We connected on facebook. I was writing a book about the Sindhi community of India and looking for sources on the other side of the border, closer to Sindh than I could ever be. Rumana lived in Karachi and, like me, she was a writer and painter. As we got to know each other (virtually), I soon realised that our ideas and our life priorities were similar too. When I wrote to her, she would write back instantly, and every time I asked for advice, she responded with wholehearted generosity. In this matter I hold her as a role model.
Growing up, I must have been influenced by my mother’s emotional scars from Partition (which interrupted and ended her childhood) as well as the all-pervading fear and suspicion of a certain neighbouring enemy country. Setting out to visit Pakistan in February 2013, I felt a bit as if I was going on a trip to the moon: it was a rare and splendid opportunity, but also an expedition that required courage and tremendous fitness. Perhaps I would never return.
It was amazing to find that the intensity of love with which we had been received and surrounded made leaving Pakistan a wrench. To have friends like Rumana and others we bonded with, to know that we may never, ever see them again, was terrible. The parting pangs took me back to the desolation of early childhood boarding-school homesickness. Perhaps they arose from some kind of cellular memory of the Partition pangs my grandparents suffered.
I must say I’m grateful to facebook, one of the rare spaces on this planet where Indians and Pakistanis can mingle and smile and get to know each other and be friends, without the hostility of barbed wire and manipulative negative propaganda, and try to heal the wounds of grief and bloodshed inflicted through sources with ugly political motives.