Saturday Story 5: United we Stand
He was standing in the vestibule, lost in a world of music. Ashish was just grateful to see another brown-skinned person, that too a Punjabi. Who else would listen to Honey Singh, on headphones? Normally, he would have felt shy to tap a stranger on the shoulder. But time was passing very slowly on the slow train to Stockholm. The price of a ticket that cost just 20 euros.
“Brother, kya sun rahe ho?” said Ashish, with what he hoped looked like a bright smile.
The guy looked at Ashish and continued bobbing his head. He pulled out the left headphone and offered it in a gesture of dosti. And just like that, they stood there for a good half hour, united by bhangra beats. Finally, the train drew into Stockholm station and they headed back into the compartment to take their luggage.
“Tum kahan se ho,” asked Ashish, eager to cement the friendship. “Delhi?”
Headphone Guy laughed and said, “Lahore.”
Ashish was stunned. Suna tha ki Pakistan mein Punjabis hain, par kabhi mile thodi the. This was too much. They really are ‘just like us’.
Sahil was a master’s student at the Stockholm Institute of Technology, not far from the Sodermalm School of Business, where Ashish was an exchange student. The purpose of exchange being to ‘backpack across Europe’, he’d spent the weekend in Copenhagen. But after such 6 weekend trips, he was feeling saturated.
Every European city had a town square, an old church, a palace and streets with cobblestones. Arrey, photo mein to sab ek jaise hi lagne lage the.
So, the following weekend, instead of heading out of town, Ashish accepted Sahil’s invitation for dinner. The apartment was on the 4th floor, in a building which had no lift. The appetite he’d built up came in handy when he saw the lavish spread on the dining table. Crisp naan, butter chicken and malai paneer.
“Brother, I thought you might be a vegetarian,” grinned Sahil. “Daba kar khao.”
The takeaway was from a nearby restaurant called Natraj, which had murals of Radha and Krishna on its walls. But, enlightened Sahil, it’s run by a Bangladeshi couple. Sweden has attracted a lot of Bengalis. Leftist-leftist bhai bhai was probably the reason for it, in the 60s and 70s. And then the Bangladeshis followed. Which side of the border who came from, was only of interest to desis.
Well, the 3 month exchange program was coming to an end. Ashish was due to fly back to india and rejoin IIM Indore. When, all of a sudden, duniya badal gayi. All local and international flights were cancelled, leaving Ashish stranded in a strange land. With no place to stay, and not much money…
When Sahil heard of his predicament, he opened his heart, and his home, in a gesture of dosti. Feeling overwhelmed, Ashish quickly accepted. Unlike the rest of the world, life was almost ‘normal’ in Sweden, he assured his worried parents in Ambala. Yaane ki waise bhi log koi khaas ek-doosre se milte julte nahin.
The month of Ramzan was about to start, and on the first day, something unusual happened. Before breaking his fast, Sahil declared it was time for a ‘special drink’.
“Drink? I thought it was haraam for you….” said Ashish, surprised.
Brother, yeh drink to hamari jaan hai. Shaan-e-Pakistan hai…
Ta-dah! Hamdard ka Rooh Afza. Ashish blinked, for the label proudly declared ‘Made in Pakistan’.
“Yeh to hamare yahan mein bhi milta hai,” said Sahil’s Bangladeshi friend Aabir. “Ghar ghar mein.”
For Hakim Adbul Hameed had stayed back in India, while his brother Hakim Mohammed Said migrated, and launched the family business in East and West Pakistan.
For once, the bright-red sherbet did not taste sickly sweet… for it had the mithaas of history, of mystery. Strange are the ways of destiny brother, let’s raise a toast to it.
Don’t miss the audio file: Inside the Author’s Mind: Why I wrote ‘United we stand’
10 thoughts on “Saturday Story 5: United we Stand”
Hope some day we get to see “Hindustan” again – Karachi to Kolkata, Islamabad to Hyderabad – one united brotherhood.
This was amazing! Pre and post partition stories are engaging. Always. I would not have liked the story without your sound-cloud clip. ???
A question – how important it is to reveal what happens behind the story?
Another one – Is it so that we have a limited reading span today and, hence, we must write something like 500 words to entice more readership?
I don’t know whether you will read these. Yet, posting. ?
Just loved the trivia which was the basis of your story. Anyone who’s been overseas can relate to the story as South Asians, especially Indians, Pakistani’s and Bangladeshi’s, become indistinguishable even to those from the sub-continent.
Beautiful story with the message that we are all similar and one.
Nice story. Seeing the brown skin in foreign land one tries to make friends.The end is like in India people say cheers to any drink unlike in foreign countries only
This is wonderful story Rashmi-ji. Enjoyed reading it
The story touched a chord Rashmi. I’ve worked with Pakistani clients while in Dubai and the first time I engaged in an informal conversation, I was amazed at how ‘same’ we are in our cultural mindset and family values and how we worry about the same things! It was a delight to get to know many of them and the kinship we share cannot be erased by a border.
What a sweet story! Story remins that finally, all humans want to live in harmony and have love to give to each other!
We’ve read South Asians living abroad before. If so many kinds. But this one …read so different. Juxtaposing the very current events with an easy setting for their coming together..just lovely.
A very readable story about the friendship between people of different countries and religions , of how human goodness knows no barriers of borders. Liked the touch of Rooh Afza, it was a favourite summer drink, with lots of ice, in Delhi many years ago. The narrative behind Rooh Afza ‘s presence in the three countries of the subcontinent ,brings in a unifying factor, so to say