Certain books make a review blogger proud of being one as they are getting undeterred access to the ARCs. The Other Side of the Divide is one such book.
The Other Side of the Divide by Sameer Arshad Khatlani
The book is based on the author Sameer Arshad Khatlani’s visit to Pakistan. The account begins with the familial pressures the author faced when he announced his trip to Pakistan and the obstacles he had to face based on those. Further, the author sketches his experiences one by one, day by day coupled with the historical basis of a different picture of Pakistan that we Indians never saw.
The historical anecdotes begin with the railway’s lines connecting India and Pakistan and how the commute was affected by the wars that happened in 1965 and 1971. We will be flabbergasted to know that a country like Pakistan which is portrayed in Bollywood and Hollywood movies as a country with dilapidated houses and pathetic living standards has highly qualified citizens and motorways that are more developed than our own quadrilateral highway. Speaking of Bollywood movies, the author gives a detailed account of the extent of the influence Bollywood has on Pakistanis and how the banishment of Bollywood movies post-war in Pakistan has affected their own movie industry. The author has backed up the information with a detailed account of the gross collection of Indian movies in comparison with Pakistani movies.
The connection between the citizens of Amritsar and Lahore is unbelievable. It leaves us wondering if we are the proverbial frog in the well. The memories of people about their ancestors and the cross-country visits to their relatives, portrayed in a movie will be brushed off as exaggeration for we are conditioned to believe that Pakistanis are a bunch of barbarians whose only intention is to finish India. To contradict this popular notion, the author has reinforced the integrity of a group of Pakistanis with the examples of top officials who admit that the 1965 war was a failure for Pakistan.
The book attempts to present a contemporary portrait of Pakistan-where prohibition remains only on paper and one of the biggest taxpayers is a Parsee-owned brewery-as a complicated and conflicted country suspended between tradition and modernity.
If you are someone who believes that Pakistan is a country that promotes only Muslims, you are being fooled. Danish Kumar, Pakistan’s first Hindu Army officer is just one example of how Hindus were not denied chances to come up in the ranks. Group Captain Cecil Choudhry’s(a catholic) rise in ranks and later fall after Zia-ul-Haq came to power is a worth adaptation into a thriller. Amit Barua, the Hindu journalist from India being tailed is a deviation from this reality though. Simultaneously we can see the author’s adventurous foray into the prohibited area (no-man’s land) and thereby his Visa Rule Violation but how he luckily went past it. The Valmiki Temple in Lahore is an unknown factor to me like thousand other factors.
A syncretic culture in Pakistan is something we could never imagine but this book changes everything. What is mentioned in the review are just minuscule parts of what we learn. The book provides us a plethora of information. The way we look at Pakistan will change forever. If in the future, I am asked about the best books I have read, this will definitely make the list.