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‘Bridging’ the divide

 This article appeared in The News on Wednesday, January 5, 2011

‘Bridging’ the divide


They have never met, but Amin Ansari and Jawahir Mulraj, who came together
at an online bridge forum four years ago, are ‘close friends’

Laleh Habib
“Oh, you’re from India? I have a very close friend in Mumbai,” said Amin Ansari, an IT professional in Lahore, at a lunch hosted for members of the Aman ki Asha IT Committee, which included a visiting delegation from India. “It’s too bad he’s not in the IT industry, otherwise he could have come too.”

As he talked it was apparent that he and his friend Jawahir Mulraj in Mumbai were indeed very close, and were privy to information about each other’s personal lives down to their dog’s names.
“Where did you meet him?” someone asked.

“Oh, we’ve never met,” came the response. “But we’ve known each other for four years.”
Turns out that they “met” at an online bridge forum, and experienced what they describe as an “instantaneous” connection. They quickly discovered that they have a similar sense of humour, share similar life experiences, and could communicate seamlessly.

Online bridge websites are an example of the innumerable virtual forums where people across the world come together. In the age of the Internet, not even the most stringent of visa regulations – like those that prevent Indians and Pakistanis from visiting each other’s countries – can keep people apart if they want to interact.

Bridge Base Online, the website where Mulraj and Ansari meet regularly to play bridge, currently boasts over 50,000 members from across the world. Also, since the language of bridge uses only 15 words, people from any country who speak many languages can come together to play. The website also supports many other forms of communication, including chat.

“It feels like we have known each other for a long time,” wrote Mulraj in an email to Aman ki Asha later. He feels this is “an indication, perhaps, that there is, indeed, a natural affinity between the peoples of the two countries. We have a long, shared, history.” Four years down the road, Mulraj and Ansari play together regularly. Beyond bridge, they communicate in other ways, including Msn messenger and BlackBerry Messenger. However, due to the hostility that exists at the government level and the consequent difficulties in obtaining visas, they don’t expect to be able to visit one another in their home towns – any time in the near future at least, given the difficulty in obtaining visas.

“Because I have such high regard for my friend, I hold Indians in high regard,” Ansari said over the phone later. “The hostility that exists at the government level is not there at the interpersonal level.” The more people come together at the interpersonal level, the more evident this is.

Laleh Habib is coordinator, Aman ki Asha, Pakistan; laleh.habib@janggroup.com.pk

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