
They were also impressed by Delhi’s underground railway system. “My suggestion to our government would be to create a metro in one of the cities,” said Sumaira Zia, a teacher at Khaldunia.
This was the third cultural trip to India arranged by Khaldunia for its students since 2001. “I think we have achieved some break in the curtain of hostility and stereotypes between Pakistan and India over these trips,” said the school’s principal Farrukh Paracha.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 17th, 2012.