They were only seven when they became friends. They played together, laughed together, went to school together, and couldn’t live without each other.
Years went by, Areeba and Palwasha became inseparable. However, with her 15th birthday approaching, Areeba noticed a change in her family’s attitude towards Palwasha. She became aware of the cultural differences between them. Often, she would hear elders talk poorly of the other’s cultures, customs and traditions. They criticised the way others led their lives, made fun of how they spoke, or showed disgust for their cuisines. They kept pointing out negative aspects and constantly judged them.
Areeba never liked that. To her, Palwasha was a loyal and loving friend. And Areeba knew that Palwasha felt the same way. Though she tried ignoring her elders’ opinion, she felt confused. She was curious for an answer.
Areeba desperately wanted to share her recent feelings with Palwasha. “But how will I tell her! And what will she think? I can’t do it.” She thought, fearing that it may ruin the bond between them. Days went by, and she saw the attitudes become stranger.
So, one day, she mustered courage and went to her father. “Baba, why does everybody in the house criticise our friendship all the time?”
“My dear, Palwasha is different from us,” her father replied.
“But how are they different, baba? They are Pakistani just like us.”
She was right. They all belonged to one nation. They all had one identity.
“They are of different ethnicity. There’s no way we can mingle with them.”
“What do you mean, Baba? I don’t understand!”
Her father felt uneasy. “My dear, as you grow up, you will understand the difference between the values we hold and the lifestyles we lead. The way we celebrate and the things we celebrate. These things matter, and this is how it is.” He was clearly unsettled by her questions. Nostalgia hit him, almost out of nowhere. Memories of when he was a kid just like her, curious about the same issue. There was no one to guide him back then, and he was brainwashed into hating people who were different – in any way.
“This is wrong, Baba. Just because this is how it is, does not mean this is how it should be!”
He could not speak. For a moment, which felt like ages, he remained frozen. Staring far into nothing, old memories took over, thinking how wrong he had been all along. How he had judged his fellow Pakistani brothers based on racial prejudices, colour of skin, and difference of ethnicity. And worst, the terrible mistake he had made by passing the negative sentiment to his child. The next generation. The future of this nation. He looked at Areeba, feeling proud of her, and ashamed of himself. He silently listened to her: “Everybody is different, Baba. Whether we have the same skin or not. The key to love is in understanding and accepting.
“Baba, Palwasha is my sister. Despite the so-called differences, we love, respect and accept each other.”
He could do nothing but smile and warmly hug her.
By the students of Mass Communication, University of Karachi