Google can envision Pakistan-India harmony in less than 4 minutes...can we?
Regarding India-Pakistan relations, Sir Walter Scott in his poem “Lochinvar” captured it the best:
“Love swells like the Solway, but ebbs like its tide”
Replace the river Solway with Indus or Ganges and one gets an idea of the ebb and flow of India-Pakistan relations.
I first learnt of it through the most obvious of sources, Indian movies.
We were watching a cliché with the usual “dushman mulk sazish” storyline when came the long advertisements and movie reviews that would be a permanent feature of the video cassettes. This was sometime after the Babri Mosque incident and relations between the two states were crumbling.
Among the various real estate adverts and “geet malas” was a message from leading Indian actors who were promising to come to Pakistan soon for a peace performance. Among those were Amjad Khan, Aamir Khan, Sri Devi and various others. That in many ways represented the dichotomy of India-Pakistan relations, love and hate both meted out in portions and their adherents depending on which school of thought you belong to.
This is not to deny the real feelings of mutual belonging denizens on both sides.
In a previous article, I had written about the commonalities between the two countries, the hopes and desires people feel for enduring peace between India and Pakistan. These feelings have been beautifully captured in the latest Google advertisement that seeks to tune into them.
The three minute and a half minute video is titled “Reunion” and seeks to show how the search engine is good enough to traverse time, space and fraught political relations to bring two long-lost friends together. The ad is based on a series on poignant scenes and shows revolving around the friendship of two boys, Baldev and Yusuf, who were separated at partition.
It then goes on to explains how the two friends are brought together by their grandchildren who use Google searches to first track down the clues given by their grandfathers in reminiscing sessions. The granddaughter gets in touch with the grandson on the Pakistani side who then trawls Google to find out about visa procedures and eventually leads his grandfather to his Indian friend to end in an emotional reunion in India.
The video which aired a few days back went viral on social media and the internet in general. It has notched up more than two million hits on YouTube alone since it was posted on Thursday, November 14, and has thousands of Facebook shares, comments and likes.
People have been moved to tears and have posted emotive messages on Google’s official Facebook page about renewed hopes for improved relations between the two neighbours.
Among them is this comment by Akshaya Aradhya,
“Google brought nations together in three minutes and 32 seconds. The politicians of both countries couldn’t do this in 66 years.”
Pakistanis for Peace said,
“Wonderful campaign highlighting all the similarities and shared experiences instead of the differences”.
On another front, Facebook user Sher Khan posted,
“I am a Pakistani. And I love India. Peace.”
Twitter was filled with similar emotions:
Google Reunion Commercial Is Heartwarming Even In A Different Language http://t.co/M20ybLZBO7— Barry Schwartz (@rustybrick) November 13, 2013
That Google ad. I...I...got something in my eye is all. And allergies. Ah man.http://t.co/KJl5ft9Ry4— Sami Shah (@samishah) November 14, 2013
What would have taken Bollywood three hours Google ad achieves in 3.32 seconds. An India-Pak tearjerker. http://t.co/y6yg1KvNM2— Nirupama Subramanian (@tallstories) November 13, 2013
The Google advertisement is but one of many TV and online campaigns that have tried to address the issue but have been unable to make real dents in the tough hide of Byzantium policies and realpolitik. The ad I saw in the Indian movie transmission was but the first of many I have seen over the years.
Recently there was another commercial by a Pakistani spices company which shows a senior actress reminiscing about her loved one across the border and how they would eat their favourite delicacies together. Inspired, she whips up some goodies and takes the Lahore-Delhi train to surprise her loved ones with her presence and delicious foods prepared by the spice brand.
Salman Ahmed and Shubha Mudgals’ duet “Ghoom Taana” was a massive hit and also dealt with the issue of a Pakistani male (Salman Ahmed) taking remembrances across to his ancestral home in Patiala, Punjab where he is heartily welcomed by the Indian family and even wins over the somewhat frosty granddaughter (Nandita Das) of the Indian gent.
The “Aman Ki Asha” peace campaign being conducted by two leading media groups of India and Pakistan has also produced several poignant ads and videos that promote peace and friendship between the two estranged neighbours. Among these are, “Radio Farmaaish”, “Restaurant and Passport”, “Delhi Haat”, “Indo-Pak Cricket”, and more.
“Radio Farmaasih” or “Radio Requests” shows how the border separates people who share a love for music.
The men on the Pakistani side get signals from an Indian radio station and unable to call the station themselves, use a series of actions to gesture to their friends across the border to indicate the song they want to request the Indian station to play.
Sadly, emotional campaigns and messages of love and peace have not been able to shake the powers-that-be.
The Google ad showed the Pakistani grandson simply search for the procedures and Lo and behold! He is next seen departing for India. Except, it is never as simple as that. As someone who has gone through the visa process, I can attest that it is notoriously difficult for applicants on both sides and getting progressively more arduous each year.
An American national can apply for a visa that is valid for up to ten years but Pakistanis have to go through acres of red tape and get an Indian national to send them a letter of sponsorship and many other official documents.
The applicant is only allowed to apply for selected cities, which in the new Indian topography means serious imbalances. For instance, Delhi has expanded to abut cities such as Ghaziabad. While some relatives live in Delhi others have moved to the latter which means I have to apply for both cities, even though it’s all one city for all practical purposes.
Even after all this the visa is still not guaranteed and if one does get it, it is usually a “police reporting” visa which means you have to file an “entry” and “exit” at each city you visit. Indian citizens who want to visit Pakistan don’t have it any easier.
Peace efforts are taken up by civil groups but their hopes are dashed soon in an all too predictable pattern. Besides the obvious pain felt by those who have families and loved ones on each side, the visa and travel restrictions are an actual deterrent in economic progress. Considering the size of active populations and academic, trade, tourism and labour opportunities, it makes eminent sense to have a more malleable visa regime.
Consider a market of almost a billion and a half people and you get a sense of the missed opportunities.
The founding fathers never envisioned the border to be as obdurate as it has become and one hopes that the civil society and governments of both countries do not falter in this regard and brings about a much needed change in India-Pakistan political policies and relations.