At midnight on August 14, as Pakistan’s Independence Day ended and India’s began, Zeshan Bagewadi and Nushmia Khan uploaded an unusual video on Youtube.
In the video, Bagewadi, an Indian-American musician who switched from opera to indie pop, sings the national anthems of Pakistan and India one after another. The video is meant to remind listeners that despite the 1947 Partition, both countries still have startling similarities. As his powerful voice sings Pak Sar Zameen and Jana Gana Mana, the split-screen video displays images from each side of the border that are almost identical.
Bagewadi was born and brought up in the US, but his family is from Hyderabad in India. When the British partitioned India in 1947, his grandfather decided to remain in Hyderabad even after mobs torched his shop in Nampally. (Hyderabad did not become part of India until September 1948.) He eventually moved to Mumbai in 1955, where Bagewadi’s mother was born. Bagewadi’s grandfather never spoke to any of his children about his experiences. Only after he died did his wife reluctantly tell Bagewadi about what had happened.
After hearing the story, Bagewadi was so moved that he decided to record the video as a memorial to Partition, which he says is not spoken of often enough.
A friend put him in touch with Nushmia Khan, a Pakistani-American photo and video journalist, who shot and produced the video within a week. Khan's grandparents were both from Bassi Pathana near Patiala. Her paternal grandparents were on honeymoon in Kashmir in August 1947. They ended up spending their first nine months of marriage as prisoners of war in the state before they were eventually released and moved to Pakistan.
“The older generation said that they had sacrificed so much to get where they are that it was difficult for them to put aside their differences,” said Khan. “But the younger generation was more willing to coexist.”
Both said that their expatriate experience influenced this video to a great extent.
“Especially in the US, we tend to grow up side by side,” said Bagewadi. “When people are teasing you about smelling like onions when you’re in school, you have to stick together. Today, it is difficult for people in India and Pakistan to speak to each other. But as diaspora, we interact all the time so it falls on our shoulders to prove the similarities between us.”