Not That Far Apart

at 12:35 AM

I discovered geo-politics in my son's middle school cafeteria, all because of a school email. "International Potluck!" read the announcement. "Bring the food of your heritage!"

I scanned the list of countries represented. I saw my native India, but not Pakistan, though they were one country for centuries, partitioned only 63 years ago. Their cuisines remain mostly the same, usually described as "Indian-Pakistani."

I have always -- rightly or wrongly -- considered Indians and Pakistanis to be one pluralistic people, sharing culture, language, music and food. American media treats the countries completely differently: India is the global rising star; Pakistan is the land of extremists. Acquaintances ask me if marrying a Pakistani didn't require hurdling Romeo-and-Juliet-like obstacles.

"Well, we're both American," I say.

So I asked the school if I could host a Pakistani food table, so students would see there's more to Pakistan than militants. My husband pointed out that I wasn't Pakistani.

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"We're all Indo-Pak," I insisted.

So, I hauled my trays of food to my Pakistani table. The India table was clear across the cafeteria and in the opposite corner. The sheer distance between us worried me. Had we accidentally drawn political boundaries in a middle-school cafeteria, rejected our common heritage?

As students, parents and staff lined up to sample Pakistani food, the India table's contributors filed by, too, rounding out their plates of curry and rice with naan and kebab.

"They should have put us next to each other," I offered. One man laughed. "Yes! We are not that far apart!"

Next year, I thought, perhaps we could share one table, or at least adjacent tables. We were one people for centuries; we're not worlds apart now. As for my fellow Americans, I think I achieved my goal. "Look!' said a passing mother. "We've never seen a Pakistani table!"

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With a Perspective, I'm Sumbul Ali-Karamali.

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