Pakistani expatriate Mohammad Akbar’s identity stretches from Karachi to Kerala.
He holds a Pakistani passport, but in his heart he is a Keralite. And there is no line of control dividing his affinity between India and Pakistan.
“You can call me a Pakistani Keralite. I was born in Karachi, but my parents are from Kerala and we grew up speaking Malayalam,” the father of eight, told XPRESS.
The 58-year-old electrician from Al Ain says his biggest wish is to visit his native village Ponnani in Kerala.
He and his wife Fathima Suhara, 52, who was also born to Malayalee migrants in Pakistan, are hoping Indian authorities will issue them a visit visa. “I want to pray at my grandfather’s tomb. My father died without fulfilling his last wish,” said Akbar, who has lived in the UAE for 38 years.
The couple applied for a visit visa to India in 2008 but were denied entry in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
Akbar says he wants to carry a message of peace from Karachi to Kerala at a time when the nuclear neighbours are getting belligerent once again. “There are no borders in the minds of people. Indians and Pakistanis are sons of the same soil. I have a Pakistani passport. But we also consider ourselves also as Keralites.”
Akbar’s father Abu Baqer was an inspector with the British police in Madras province. He migrated to Pakistan after partition. Abu Baqer’s wife and two daughters followed him to Karachi soon after. “I was born there. We became Pakistani citizens, but my parents’ extended families are all in Kerala. I was six years old when I visited them last,” said Akbar.
He has vivid memories of the paddy fields, the boat ride to his house and the rains in Kerala.
Suhara was three years old when her parents left India for Pakistan. “There were about a dozen families like us in Karachi. Though we were cut off from our native village, we always missed our family that stayed back,” said Suhara.
While the two are at ease conversing in their native language, for their children aged between 14 and 35, Malayalam is still a tongue-twister. They were all educated at a Pakistani school in Al Ain and converse in Urdu. Two of Akbar’s daughters are married. He lives with his four daughters and two sons in a rented apartment in Al Ain. “Mom and dad always speak in Malayalam. But we don’t understand it. Urdu is our mother tongue,” said his daughter Hena who lives with him.
The 25-year-old said she would love to visit her parents’ native village. “It is nice to have friends and family across the border. We want the two countries to peacefully coexist, and we are like a connecting bridge.”