Aditi Rao from Delhi, India, writes about her friend Sadiqa Sultan in Quetta, capital of Pakistan’s Balochistan province. This essay was originally posted by Friendships Across Borders: Aao Dosti Karein.
This lyric essay is dedicated to my friend, Sadiqa Ali Sultan, from Quetta in Pakistan. Sadiqa runs a community TV channel that seeks to be a voice of the Hazara community, and she is passionate about standing in solidarity with movements of non-violent resistance across the world. She and I met in December 2013 at CONTACT-South Asia, a training program in Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding, organized in Kathmandu by the School of International Training, Vermont.
In this one, you are sitting across from me in the hotel lobby, long after everyone else has gone to their rooms for the night. It is a cold Kathmandu night, and the
receptionist won’t turn the heater on for us because he claims he is out of matches. The heater does not need matches. He leaves, and we continue to talk. I want to move to a corner of the room, but you don’t want to give up the comfortable rexine sofa chairs in the middle of the room. You tell me they are warmer because we’ve been sitting in them for some time, and I laugh. I suppose corners mean less when there are no other people around.
As the night deepens, so does our conversation. You are talking animatedly, and your chadar slips. You fix it a few times, then get too engrossed in the conversation to bother any longer. I see, for the first time, how beautiful your hair is. I cannot help thinking of this as a metaphor for the intimacies our cultures only allow between women, the possibility of letting a covering slip.
We talk about men and marriage. We will return to this topic again in the days to come, more than once. You will be present in the moment that I discover love; I will name it to you before he and I even talk about it, and you will be more excited about this relationship than he or I are. But that will be later. Tonight, as we sink deeply onto these red rexine sofas, we are talking about you, about the past and the future, about your disappointments and your dreams. I am moved as I watch that covering slip too.
You and I come from different worlds. You tell me that I am too urban for your understanding — angrez ki aulaad, you like to call me. I admit to you how little I relate to your growing up among nine siblings, to your laying bricks, to your people’s genocide. I tell you about growing up with a single mother, and you tell me about your mother’s early death. You tell me how much you admire my struggle against disability, even tell me how you wish you could pledge your eyes to me. I tell you how much I respect your deft balancing between the contrasting worlds you inhabit: mera culture mere liye bahut important hai, you tell me, magar mein thodi international bhi hoon na. You ask me for courage, and I tell you that you are the most courageous person I know.
We snuggle into our shawls, gently rolling our shoulders that are stiff from the cold. From the corner of our eyes, we see a friend approach, and you are quick to resume the hijab. He sits on my sofa armrest for a bit, showing us a book we have all been curious about. After a few minutes, I tell him he came in just when you were at a cliffhanger in your story. He laughs, apologizes, leaves. Your eyes smile as you ask if it’s polite to ask someone to leave. I tell you he’s a close enough friend for it to be okay, and I know you are not convinced, but you smile and resume your story.
When we are back in our countries, Skyping across one of the world’s most contested borders, we greet each other in a common language. I introduce you to my mother. You tell me about your father’s sheep and the grounds they graze in. Suddenly, we long to be able to visit each-other’s homes. We are saddened by the difficulty of that visit, at least for now, at least until our countries learn to embrace each other. After we hang up, you leave me a Facebook message: “talking to you is talking to myself.” My eyes fill with tears as I think of all the borders you and I have crossed to discover ourselves in each other.
About the author: Aditi Rao is a writer, educator, and dreamer. She works in youth development and education for peace. She plays with words, clay, and dogs. She journals in three languages, calls New Delhi home, and lives everywhere she can. She has worked with Pravah in New Delhi, SEDEPAC and the Musculo Secreto in Mexico, or the Student Press Initiative at Columbia Teachers’ College and The Possibility Project in New York. Currently, she designs curriculum for the Gandhi Fellowship. Her first full-length collection of poetry, The Fingers Remember, will be released by Yoda Press in 2014.