It was my second day at the local language school here in Germany and I was eagerly looking forward to mastering the basics of the country’s language. The classroom was large and bright, with huge French windows ushering in warm rays of sun on a chilly, winter morning. The students were seated in a U-shaped configuration - no front benchers and back benchers, no slackers or pranksters. Everybody was in the plain sight of our Lehrerin (teacher). The class numbered 19 till yesterday. Our classroom resembled a mini UN assembly meeting, so cosmopolitan was the mix of students. After our formal self introduction session, I had determined that between the 19 of us, we represented 17 different nationalities. We had Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, Kazakhstan, USA, Morocco, Russia, Macedonia, Lithuania, Belize, Iraq, Brazil, UK, Spain, Turkey, Portugal and of course India. But today we had a new student. She knocked on the door, walked in and nervously greeted the class in a timid voice. She appeared to be in her late thirties and sat at the opposite end from me. My Iraqi neighbour to the right leaned in and asked if I was familiar with the garb our new classmate had donned. I told her I was not. The seat to my left was empty. Soon our Lehrerin waltzed in and took the roll call. When she noticed the new student she asked us to introduce ourselves to her in German. When we were done, the girl introduced herself, “Hallo, Ich heisse Farhat und ich komme aus Pakistan”. For a second I lost my balance, after all I had never met a Pakistani before. Around 15 years ago my sister had a pen pal from Pakistan and that was as close as I had ever got to one.
Given the long standing feud over borders, one never knows what sentiments to hold for our “neighbours”. I, for one, had been unable to take a stand until that eventful day. I am quite liberal in many ways. I don’t care for race, religion, age, sexual orientation, political leanings or any other forms of personal beliefs. But due to the ever-super-charged atmosphere between India and Pakistan, I did know how to break the ice or where the boundary was. So you could imagine my surprise when Farhat walked over to my end of the table and seated herself to my left. I managed a charming smile when she immediately broke into full conversation, “Oh, so you are from India! Very nice to meet you. Where are you staying, why are you here, how long will you be staying, do you like it here, do you speak Urdu, where does your husband work, do you have children” - the questioning went on. I was delighted to answer all her questions because I suspected I had a friend in the making. She had just shown me how easily border disputes could be swept into oblivion.
Just a few weeks later, she invited my husband and I to her beautiful home. She is a marvellous cook. Her biryani and kebabs were scrumptious. Her husband is a warm person who fondly recalls how well he was treated by his Indian host when he visited Delhi in 1996. And her children have been brought up with good values and morals and are a credit to her job as a mother. When my relatives visited us here in Germany, she also invited them to her house and treated us to the best Rasmalai we had ever eaten. Since then, we have visited each other’s homes on several occasions. Some friendships are destined to live forever. It has been a year since Farhat reminded me that, international boundary lines apart, we are all in essence pretty much the same.