I had a bizarre dream a few weeks ago. It did have a message but I’m still trying to figure it out.
The dream went like this…
I was standing at the border between India and Pakistan with some of my friends. We are not in our forties, but around the late twenties. We stood in a cave which is opening out facing Pakistan. We cannot see what’s behind us, and it’s dark inside the cave. The outside is sunny, a few trees at sight, which resembled high altitude evergreen trees. They were probably eucalyptus. There was no road leading out of the cave, there was just whitish dusty ground outside. We stood there to receive a bunch of Pakistani students who are coming for an educational exchange programme. Also, behind us, hidden in the cave were a few soldiers from the army, in case anything doesn’t go according to the plan. Some of us were cursing having to greet the students, but we were under clear instruction to make them feel welcome. Slowly a bunch of people emerged from the trees. They looked nervous, and shy, but just like any other person on the street. Through the dusty ground they approached us, and with each step, plumes of dust went up and covered their trousers. From their attire, it could be guessed that they come from lower to lower-middle-class families. Their nervousness and discomfort were palpable. The first guy who reached the cave entranced shook hand with one of my friends. My friend was definitely annoyed having to shake hands, but I kept on telling him to be more amiable. They shook hand but did not hug. The following handshakes were more friendly, with people exchanging greetings. When the first visitor reached me, I gave him a hug and welcomed him to India. One by one, the visitors were in the cave. The army guys stayed in their hiding as we passed through the cave and stepped out of its entrance on the other side.
It was a bright day and as if we were teleported into a university campus. We can tell that it was far away because the climate didn’t seem the same. The shyness of the visiting students was eased off as they were greeted by many students from the uni as they were passing by. I remember talking to one of the students about the challenges faced by the youth and the country try, and their anxiety on the volatility of politics. We didn’t spend much time as they were meant to be attending their exchange programme. Our duty was done, and we’d visit again to take them back to Pakistan at the end of their stay.
The month was over quickly. The students had an excellent time knowing other students, and participate in the coursework. It was time for us to take them back. Everything went according to the plan. We reached the entrance that leads to Pakistan and started bidding farewell. I told the visiting student who I spoke to in the university campus that we should have more exchanges like this, seeing this one was such a grand success.
As the farewell was over, the students were ready to go back. Just when they were about to leave the cave leading to Pakistan, some people ran towards the cave, wearing black shalwar and armed with rifles. They started firing at the cave as they entered. Then something strange happened. We stood right in the middle of this crossfire as the army men responded but as if we were transparent to both parties. The bullets went straight through us but nothing happened. The masked men carried on firing into the darkness of the cave, but the army fought them off. Most of them were gunned down, although it seemed that the army also lost some of the soldiers who were keeping guard. At one point, it felt as if all soldiers were down and two of the gunmen entered India. We felt crestfallen that our meet ended up in such a massacre. Suddenly, from the other side of the cave, two army men appeared and shot the last of the terrorists.
We breathed a sigh of relief. But the dream didn’t end there. As the news of this encounter spread, an angry mob appeared at the Indian end of the cave. They started throwing stones at us and swearing at the visiting students who were yet to go back. Again, we were impervious to the attacks and the shower of bricks and stones went through us. At this time, at the epicentre of this activity inside the cave, there was an eerie calmness. And the Pakistani student who I was talking to before, stood next to me and said: “This is the reason why, my brother, we will never be one again”. And they slowly went out of the cave, one by one.
When I thought about this dream over and over again I couldn’t find the main message from the dream. During that time, JNU and JMI students were involved in a standoff with the government, the police and the ABVP. In one such picket, a far-right activist fired at the students. The university in my dream was very much like JNU, a confluence of students from all walks of life and geography. Regarding the animosity from my friends towards the students when they arrived, was that the manifestation of seeing many friends trying to stand by the tyrant government and vilifying the protesting students? What about the scenes towards the end? Did the terrorists appear to confirm my distrust in Pakistan in the peace process? On the other hand, the mob and their stone shower was a reminder that in the new wave of nationalism, nothing better could be expected from the supporters of the present government other than salvo and posturing. Amid all the pandemonium one could feel the desperate desire to keep the dialogue happening between the two sides and maintain the friendship amongst the new generation despite the forces to disrupt the process were too many and too powerful.
On the other hand, I couldn’t stop thinking why were we all permeable to the bullets and the stones? Was it because I was seeing things far away from the ground reality? That we are harsh in criticising one faction but not so vociferous against the other? Our mind is complex and even during we’re asleep, it weaves its web of thoughts and we have dreams. Through this dream, where did my subconscious mind want to steer my conscious mind? I don’t really know the answer. But both minds are in unison in one verdict. That the subcontinent will bear, for centuries, the scars of partition.