By Wahid Khan
06 April, 2016
I sometimes imagine what it would be like to belong to another religion in Pakistan. Would I own it, would I prefer it?
I was ecstatic when news of a public holiday on Holi in Sindh broke. However small, I thought it was an excellent way to demonstrate that you value all the citizens of your country equally.
And so, as a member of the Pakistan-US Alumni Network (PUAN), I, along with some other members, decided to celebrate Holi this year with some of our friends from the Pakistani Hindu community.
Keen to share in their happiness, we began to search for venues and ended up celebrating Holi at a church!
Stepping inside the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Karachi, I saw bright beautiful hues of pink, yellow and green in the air around me.
Under this vibrant sky, Muslims, Hindus and Christians doused each other’s smiling faces with colour. It filled me with an unqualified joy, the kind you feel upon returning home from a long, tiring trip.
After a day filled with love and laughter and a lot of colour, as we were leaving, I decided to carry out a social experiment on my incredible experience.
Drenched in colour, I took a public bus on my way back home to see people’s reactions.
Sure enough, many approached me, thinking I was a Hindu and began conversing with me about “my community”. I had several long and engaging chats with the people I met on the bus and on the roads of Karachi.
Subsequently, I posted about my experience on my Facebook profile:
I was coming from a Holi celebration and I decided to take a public bus despite the arguments of friends that I should just take a rickshaw because people might react to the fact that I was all in colours. I wanted to see people’s reaction and more than that, I wanted to use public space to celebrate diversity and to let people think about it.
I came across many people, and everyone perceived that I am a Hindu and told me how they know “people of my community”. Here is my favourite conversation on the bus, with the man who was sitting next to me:
Uncle: (sympathetically) Why are you working at such a young age?
Me: Sorry, what do you mean?
Uncle: You are a colour worker, right?
Me: (I laughed) No uncle, actually I am coming from a Holi celebration.
Uncle: Oh, Hindu brother?
Me: No, I am from a Muslim family.
Uncle: What? So you celebrated Holi? And were the rest of them Muslims as well?
Me: Yes, and some of our friends were Hindus and we celebrated Holi in a church.
Uncle: But beta, you are a Muslim, and…
(A second man sitting on the seat behind us interrupted): Oh bhai, if colours bring these kids together and they can celebrate it together, why do you have to bring in religion? That’s a great thing.
Uncle: Well, we were raised on the concept that Hindus and Muslims cannot be together.
(The second man shakes his head)
Me: That is where everything went wrong. Happy Holi!
Uncle paused and then laughed.
This small gesture of acceptance made me feel genuinely happy.
The next day, the post went viral.
I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least; it was consequently picked up by several publications in Pakistan, as well as across the border, including India Times and the Indian Express. It reached 25,000 people through my personal Facebook post alone, and was further reposted on various pages.
I have been inundated with messages since from people across the world, appreciating me and hoping for the chance of a similar experience. So many Hindu friends from India reached out, telling me how they would now emulate my example and celebrate Eid with their Muslim friends.
It struck me then, people are just plain tired of hate.
How long can we hate for?
How long until we figure out the misunderstandings that exist among different religions and nations? Something’s gotta give, eventually.
Take a look: Why a public holiday on Holi isn’t enough
It doesn’t cease to amaze me how many in Pakistan consider Holi to be an exclusively Indian festival. Prior to partition, 48 per cent of Karachi’s population was Hindu, as a result of which Holi was celebrated by all and with great zeal until a few decades ago.
I made the decision of celebrating Holi and sharing my experience with the world because I want to accept the diversity of religions in Pakistan. I want to live more fully within the communities that surround me.
And judging by the reactions to my post, I’m assuming there are a lot of people like me in India and Pakistan who want the same.
Here’s hoping that more Indians and Pakistanis partake in celebrating festivals of different religions within their countries to promote tolerance.
I urge everyone to read the texts of our great poets and writers like Manto, Bulleh Shah, Ayesha Jalal and Vazira Zemindar, among a few, to understand that we have co-existed in peace, that it was colonialism that tore us apart, that we still can co-exist in peace.
I was compelled to carry out this social experiment because I felt it was necessary for the well being of the society I live in.
And if a single Facebook post can bring so many of us together, it just goes to show we’re not that far apart after all.