Dialogue without Borders

by Disha Parekh (India)

Making a local connection Sweden

I detest taking decisions where I have to pick one thing among several options. But owing to the shortage of currency I chose the elk embossed bookmark over embroidered oven gloves, in a quaint vintage souvenir shop in downtown Stockholm. I was still contemplating my decision, when the old man behind the counter broke the noise in my head and the silence in his shop, “Do you speak Hindi?” I gave him a gentle nod and a confused smile. Accidently meeting your countrymen in a foreign land is as relieving as seeing your luggage arrive at the conveyer belt. Each of us has experienced the same journey but differently, yet there is always the comfort in familiarity. I asked which part of the country he was from but his answer took me by surprise; “I live in a small neighborhood in Upplands Väsby, with my wife”. I wondered if I should ask if he had been to India lately since he hadn’t quite comprehended my question. It was uncomfortable, knowing that he was aware of my confusion. He held out his hand and said, “My ancestors lived in Peshawar”. Originally from Peshawar, Pakistan, he moved to Stockholm 45 years back and had little memory of the place of his origin. His decision to move to this cold, dark land which spoke a language he didn’t understand was a result of economic instability in the 1970s. Trying not to offend him, I asked if he missed home. He looked up from his phone with a wide smile and said, "This is home”. If my ancestors’ birthplace defines my origins, then how many years should I go back to? And who gets to decide that? Don’t we all have the same ancestors?” Even though his tone was meek, the questions he asked made me uncomfortable. The glint in his eyes and a warm smile told me, that he was happy with his decision. With a soft calm voice he said “it was tough, but I’d rather live in darkness than in the dark”. I looked at him with awe, wondering if the oven gloves would go with my kitchen apron.