By Luavut Zahid
11 March 2016
Dear girl from Pakistan,
I know it has taken me 69 long years but I
hope it is not too late for me to say,
Forget about what’s in the news,
Tell me, how was your day?
Lyrical and intense, Delhi-based slam poet
Shivani Gupta's poem, ‘Dear Girl from Pakistan, is a tour de force. Starting
with greetings, it dives right into one powerful verse after the other.
In the poem, she speaks to a nameless
Pakistani girl, telling her that she's sorry for missed opportunities to
interact and communicate.
She tells the story of the buses that run
empty between India and Pakistan; to the movies and songs that must run through
both her heart and that of the ‘girl from Pakistan’.
With each verse, her words hang heavy in
the air, marking their place in my heart.
I’m sorry. I am sorry that without so
much as a second thought,
I say the words your country and my
And all that’s left that is ours is a
I am sorry that even my pronouns are
Obsessive with a need to demarcate
I have a confession,
I wish I knew you better
Her words echoed my sentiments. I had to
find her — to ask her some of my own questions.
A common friend helped me connect with
Shivani through social media. I was expecting to interact with a poetry buff
but found in her a psychologist, researcher and a performance artist.
The first thing I unreservedly blurted out
was that I loved her poem and she replied,
She, however, acknowledges that it's a
start, leaving me amazed by how often a lot of what she says gushes out
effortlessly as poetry.
Shivani began writing when she was 13 and
has been performing poetry since 2014. 'Dear Girl from Pakistan' came to her
when she was studying in Scotland a couple of years ago, where she had a group
of friends from diverse backgrounds.
Everyone, she says, was moved by the same
things, laughing at jokes that meant something to each of them, but somehow
seemed funny collectively too. It was there that she felt how petty the
difference between India and Pakistan is.
After that realisation, she walked home,
feeling lighter than she had felt in a long, long time. In her own words, she
ended up typing out the first few lines of the poem on her phone because she
"literally couldn't wait to get pen to paper for this one".
The narrative on both sides of the border
is often overplayed. Early on, I realised that separating the people of
Pakistan and India from the news that we consume daily was important. Shivani
came to a similar conclusion.
Thinking about the past will get us
nowhere. Shivani doesn't think it is her place to speak about a time that she
wasn't a part of.
She also says that she doesn't feel the
need to judge an individual on the basis of their geographical location,
religion or any other such predisposition.
"The poem, and my stance on it, is
about treating every individual you meet anew."
Thinking of Pakistan and India and their
frequent heated exchanges, I can't help but think that there's no respite when
it comes to their relationship.
Shivani is optimistic but feels it will
take time. “So for now, I see it on a micro-level, one person at a time, around
the world, opening up to one more person every day.”
According to her, countries are what people
make them. I promptly ask if her poem is a good step in helping people does
“Yes,” she replied enthusiastically. “I
hope, and believe, that it is a step towards a more accepting and provoking
She underscores the need for people on both
sides of the border to stop blindly accepting whatever information is fed to
them, the need to learn to form their own opinions and relationships, the need
to learn to move on.
I asked her what sort of feedback she had
received on the poem. Contrary to my original impression, I wasn’t the only
person who could relate to the poem with such intensity.
Shivani has been told by many people from
both sides of the border that she had put into words something that they had
felt all along — that Indians and Pakistanis aren’t all too different.
I asked Shivani what she would have told
the Pakistani girl if she were to meet her.
The question amused her. “Clichéd for a
writer, but I'm a total grammar Nazi, who's also a little obsessive about
things being clean — but only post swine flu; yes, I had swine flu,” she
“I come across fairly intellectual to most
people, but I'm actually really filmy secretly."
As I carry on talking to her, I can't help
but marvel at how a small poem managed to move so many people.
“This piece has brought me so much love and
warmth from Pakistan that it really feels like I do know a lot of people there
now. When I wrote this piece, I told myself that if it reaches even one person
in Pakistan, that would be more than enough,” she said.
If she ever drops by, Shivani plans to head
to Lahore and Karachi — she can't wait to get her hands on the food in these
Safe to say, this conversation between the
Indian and the Pakistan girl isn’t ending anytime soon.
Luavut Zahid is a Lahore-based journalist. She is the co-founder of
Khabaristan Times for which she writes satire pieces, and covers social and
environmental issues for other publications when she's feeling more serious.
She's also part of the Digital Rights Foundation family.