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Love across the LOC

By Ajay Vishwanathan Email By Ajay Vishwanathan
July 2014
Love across the LOC

In the wake of the recent Narendra Modi-Nawaz Sharif meeting, Indo-Pak relations are a trending topic. Here’s a work of fiction that predates this unforeseen event by months, and yet is timeless in its prescription of love as a potent remedy for warring nations. Love Across Borders, a collection of short stories about relationships across the border is an optimistic anthology that affirms the power of common individuals to challenge the real and the virtual Line of Control between the two countries.

With the early summer winds lapping at our sweaty faces, we sat on the grass outside Fisher Hall on the Michigan Tech campus, exhausted after another session of cricket. In that circle were good friends, all students—Sri Lankans, Pakistanis, and Indians. The topic somehow veered towards how the Pakistanis felt about Indian cricketers, and about Indians in general. “The animosity is far less among the general public,” said Waqas, a Faisalabad native. According to him, the problem lay with politicians, bent upon milking the historical antipathy between the two nations. We shook our heads resignedly, laughed about it a little and went back to our game, back to hugging and high-fiving after a wicket or a six.

The conversation might have been brief but the impact it left on me was enormous. With a shared heritage, aspirations, and emotions like anyone else, aren’t we—Indians and Pakistanis—part of the same weft? And ever since I can remember, how hard our politicians and parochial groups have tried to make us feel and look different!

Love Across Borders is the acid that melts the clamps of hatred, the melody that relaxes the strain. A collection of short stories from ordinary lives, published last year on India’s Independence Day, it is a potent reminder that a mere string of words can gently untie the old tangles of spite and scorn.

Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, says that he has seen only a handful of people at the border trying to clear immigration and step to the other side. Stories, he notes, travel more easily. 

Talking about the inspiration behind Love Across Borders, Naheed Hassan, founder of Indireads, the publisher, explains, “Most narratives today about Indo-Pak relations hold the two nations back; they revolve around Partition and the subsequent wars between the two countries. The stories in this anthology are attempts to create newer narratives about modern-day India and Pakistan, celebrating the similarities between the people across borders.”

There are twelve stories in this collection, available free-of-cost as a civic initiative by Indireads (http://www.indireads.com/love-acrossborders-free-ebook/), in partnership with organizations interested in promoting cross-boundary understanding and dialogue. Hassan says they chose the medium of fiction because sometimes politically charged issues can be better addressed through an impersonal fictional account, even if based on true facts.

After decades of being battered with stories of loss and hatred between the countries, this healing attempt by Indireads is worthy of attention. One of the characters in this collection says, “It took one man’s stupid comments to break the alliance then.” True, words can certainly mar. The hope is that this collection of words reverses the damage, or at least begins to do so, spurs a slow thaw.

The political climate, thanks to the goodwill generated by the recent high-profile political meeting, seems ripe for such efforts. Perhaps the coming decades can tell different stories, ones of compromise and love that travel more easily across lands, deep and pertinent.

Ajay Vishwanathan lives in a world of viruses and words. He shows appreciation for one, and has an obsession for the other. A virologist with the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Ajay’s fiction and poetry have appeared in over ninety literary journals. Forthcoming (summer 2014) is his collection of short stories, From a Tilted Pail (Queen’s Ferry Press). To read more, visit www.ajayvishwanathan.com.

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