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Lost and Found

Lost and Found
A Tale of Renewed Friendship

Contributed by:
Nidhi Shendurnikar Tere
The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda

To Love Across Borders - An E-book published from Canada by IndiReads on the eve of independence days of India and Pakistan in 2013

Dilip did not know how to use Facebook. His grandchildren mocked him for not keeping pace with time and technology. Reluctantly, he opened an account and despite his initial fear and apprehension, was hooked instantly.
Retired, he now spent the better part of his day surfing the net, connecting and chatting with an ever-increasing circle of friends. Within a few months he had found far-flung cousins and had established contact with long-lost friends. But there was one who eluded him and each day, as soon as he logged in, he would trawl different networks looking for this one particular friend.
“Who are you looking for Dada-ji?” asked his teenage grandson Rohan.
“A friend.”
And the search continued.

Dilip sat in the garden with his cup of tea and thought back to his college days in the US. Although forty years had passed, if he closed his eyes, he could recall them clearly. He could see himself, on his first day on the campus of the University of Iowa, surrounded by blond Americans, feeling awkward, alone and very far from home. He had been delighted to catch sight of a familiar face and immediately approached him.
“Hi, I’m Dilip.” And in a bid to place the tall, clear-cut features looking back at him, “which part of India are you from?”
“Pervez. And actually, I’m from Pakistan,” came the reply. “And I guess we used to be part of India once,” was added with a smile.
Dilip stepped back. It was 1971 and the two countries were on the brink of war. He was not sure how he could be friends with the enemy. Alone and in a minority of one, he found himself feeling more Indian than ever before.
However, on the small campus they were fated to meet everyday, in classes, at the cafeteria and even ended up in the same dorm. In one class they ended up working in the same group, making interaction unavoidable. The South Asians, a small minority and all homesick, banded into a tight-knit group, and none became closer than Pervez and Dilip.
The two became inseparable and did everything together. Studying hard, partying hard, wooing long-legged girls in short skirts, experimenting with the ‘happy’ drugs so freely available on American campuses in the 70’s, all that and more. Their dinner parties were legendary, Pervez would produce blisteringly hot curries and rich, cardamom scented biryanis while music was provided by Dilip, the Hindi film aficionado.

And when their money ran out, which was usually towards the middle of the month, it was Dilip’s daal and rice that they would survive on till the next money-order came, along with letters from their families. They would both call home once a month and over the years, their families grew used to hearing the other on the phone. Not once during the four years did they go home. It simply wasn’t done back then. And neither they, nor their families could afford it. Instead, they spent their summers working to supplement their money-orders, flirting with girls and singing songs in the warm summer nights.

And then, in their last summer together, the two of them bought a battered old Ford with their pooled savings and set off on a road trip across America. And America, as yet innocent of foreigners, welcomed them with open arms. Their modus operandi was to find a familiar surname in the phone directory, call and introduce themselves. More often than not, homesick Indians and Pakistanis living in small towns would invite them home, feed them and give them a place to spend the night. Dilip smiled, he would never forget that road-trip.
At last, after a graduation ceremony they attended by themselves, they packed their bags and booked their tickets.
“Pervez, you better stay in touch and write. I know you - you’re useless without me. You wouldn’t even have written once to your parents if I hadn’t made you.” Dilip had known better than to trust his charming, but feckless friend.
“Of course I’ll stay in touch yaar. And you better not forget to invite me to India,” Pervez had said as he hugged him goodbye.

The two of them actually had managed to keep contact until their professional and social lives engulfed them. Family and work got in the way of the occasional letters and calls. Dilip then moved to Delhi and eventually settled there. As the years passed by, occasionally Dilip would catch himself remembering his old friend, but time had marched by. And now, when he had all the time in the world, he did not know where in the world his old friend was.
“You’re doing it again. Who do you keep looking for?” Rohan asked him again one day, finding him searching again.
“A friend.”
“Where does your friend live?”
Dilip was quiet for a moment. “Somewhere in Pakistan. I am not sure though.” It sounded odd not to know where to look.
“Pakistan! You have a friend in Pakistan?”
“Papa, Mummy did you know this? Dada-ji has a friend in Pakistan,” he called to his parents incredulously.
Dilip, wasn’t surprised. Years of indoctrination through the history books and media and the lack of personal contact had left the youth of both countries believing they could never be friends. Not much had changed since 1971.
As a child, Dilip’s son had heard stories of his father’s friend but Meeta, his daughter-in-law, was also surprised. Dilip told Rohan and her about how he met Pervez, how they became friends and then lost touch. And now that he had discovered the internet, how he had begun searching for his long-lost friend.
“Let’s find your friend,” Rohan said enthusiastically.
“Is that possible?” After months of searching, Dilip was doubtful.
“Difficult, but nothing is impossible,” Rohan grinned with the confidence of the young.
Over the next few days, Rohan hooked Dilip up to every social networking site possible - Twitter, Google Plus, Facebook, My Space, Orkut. Dilip felt a bit overwhelmed - he didn’t know there were so many sites. But even Rohan, the networking expert, was having trouble in finding a Pakistani who could help them connect with a bigger network. Dilip reflected a little sadly to himself on how the new generation, despite having incredible access to information and knowledge, still regarded their neighbours as aliens and had trouble connecting with them.

And then on the third day Dilip chanced upon a group of Indians and Pakistanis talking to each other virtually. There were petitions, posts and comments on a variety of issues relating to India and Pakistan. Interested, Dilip decided to explore the group. Suddenly a message caught his eye.
‘I am Pervez Iqbal from Karachi. Looking for a long-lost friend Dilip Sharma in India. Have no idea where he is now. His family moved from his family home in Sahranpur. We spent some wonderful days together in the US and he promised me that he would invite me to India one day. I am waiting Dilip. Get in touch with me. Your friend awaits you.’
Below the lines, was posted a picture of the two of them during their days in the US. An old, hazy picture which brought a flood of memories back to Dilip and a smile to his face.
“Rohan, I’ve found him. Come quickly. This is my friend,” Dilip shouted out, unable to contain his excitement.
Rohan came rushing out of his room.
“Is that him? Is that you in the picture with him? Dada-ji, you look so handsome!” Rohan laughed.
“Yes, that’s us,” Dilip fingered the picture forgetting the computer screen.
“What are you waiting for? Send him a message. Invite him like you promised you would.”
Without wasting a moment, Dilip wrote a message for his friend in the comments section.
‘Dear Pervez, your long-lost friend has found you and is going to fulfil his promise very soon. Very soon we will meet again and talk of our days, our times, when we did not connect virtually but ensured a place in each other’s heart. India and I are waiting for you. See you soon my dearest friend. Dilip.’

Six months later when Pervez visited India, he didn’t need to look for a familiar name in a phone book. He had an address and a place to stay that felt remarkably like his own.


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