“Are you from Afghanistan?” This was a repeated question from my fellow delegates attending the recently concluded South Asian Literature Festival organized by Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature (FOSWAL). I asked those who presumed my wrong nationality what made them feel I was not a Nepalese but an Afghan. They said my tall body and complexion was behind their wrong predictions. A Sri Lankan delegate asked if I was from Bhutan too. These questions made me a bid awkward at the beginning. However, now I am happy on such presumptions not because I want to hide my Nepalese nationality but because we, the South Asians, have similar identity. If we are confused to pinpoint our exact identity how can the rest of the world? Cultural commonalities and physical similarities are our shared assets which help cement our camaraderie created by similar civilization.
In spite of such huge connecting factors in between South Asia and South Asians, our political establishments are not utilizing them. Due to lack of desired connectivity between South Asia, it is hard to fly to Male of Maldives than to Malaysia from Kathmandu. It is tougher to travel to Thimpu than to Thailand from Kabul. A Nepalese citizen has to go through several bureaucratic hassles to acquire a visa to meet Nepali-speaking Bhutanese friends. In such a frustrating backdrop in the political sphere, there are some civic level catalytic campaigns to connect South Asia and South Asians.
We are the dreamers of the SAARC region. Let governments do their political and diplomatic work. ‘Let us, the writers and the creative fraternity of the region, endeavor to create bridges of the friendships across borders, and beyond borders’, was the declared resolution of the 2000 conference of SAARC writers. This resolution has been continued till date by FOSWAL, which organizes a South Asian Literature Festival in each passing year bearing all financial expenditure on its own with support from her famed painter daughter Arpana Cour. If an individual like Cour can spearhead SAARC-level literary and cultural connectivity, why can’t our governments and politicians endeavor to bridge South Asia and South Asians? A United South Asia can strengthen the already united South Asians because our complexions and cultures are similar. If not why would delegates from other nations ask a Nepalese delegate, “Are you from Afghanistan?”