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Popular Culture Crosses the LoC

May 2005
Popular Culture Crosses the LoC

The Line of Control that divides India and Pakistan in the Kashmir region has been increasingly symbolic of the political sparring between the two countries. Yet, the LoC is no deterrent to the cross border cultural infusion that it simply can't control.


When I initially came to the U.S. as a student from India, my first friend here was, ironically enough, a Pakistani student. It was ironic because, while growing up in our respective countries, Salim and I would have regarded each other with deep mistrust. After all, in a turbulent relationship since partition, spanning over five decades, there have been three wars and, most recently, a fierce showdown in the Kargil region that could arguably have turned into a nuclear conflict.

Like countless other children in these two nations, which together account for a fifth of the world's population, my friend and I had been raised to believe that our most implacable enemies lived just across the border. Nevertheless, as new arrivals in such a distant and different country as the States, we instantly bonded and ? to our delight ? found that we actually had a lot in common. It's an experience that, needless to say, has been duplicated numerous times among Indian and Pakistani immigrants in North America.

Not surprisingly, the same commonality in culture seems to be infusing the people of both the countries. This is most apparent when it comes to two of the biggest passions of the subcontinent ? Bollywood films and cricket. The Internet, satellite TV and cell phones, among other factors like the sizeable Indo-Pak diaspora in the West, have helped penetrate barriers and reshape perceptions in both countries as never before. Despite an official ban, for instance, Indian TV programs and movies are enormously popular in Pakistan, where pirated DVDs are widely available. A telling sign is that millions of phone users in Pakistan use Bollywood melodies as their ring tones.

This cultural flow, it should be pointed out, is a two-way street.

Several Pakistani musicians, writers and artists have attracted attention in India. Artists such as the Late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and the current sensation, Adnan Sami, both Pakistani, have a huge following not only in India, but also in the global desi diaspora.

More recently, a famous Pakistani actress, Meera, caused a sensation in both countries when she broke a long-held taboo and kissed her Indian co-star in a yet-to-be-released Bollywood film. Although it did generate controversy in certain quarters, the symbolism of this cinematic embrace can hardly be dismissed.

What's also worth noting is that newer movies, having moved away from jingoistic themes, increasingly show the other side in a more realistic and even favorable light. The blockbuster Veer-Zaara, for example, dwells on a romance between an Indian Air Force pilot and a Pakistani woman. In another Bollywood movie, an Indian Army officer combats militants from his own country when they try to scuttle peace negotiations with Pakistan.

As an acknowledgement of this warm up amongst the masses across both sides, The Times of India started a matrimonial column (LoC) that facilitates cross-border matchmaking. Appropriately, their version of the acronym stands for ?Love Over Country'!

Cricket in the subcontinent, like the English language and railways, is an enduring legacy of the British Raj. Last year, after a gap of fourteen years, the Indian cricket team went to Pakistan for a series that had a wide and enthusiastic following; and just recently, the Pakistani team concluded a successful tour in India.

Yet another positive sign these days is that travel restrictions between the nations are being eased. In 2004, when the BJP was still in power, the aptly named Samjhauta (friendship) Express reestablished rail links between India and Pakistan. And now, in a dramatic turn of events, a trans-Kashmir bus service has been resumed with much fanfare after a gap of fifty-eight years. It's true that incidents such as the brazen attack prior to the bus journey, or controversial policies like the Bush Administration's canny strategy in South Asia, will continue to pose challenges on the road of progress. But in all likelihood, these and other ? even nastier ? potholes will merely act as speed bumps on this trend which has a natural pull in its favor.

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