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Neighbours and good friends
- Nepal teenager rebuilds bridges between India and Pakistan

In times when aggression, rather than peace, rules the mood of the nation, a 15-year-old Bengali girl from Nepal stood up to the challenge of rebuilding bridges between Pakistan and India.

Trina Talukdar was born in Calcutta, though she has been living in Nepal for the past eight years. She has grown up on her grandfather’s tales of suffering in 1971.

When she heard of the Youth Initiative for Peace, a meet being held in Pakistan with representatives from Saarc nations, Trina could hardly resist. She sent in her application through her school in Kathmandu. An essay on peace, inspired by her grandfather, who died recently, and another on using taekwondo as a defensive art is what got the black belt through.

Once chosen, she went through minor hassles and ended up in Lahore, ahead of the mid-December meet. But her Indian counterparts didn’t, held up by exams and visa trouble. Amongst 36 under-18s, she was the only Indian. “Though I was representing Nepal, I was asked to speak on behalf of India,” explains Trina, who was also the youngest participant there.

The meet, designed to encourage the use of the arts to promote peace, brought together students who prepared action plans for implementation back in their own countries. Trina put aside all the preparation she made on Nepal to quickly brush up on India’s key issues. The Class X student, whose family has just shifted back to its native country, was given the responsibility of talking about India’s problems and resources, so the youth crew could prepare a gameplan.

The end result will see Trina, who is to settle in Bhubaneswar, organising a follow-up conference in December 2003 to forward the cause as well as setting up an e-mail network between India and Pakistan.

“We all think that people in Pakistan hate us, but I have seen that this is not the case. And they feel the same way about us, though the average Indian does not hate Pakistan. I want people to understand this,” says the slender teen, who has made “fast friends” during her first solo international trip.

Strolling down Lahore’s food street was fun, but the most moving experience was the visit to Wagah, where she was witness to an Indian soldier shaking hands with his Pakistani counterpart. “It would be wonderful if, with the proper visas, our group could just walk across the border,” recalls Trina, who was “scared” by a soldier who charged toward her, gun in hand, when she got a little too close to the border.

“We who believe in peace shall not rest until it comes,” was the anthem for the meet, translated into eight languages for all the countries present. “Shanti meant peace in most of the languages we used… That should tell us something.”

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