An actor’s sojourns the drama at borders – daily times chicken marinades for baked chicken

The world is full of hate and fear. We fear what is different from us, for that which is different, is what we hate. We always need an enemy, an ‘other’ to fight against and unify our ranks, to give meaning to our collective existence. Whether the enemy is the next door neigbour, or the next door country, that is our gift, and that is our curse.

I have been fortunate enough to visit india countless times. At school, everyone would ask me, “what are indians like?” are the hindus as horrible as they are portrayed?” “do the sikhs really stink? ” my generic answer would be, “they are our mirror image, minus the tilaks and turbans.”

I was a child then. I did not know much about the partition of our subcontinent and crossing the border was child’s play. You just show your passport (or a parent does it for you), they say “oh, ajoka!


The pakistani coolies hand over the luggage to indian coolies. And you were in india.Indian friends you had to pinch yourself to feel that you were in the dushman territory, among evil hindus and villainous sikhs. But they looked the same, they spoke the same language, they were as lively and as rude as our people.

Now whenever I hear of our armies skirmishing on the borders, whenever I hear of the repression in kashmir, the instinctive reaction of hate and anger is mollified by the valuable memories of when we, the children from across the border, played “border border”.

My favourite chips were ‘lays magic masala’, favourite drink was ‘limca’ and favourite shopping destination was connaught place in delhi. I travelled all over india, from dharamshala to goa.

The similarities I noted between people on our side and theirs included corrupt officials, frustrating bureaucracy, crude (dirty) jokes, nosy habits, freedom to pee anywhere and loudness. But also similar warmth, instant frankness, shrine culture, elaborate weddings and lust for fun.Indian friends we south asians are interesting people!

More than 15 years ago, ajoka children’s theatre and amritsar’s springdale school took part in a unique project. Children from pakistan and india got together to work on a theatre project called “border border”. A bunch of naughty 10-11 year olds, (me being the oldest and naughtiest), crossed the wagha-atari border. We were expecting that it would be like landing on mars as those on the other side were supposed to be so different.

I was the only one who had seen a live sikh before. My friends were shocked to see punjabi-speaking sikhs and hindus as bubbly and as cheeky as us. Our indian friends were equally surprised to see muslim kids without caps and without shalwar kameez. One kid asked “do women really wear jeans in pakistan?”, while another’s profound question was “I thought you all wore those jinnah caps!” yet another was surprised to find out that we had internet in pakistan.“border border” we all laughed at the absurdity of these perceptions.

During the workshop to develop the play, we all became good friends. I got on BFF terms with jatinder (a sikh) and rohit (a hindu). We gave a very tough time to the workshop conductor, harindner a ma’am, a loving and caring teacher and theatre trainer. The three of us would play havoc on the rest. We met families of our indian friends, stayed at their homes, stayed awake all night talking, eating and doing mischief. Rohit and jatinder were like my real brothers, my soul-mates.

Eating from those famous indian tiffin boxes felt a bit weird at first. Eating in steel plates, with tiny ‘chapatis’ and strange vegetable dishes was nothing less than an adventure. The spices were however the same. I was an avid meat lover and getting meat was rather difficult. I lived on the magic masala and limca for a while. Then I discovered “paneer”, which tastes very much like meat.“border border” delicious pieces of succulent cheese, either barbequed on their own or served with gravy, they tasted just like our chicken. And of course the spices were the same, even spicier.

The performance to be staged after the workshop was very well publicized. Newspapers, TV, posters, banners, it was the talk of the town. Many had not acted before, and were quite nervous before the show. But we were all guided well. The support of the audience was overwhelming. Most were seeing pakistanis for the first time, and they loved it. Thunderous applause, cheerful laughter, for a moment they also must have felt like kids. When we were to go back, it was a sad tearful scene, just like the rukhsati of punjabi weddings. There were tears, hugs and exchange of farewell cards. The departing was truly heart wrenching. To overcome that, I cracked some funny jokes and gave big hugs to my two soul-mates. But when I looked behind from the window of the “dosti bus, emotions overwhelmed me.Indian friends

We all kept in touch through mail (there was no facebook then!). Imagine our glee, when a year later we heard plans were being made on another set of performances, this time in pakistan. Having been staged in amritsar, delhi and chandigarh, this time the play was to be staged in lahore, islamabad and karachi. Our indian friends stayed over at our homes. I pleaded with my mother to let both jatinder and rohit stay in my room and she agreed. It was a moment of pure joy. Excitement, jubilation. Those were the days of pure joy, which I still fondly remember. I proudly showed them around, from anarkali to defence, the huge ‘lassi’ glasses and large cups of faluda-qulfi. They were quite surprised to see so many ‘big’ cars here. At that time india had an embargo, and mostly the famous local cars drove there. They were astonished to see lahore’s malls were bigger than indian malls and relished the famous pakistani non-veg dishes that they had heard so much about.Anger mollified they found pakistan was a big modern vibrant country, with great people, nothing like what was projected on indian media.

The performances everywhere won the hearts of the audiences. Finally the questions asked of me regarding indians were being answered in the best way possible; see for yourself. Some girls and boys fell in love with the trees, some with the ocean, and some with each other! Young love at its best.

It’s been well over a decade and a half now. We still keep in touch. Thanks to facebook, we see every day how everyone has grown up in whichever part of the world they are and whatever career they have chosen. One is a dentist in america; other is still studying while one runs his own business. I am proud of everyone, thankful for the memories and how they made me learn such important lessons in life. Now whenever I hear of our armies skirmishing on the borders, whenever I hear of the repression in kashmir, the instinctive reaction of hate and anger is mollified by the valuable memories, when we the children from across the border, played “border border”.Indian friends

The writer is a director/actor; and a core member of ajoka theatre pakistan. He has been involved in spreading awareness on socio-political issues through theatre