After painstakingly filling out three personal essays, providing all of my social security information, and wheedling two letters of recommendation out of professors about how much they tolerate my presence in class, I was ready to submit my Critical Language Scholarship application! A ~fully-funded~ summer abroad through the Department of State, learning a critical employable language through immersion? That’s every Shut Up and Goer’s greatest fantasy.
I was applying to the Urdu program; since I am Pakistani and want to understand my parents when they gossip about me in front of my face, I was down to put myself through a South Asian summer, complete with boiling temperatures, the occasional monsoon, and left-hand traffic. I clicked the submit button and eagerly went to tell my parents that I had applied to show them that I was definitely making the effort to learn our native tongue. My mother was inquisitive. “Where is the Urdu program? Karachi? Lahore? Islamabad? Maybe you’ll know people in the area!”
“Mama, I haven’t gotten in yet! But, let me check.” I glanced at my laptop. “Oh! It’s in Lucknow, India! That’s a gorgeous city.”
Yeah, good luck with that, Samar. You’ll never get a visa to India.
My mother’s face looked like she just ate an unripe mango. “Yeah, good luck with that, Samar. You’ll never get a visa to India,” she snorted. I was nonplussed. As an American citizen, I was used to my blue-backed passport getting by customs like a golden ticket at a chocolate factory. Besides, some of my Pakistani cousins had been to India. Even my dad had made a foray into Hindustan in his youth. Why would I, an undergrad from New Jersey, be marked as a threat to national security? Is it because my face is THE BOMB? Okay, sorry. Please keep reading.
Ever since 2008, Pakistani-Americans have had a nearly impossible time getting an Indian visa due to a horrific terrorist attack that occurred in Mumbai, aided by a Pakistani-American named David Headley. This means that 50,000 other Pakistani-Americans and counting cannot go to the largest country in South Asia, despite the fact that they may have family ties, heirlooms, and memories just beyond the Indus river. All four of my grandparents were born in present-day India. In 1947, during the partition, they had to give up everything to get to the other side of the British-made border.
That’s the tea, sis. Or should I say, that’s the chai, sis.
Over dinner, I talked with my Pakistani cousin Misha, who recounted her recent and very magical trip to India. Visiting the famous pink city of Jaipur made her feel like a sultan – all that was missing was a magic carpet ride. Sullenly, I told her about my visa difficulties, and how my Pakistani citizenship would have to be renounced in order to go to India, which would make it very difficult for me to travel to Pakistan again. I couldn’t imagine being banned from Pakistan and missing the camel rides on the beach, the fluffy biryani, or the insane, movie-like weddings. Oh, and my entire close-knit extended family (I’m talking all 200 of them). Misha’s brow furrowed, “ – and with what’s going on between Pakistan and India right now, there is no way they’d give you a visa.”
What’s going on over there, you ask? Oh nothing, just the looming threat of nuclear war. Last week, “tit-for-tat airstrikes and an aerial dogfight” occurred along the Pakistani-Indian border for the first time since 1971. The main issue is Kashmir, a territory near the Himalayas that just wants to be left alone, but both India and Pakistan want it for themselves. As Trump so eloquently put it, “It is a very, very bad situation.”
A few downed aircrafts, an exaggerated airstrike, and a returned military pilot later, things are looking a little brighter. Imran Khan, Pakistan’s newest cricketer-turned Prime Minister is calling for peace talks, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, despite dealing with political elections next month in which he would benefit by taking a strong stance against Pakistan, may also take a diplomatic path. Most people in India and Pakistan do not want a war. Instead, they would prefer that their politicians deal with their domestic issues, like unemployment and poor infrastructure.
Still, the issue remains. I am a CLS finalist left without a visa and Kashmir is a territory left without a permanent solution to the crisis. And the funny thing is, these US government scholarships were created in order to help Americans “broker diplomatic solutions to foreign policy issues.” If only India would let me in, maybe I could use my language skills to bring people together. Not saying that I can save the world, but education and exposure (on both ends) is beneficial for everyone!
Sigh. Until then, catch me keeping up with the conflict while also shutting up and going somewhere that actually might give me a visa.
What language would you choose for the Critical Language Scholarship? Let us know in the comments below!