From America to India to Pakistan with Love

As those of you who read here probably know, I generally reply to comments via private mail. The exception is when one of you writes something sufficiently provocative that – whether I agree with it or disagree with it – I think it deserves a thread of its own. RG has written one such comment to my recent post From India to Pakistan with Love.

For those of you who missed it, he’s what RG wrote:

WOW! You guys are truly amazing and incredibly inspirational. Kudos to you and the crew for such phenomenal efforts…

On a side note though, don’t you think it is rather unfair that people in India have to bear their hearts and soul to the world a la Gandhi policies and yes that seems the ‘right’ things to do but is it so humanly selfish to expect more hospitality and amicableness from the ‘other side’??Indians seem to bend over backwards to be all forgiving and accepting but not too many people seem to reciprocate? Shouldn’t there be awareness & education to that side too?? Isn’t it easy to enforce all this goodwill in an already accepting culture – wouldn’t a greater challenge be to try and mke a dent in the not-so accepting world?? Again, congrats on all the acheievement and my comment is in no way meant to undermine all that you have done.

I want to begin by thanking RG for his support for the Friends Without Borders project. It has met with universal enthusiasm, which buoys us, keeps us tilting at windmills, and is producing a buzz which none of us could ever have imagined.

I think RG has have a couple things wrong, though: one concerning the genesis of this project and the other concerning who is doing what on the Indian and Pakistani “sides.”

Let me start by saying that this project was not conceived by an Indian. It was conceived by John Silliphant, an American. This project is starting in India not because India claims any moral high-ground, but because our volunteer team is in India. If we were in Pakistan, the initial thrust of this campaign would be flowing in the other direction. If we were in Israel, the letters might be heading for Gaza or the West Bank.

I really cannot respond directly to the notion that “Indians seem to bend over backwards to be all forgiving and accepting.” It is simply not something I have observed. If it really happens, though, I think it’s a great attitude.

As for “the other side,” there is no other side; there are only children. Our project is not political. We are not trying to create instantaneous peace between two countries. Our campaign is about people – small people – not about countries, and not about sides. That’s the meaning of “without borders.”

Claiming that India consistently invokes the spirit of Gandhiji is a bit puzzling. For one thing, it is no small tragedy how little understood and how little respected his thought and life’s work is in his own country. Even though I travel in Gandhian circles and work with the kind of service people and activists who naturally embrace his teachings, I have met just as many people in India who despise Gandhi as who admire him.

The other dishonest aspect of claiming Gandhi for India, in contrast to Pakistan, is that Gandhiji spent his political and social life in the service of the people of both countries, and was deeply wounded by the partition. Indeed, he lived only a few short months after the creation of Pakistan, and by that time had essentially retired from public life.

The Friends Without Borders has given the children of India and Pakistan to opportunity to extend hands in friendship. I would hope that India would feel blessed, not burdened, to have been given the chance to open the innings.

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