Iram MohsinZarin (extreme left) and Iram (extreme right) with one of Iram’s students at Lahore Grammar School

Zarin Virji is the Principal of Universal High School, Malad East, Mumbai. She is also associated with the Education Today Society Tomorrow group at Initiatives of Change India.
Source: Friendships Across Borders | Zarin Virji

How do you become friends with someone? Can you apply cool logic to this process and say ‘I choose this person to be my friend because of the following factors…’?

I don’t think you can, at least I cannot. Friendship happens just like love does; often ‘in spite of’ rather than ‘because of’.

When you look back, you may be able to connect the dots, and say this is ‘how’ or ‘why’ you became friends with someone. Here is my attempt to understand my friendship with Iram Mohsin, an educator from Lahore.

The Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation (CDR), India and the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) had invited me for a two-day conference with educators and environmentalists from India and Pakistan in October 2013 in Mumbai. We were a group of about 40 representing Lahore, Karachi, Amritsar and Mumbai. As one who was always interested in getting to know people from our neighbouring country, I did make a conscious effort to get to know each one.

I use the word ‘effort’ because of my own nature. I am shy and reserved, not naturally gregarious with strangers. Besides discussions about the state of education in our countries, the women in the group bonded over shopping trips to and from the hotel. I was truly struck by the style and grace as well as the joie de vivre of the Pakistani women. With Munazzah, I bonded over a common love of books; Kaukab, the regal beauty, was both formidable and alluring; Sajida drew me to her with her warmth and effusive nature; Uzma impressed me with her dignified professionalism; Maheen and Maryam were idealistic young women ready to touch the stars; Beena was a woman of the world. And Iram? I did not particularly note anything except her shy smile.

After the conference when we returned to our busy lives, I was very happy that Kaukab and Uzma  sent their school’s entries for an art exhibition in our school. Iram and I got our students to become e-pals.

In January 2014, we were invited to go to Lahore and Karachi for further discussions. We were so happy to be reunited with our new friends. Both Kaukab and Iram made themselves available for our shopping expeditions. Sometimes, they had to make numerous trips to and from the shops. And then drive back a long distance to their homes. All this was done so generously and graciously that we were truly blown away by their care for us.

While in Lahore, I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with Iram. She and I often ended up sharing the seat on the bus as we travelled from one place to another. These journeys revealed Iram’s personality to me.

A good listener

Iram is a good listener, a deep thinker with a quiet sense of humour, and a genuinely caring individual. Slowly we began to share our hopes and fears; our dreams and doubts. I felt truly comfortable in her presence. One evening, she managed to take me to her school. Her relationship with her students confirmed what I already knew about her. It was a relationship of mutual respect wherein she was a true mentor to the young women under her care.

When we met for the next round of our talks in Amritsar, I really looked forward to seeing all my new friends, but especially Iram. Through the professional discussions, I also learnt about her efforts in contributing to a module on Responsible Citizenship for students of both our countries. I valued her observations and insights into our deliberations.

Although the project has reached its conclusion, we continue the process of student and teacher interaction through Skype. Such exchanges validate my belief that people to people contact is the only way forward for our countries. Not only on the professional level but also at a personal level, Iram and I have exchanged our thoughts and feelings over email.

I feel truly blessed to have had this opportunity thanks to CDR-LUMS, and wish that everyone could get to know someone from across the border! It completely changes one’s perception of the so called ‘other’.

Friendships Across Borders

Friendships Across Borders: Aao Dosti Karein is a peace education, story-sharing and social media initiative working to facilitate connections and collaborations between Indians and Pakistanis.
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Friendships Across Borders: Aao Dosti Karein is a member of The Alliance for a Safe World