Dear girl from Pakistan,
I know it has taken me 69 long years but I hope it is not too late for me to say,
Forget about whats in the news,
Tell me, how was your day?
Lyrical and intense, Delhi-based slam poet Shivani Gupta’s poem, Dear Girl from Pakistan, is a tour de force. Starting with greetings, it dives rig ht into one powerful verse after the other.
In the poem, she speaks to a nameless Pakistani girl, telling her that she’s sorry for missed opportunities to interact and communicate.
She tells the story of the buses that run empty between India and Pakistan; to the movies and songs that must run through both her heart and that of the girl from Pakistan.
With each verse, her words hang heavy in the air, marking their place in my heart.
Im sorry. I am sorry that without so much as a second thought,
I say the words your country and my side,
And all thats left that is ours is a common divide,
I am sorry that even my pronouns are possessive,
Obsessive with a need to demarcate our partition,
I have a confession,
I wish I knew you better
Her words echoed my sentiments. I had to find her to ask her some of my own questions.
A common friend helped me connect with Shivani through social media. I was expecting to interact with a poetry buff but found in her a psychologist, researcher and a performance artist.
The first thing I unreservedly blurted out was that I loved her poem and she replied,
“It’s strange that our countries are this close yet its still such a gregarious task to have even the smallest bit of interaction. And then you kind of just wait to stumble upon opportunities to meet people, such as yourself, in other parts of the world that are neither mine nor yours.
She, however, acknowledges that it’s a start, leaving me amazed by how often a lot of what she says gushes out effortlessly as poetry.
Shivani began writing when she was 13 and has been performing poetry since 2014. ‘Dear Girl from Pakistan’ came to her when she was studying in Scotland a couple of years ago, where she had a group of friends from diverse backgrounds.
Everyone, she says, was moved by the same things, laughing at jokes that meant something to each of them, but somehow seemed funny collectively too. It was there that she felt how petty the difference between India and Pakistan is.
After that realisation, she walked home, feeling lighter than she had felt in a long, long time. In her own words, she ended up typing out the first few lines of the poem on her phone because she “literally couldn’t wait to get pen to paper for this one”.
The narrative on both sides of the border is often overplayed. Early on, I realised that separating the people of Pakistan and India from the news that we consume daily was important. Shivani came to a similar conclusion.
“I just took a step back to really evaluate what it meant to feel negatively about a land I had never seen, nor known and it made no sense to me.”
Thinking about the past will get us nowhere. Shivani doesn’t think it is her place to speak about a time that she wasn’t a part of.
She also says that she doesn’t feel the need to judge an individual on the basis of their geographical location, religion or any other such predisposition.
“The poem, and my stance on it, is about treating every individual you meet anew.”
Thinking of Pakistan and India and their frequent heated exchanges, I can’t help but think that there’s no respite when it comes to their relationship.
Shivani is optimistic but feels it will take time. So for now, I see it on a micro-level, one person at a time, around the world, opening up to one more person every day.
According to her, countries are what people make them. I promptly ask if her poem is a good step in helping people do just that.
Yes, she replied enthusiastically. I hope, and believe, that it is a step towards a more accepting and provoking perspective.”
She underscores the need for people on both sides of the border to stop blindly accepting whatever information is fed to them, the need to learn to form their own opinions and relationships, the need to learn to move on.
I asked her what sort of feedback she had received on the poem. Contrary to my original impression, I wasnt the only person who could relate to the poem with such intensity.
Shivani has been told by many people from both sides of the border that she had put into words something that they had felt all along that Indians and Pakistanis arent all too different.
I asked Shivani what she would have told the Pakistani girl if she were to meet her.
The question amused her. Clichéd for a writer, but I’m a total grammar Nazi, who’s also a little obsessive about things being clean but only post swine flu; yes, I had swine flu, she laughed.
I come across fairly intellectual to most people, but I’m actually really filmy secretly.”
As I carry on talking to her, I can’t help but marvel at how a small poem managed to move so many people.
This piece has brought me so much love and warmth from Pakistan that it really feels like I do know a lot of people there now. When I wrote this piece, I told myself that if it reaches even one person in Pakistan, that would be more than enough, she said.
If she ever drops by, Shivani plans to head to Lahore and Karachi she can’t wait to get her hands on the food in these two cities.
Safe to say, this conversation between the Indian and the Pakistan girl arent ending anytime soon. Dawn
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