Sunshine story: This Modi bridges the gap between India and Pakistan

Mar 29, 2014, 09:53 IST | Kanika Sharma

Mumbai-based Chintan Girish Modi is a Modi of a different kind, who has started an online initiative where Indians and Pakistanis talk about their friendships, leading to an intimacy that dissolves borders

The shadow of Partition stills looms large in today’s politics. However, ignoring the highbrow talk of the boardrooms, humble folk of both the countries are taking it upon themselves to make inroads into each other’s hearts. After all, love conquers all.

Saaz Aggarwal from Pune with her friend Rumana Husain from Karachi
Saaz Aggarwal from Pune with her friend Rumana Husain from Karachi

Fuelling this desire, social activist and writer, Mumbai-based Chintan Girish Modi has launched Friendships Across Borders: Aao Dosti Karein, a unique initiative that leverages the power of World Wide Web, a virtual reality of the times that has no borders to restrict people.

Modi also conducts workshops in schools, colleges and universities
Modi also conducts workshops in schools, colleges and universities

The initiative went online on Valentine’s Day and is redefining valentine as people take to narrating their real-life events, “Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, Indians and Pakistanis are now able to talk to real individuals, instead of being informed only by the stereotypes circulated through history textbooks, media reports and political rhetoric.

I have been to Pakistan twice, and it feels empowering to know that I can stay connected with them online. There are some who I’ve never met but we’ve had rich, moving, meaningful conversations online,” said Modi.

Antidote to hate
As opposed to hate groups and disconcerting occurrences such as the recent violence towards Kashmiri students for allegedly supporting the Pakistani team, Modi has taken it upon himself to sensitise the youth.

Aao Dosti Karein founder Chintan Girish Modi
Aao Dosti Karein founder
Chintan Girish Modi

“There is this thirst to engage with the other. I wanted to build on that. There is great value in personal friendships and can help a great deal in terms of helping people overcoming prejudices,” remarks the St Xavier’s College graduate. All one needs to do is share a story about their friend across the border on the popular social networking site.

Eight stories have been shared until now where the writers have come from all sorts of backgrounds — entrepreneur, consultant, humour columnist and financial transaction advisor.

Having launched the idea single-handedly yet supported by Citizens Archive of Pakistan, Roots 2 Routes, Aman Ki Asha, The Red Elephant Foundation and innumerable other organisations of the same nature, we asked if there is a print version anticipated.

“One friend in Delhi has volunteered to help set up a blog. Another friend in Lahore has offered to translate the stories into Urdu and Punjabi. Bengali translations are also in the pipeline,” informs Modi who has won several fellowships including one from Foundation for Universal Responsibility of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Modi has also made it a point to conduct workshops in schools, colleges and universities. He tells us that a book would be ideal later, but when we pose what is the culminating point of this initiative, he concludes, “as long as it is needed.”

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How does it work?
“The stories typically cover questions or topics such as: How did they get to know each other? How do they continue their friendship in a scenario where it is difficult for them to travel to each other’s countries? How has their friendship grown over time? What does this friendship mean to them in the context of the hostility between India and Pakistan?

Has this friendship helped them see things differently? Have they faced any particular challenges? The people who write need not be professional writers. I offer them help with editing. Once the piece is revised and finalised, it is published on the Friendships Across Borders: Aao Dosti Karein Facebook page,” says Chintan Girish Modi, founder of the initiative.

The story of Amey and Saim
Modi speaks of Saim Saeed, a journalist with Express Tribune, Karachi: “He is one of those rare Pakistanis who had the opportunity to study in India. The story he wrote is about his friendship with Amey Charnalia, an Indian who studied at the same place. Saim writes, ‘When he (Amey) would drink too much, I’d change his sheets and put him to bed. He would cook me food, buy me a drink and pat me on the back when I’d be going through many a relationship crisis.

We fought over a poster of Hanuman in the room. I bought it and put it up ironically; he didn’t appreciate the irony... I took part in the complex, long-winded rituals of Diwali... we ate beef and bacon together. The transgression wasn’t the India-Pakistan friendship; it was the crossing of the lines we were too afraid to do on our own. To admit to ourselves that neither of us cared very much for Kashmir, that neither of us were particularly religious, patriotic, or good at cricket. That we ceased to be what we were supposed to be was the transgression and the salvation.”

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