Like so many others, I was overwhelmed with emotion when watching the recently released Google advertisement, “Reunion”, which depicts the intense feelings still experienced as a result of Partition. I thought immediately of my father-in-law’s fondly recounted tales of childhood friends from Agra, whom he had had to leave behind when the family migrated to Karachi. How ironic that this ad was released just before Jawaharlal Nehru’s birthday (November 14). Did he know that the “tryst with destiny” he spoke about 66 years ago would condemn millions of Indians and Pakistanis to being cut off from their loved ones and birthplaces for years to come?
While the advertisement was beautifully produced and incredibly touching, my sadness was mixed with anger as I thought about the fantasy world of India-Pakistan travel that this Google ad perpetuates. If only it were so simple to google “India visa requirements”, get a visa so quickly, and show up at our loved ones’ door for a birthday surprise. If only our parents and grandparents could visit their birthplace, school or childhood sweet shop. If only I could have taken my spouse — who was born in Pakistan — to meet my family, who live in India, just after our wedding here in the United States. A custom so dear to immigrant communities was sadly not possible for us because of the reality of India-Pakistan travel, far from the imagined reality that Google portrays.
The reality is that it is extremely difficult for Pakistanis to get visas to visit India. Currently, even if they get a visa, they are allowed only one month under the regulations, and the visa is restricted to certain Indian cities. The reality is that it is vastly easier and quicker for an American with no familial or historical ties to the subcontinent to receive an Indian visa than people who were born in India themselves.The revised regulations, under an agreement between the two countries on September 8, 2012, state that Pakistanis will be allowed to visit up to five Indian cities. But my spouse’s application for four cities was rejected and only three were permitted in reality. Yes, my spouse has visited India, and I have gone to Pakistan. We’ve had extremely lovely visits and treasure the limited time with each other’s families every time. We do this even though we are treated like criminals by the government authorities, endure gruelling