Wednesday, July 13, 2011
An Indo-Pak Wake Up Call
July 13, 2011
Palo Alto, CA
The buzzing sound was not a fly, or a bee. I struggled out of my sleep to realize the cell phone by the bed was vibrating incessantly. I reached over - it was a text from Mira, our daughter.
In a second I was awake, wide awake. The kind of awake that you forget after years of not having had a baby or toddler in the house. The cold, stone sober, I need all my wits about me, shockingly awake, kind of awake. Because for all my rhapsodies about these three weeks on my own and enjoying my life as a temporarily single person, one important part of me is missing when my family is gone. I'm not sure what organ it is - heart, or kidney, or lung, or which limb, but it is missing. And, I realize that it hurts, when I read: "Bomb blasts in Mumbai. Don't worry, Amma, I'm fine."
This comes 48 hours after a conversation with my husband, who is in Karachi, Pakistan, with his mom who is recovering from an illness. This past week Karachi had over 100 people die in political violence so grim that the army issued "Shoot at Sight" orders to bring the situation under control. Zuli said to me, "You know, the pressure against the military is mounting in Pakistan, the public is turning up the heat on them. It makes me nervous. This is exactly when they look to divert attention with a little action in either India or Afghanistan. I hope the next few days are peaceful." Zuli always is prescient - I wish he were wrong more often.
These events always weigh more heavily on our family, divided as it is between India and Pakistan across one of the most heavily militarized borders of the world. The immediate toll is miserable enough - the loss of innocent life, the gory injuries, the destruction of property and disruption of economic activity in the sub-continent's busiest commercial cities, the lack of knowing, the unease, the dismay and mourning. The next phase is usually a round of recriminations flying between heads of states and officials as they currently are between India and Pakistan. India blames Pakistan, Pakistan denies any role, and vice-versa. The feathers are ruffled, the pride games begin and within a few months both countries rachet up from mere rhetoric to taking steps that have real repercussions for families like ours that chose to bridge the chasms based on religion and nationality and whose kids are the living manifestation of multiple traditions, faiths, and nations.
This January, for example, India announced that no-one of Pakistani origin, regardless of whether they held a US or UK passport, would be entitled to a multiple entry visa to India. This was a step taken to "increase security" in the aftermath of the terrible 2009 Mumbai attacks made possible by the earlier surveillance visits of the now notorious American citizen, David Headley. So, our friends, Omar and Kamini, cannot go to India this summer as planned with their kids to visit Kamini's parents. Kamini is taking the girls, but Omar, a US citizen for over 20 years is not welcome in India. My husband, Zuli, whose parents, grandparents and generations of ancestors were all born in India, cannot ever hope to get a PIO (persons of Indian origin) card that entitles you to visa-less travel to India for 10 years. However, my brother in law, Carl Jenkins, who is an American from Virginia, got his PIO card this year because he is married to my youngest sister, Mallika. If you do manage to get a visa after speaking to the right folks, begging, pleading, intervening....then you learn about police registration. You can only go to 3 cities on your visit and in each city you spend a day at the main police station checking in and then checking out when you leave. It is one of the most frustrating experiences I have had in my years as an official Pakistani "bhabhi"! (the polite Urdu/Hindi word for sister-in-law by which the Pakistani intelligence refers to me). And, in India new laws to protect against terrorism now demand that once you leave India, you have to stay out of the country for 2 months, before you can come back again. And, when things get really bad, as they have every so often over the 28 years that Zuli and I have been together, it can mean war between two nations that were once one.
Not one of these frustrations or thoughts were in my mind as I grabbed the phone this morning. Just relief ...great sweeping waves of gratitude that this call was from someone I love and that she was safe in the midst of a larger tragedy. I looked for my skype signal and called her - although the phone lines to India were busy - skype worked. Mira's determinedly cheery voice floated through the internet, "hi, Amma, I'm fine. don't worry. the magic bus girls are fine. yes, really. really. I'm ok. Amma, calm down. I love you." I love you too, Mira. Be brave. Be safe. See you soon.