You lived through the experience?

“Your words are guesswork.

He speaks from experience.

There’s a huge difference.”

So wrote the thirteenth century Sufi poet, Jelaluddin Rumi. The translation from the Persian original of his poem, “Judge a moth by the beauty of its candle”, continues to resonate today, even in our post-modern world (The Essential Rumi, C. Barks & J. Moyne, New York: Harper Collins, 1995.)

Rumi sought a higher form of spirituality then, just as many millions of people do today around the world.

I would describe my own spiritual experience so far as, in a word, holistic. I consider myself rather fortunate – or perhaps just brainwashed – by a mother who espoused acceptance of people no matter what their culture or religion. She taught me about the importance of what comes from a person’s heart, rather than how often they go to their house of worship or what they eat on a certain day or do at a certain time of year. She practiced kindness and goodwill towards her fellow human beings every day. For her, religion was essentially a private matter – and what has religion got to do with friendship anyway?

As a child, I remember visiting the homes of family and friends from Germany, Iran, South Africa and China, to name a few. Looking back, I guess you could say that my childhood was a cultural tapestry, with a German father and a British-Irish mother. My mother was an excellent judge of character. She recognized positive and negative traits in people regardless of cultural or religious assumptions or stereotypes. This forms part of my set of values that I have happily chosen to continue to practice.

In 2007, one of my university lecturers invited me and five other students to present papers at the Society for Pakistan English Language Teachers (SPELT) conference held annually in different cities of Pakistan.

After visiting Pakistan, I also travelled to Dubai. Since I was wearing a shalwar kameez and had mehendi on my hands, let’s say I did attract a bit of attention. Expatriate Pakistanis in Dubai were delighted to learn that I had just come from Pakistan and were very interested to know where I had been and how I found Pakistan I wrote about this trip for Sada-e-Watan in 2008: ‘Sydney University students visit Pakistan,’

When my friends and I encountered expatriate Indians, they couldn’t hide their astonishment. We get similar responses in Australia; comments range from: “What on earth did you go there for?” to “You lived through the experience?” One day in Canberra, some Indians approached my friends and I, curious to see us dressed in shalwar kameez (we had just had lunch at the Pakistani High Commission). The conversation turned to music and one of them said: “Oh, they (Pakistanis) just rip-off Indian songs and palm them off as their own.” I was flabbergasted by their continual cynical remarks. Happily, I know several Indians in Australia who have unprejudiced thoughts towards Pakistanis and associate regularly with them. Invariably it turns out that those who have unkind words to say have not ever even visited the country. I wonder how they can pass comment on a place they haven’t ever been to?

Perhaps such prejudice is not surprising given the lack of contact between the people of both countries. During my visit to Pakistan in 2007, I remember meeting a charming lady who runs the Modernage Public School and College in Abbottabad alongside her husband. She told me about an exchange program some students from their school were arranging with a school in India. Unaware of the significance of such contact, I thought of this simply as a wonderful way for young students in different countries to get to know each other. I also didn’t really understand what she meant by the struggle that Pakistanis face when trying to obtain a visa for India. I recently learnt of the reciprocal visa restrictions on Indians and Pakistanis trying to visit each others’ countries: city specific, police reporting, no tourist visas etc.). She also talked about the malleability of children in general and how they don’t seem to harbour prejudices like adults do. I still didn’t understand exactly what she was driving at. It was only recently after subscribing to a friend’s newsletter that I began learning about the divide and even lack of knowledge in general about every day life in Pakistan and Pakistanis.

It is obvious that the media on the whole tend to project a distorted view of Pakistan and its people. If I believed even half of what I saw in the nightly news in Australia, I doubt I would have visited Pakistan in the first place. Now, having enjoyed my first visit tremendously, I jumped at the chance of a second visit with a friend and her four children this year.

My travels to several countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and North America, including six months studying in Italy, have taught me much about our marvellous planet and the peoples who inhabit it. It doesn’t appear to me to be particularly complex. On the contrary, it’s rather simple. Everywhere I’ve found similarities: people thinking about their jobs and their children’s education, going shopping, making sure their family has enough food or going to various houses of worship for spiritual guidance. Everywhere there are a few rotten apples in the barrel who spoil it for everyone; but at the end of the day, we probably all have pretty similar aims in life.

We would be hard pressed to find two countries with closer historical, cultural, ethnic and in some cases religious bonds, than India and Pakistan. With so many similarities why is there such a focus on perceived differences? I have faith that Indian and Pakistani brothers and sisters will not continue to play into the hands of those individuals who have decided that a particular perennial line of argument keeps their political agenda alive. Most politicians and sections of the media have not really contributed to any sense of courage and hope among their people or attempted to shed past antagonisms, moving forward to embrace a positive future. Most rely on blaming the other country for all their problems, making the citizens of India and Pakistan pay for failed governmental policies.

My vision for India and Pakistan is that their peoples will start to listen to each others’ stories and begin demolishing the wall that hinders efforts to live in harmony as neighbours.

The original link can be found at:

This version has some minor modifications.

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