Because my friend Annie is Pakistani!

Despite her best efforts and my father’s sincere attempts, Annie could not get a visa

My earliest memory of my friend Annie Zaman is from my first trip to Lahore in December 2005. My college-mate Lopa and I wanted a break. Randomly, we thought what better distraction than a trip to the enemy country. It was a relatively peaceful phase between the two nations and we were given visas with little difficulty, and, on a chilly morning in December 2005, we found ourselves on the friendship bus service between Delhi and Lahore, the bus that the Vajpayee government had started.

And, so, I met Annie Zaman, a petite, chatty girl, with streaked hair and an ever-ready smile. She was one among the young journalists at The Friday Times office where we often found ourselves because our host, a British Pakistani national, Miranda, worked there. We soon became friends with Miranda’s friends, chief among them was Annie, a young rookie journalist. The trip was heady and happy and we spent the next two weeks roaming the streets of Lahore and enjoying the generosity of the other Punjab.

Annie and I kept in touch through the years. Annie got a scholarship and subsequently a job in Germany, and, eventually, married a German national and moved between the UK and Myanmar. We sent each other gifts each time someone we knew was coming to or going from whichever country Annie was in. We updated each other on our dismal love lives. When Annie and Thomas got married, my excitement knew no bounds, and I headed off to Jaipur to search for kundan jewellery I knew she wanted. It was an idiotic trip because I had never seen nor bought kundan jewellery, and certainly didn’t have the money to pay for it. But I so wanted to be part of Annie’s wedding celebrations.

In the years that passed, Annie and I met again in Lahore, in 2015, in London, and even managed to rendezvous in Switzerland and travel onwards to Italy together. It has been an easy friendship conducted largely via WhatsApp video calls, social media posts and courier of shopping. Our values are largely similar, we both qualify to be called ‘left-liberals’, believe in progressive ideals and neither has accepted the narrative of enmity, whilst obviously being critical of terrorism and violence.

In January I video-called Annie to give her my big news! I was engaged to my old friend and new love Fahad Ahmad, a political activist some years younger than me. Annie, like a good bestie, began to quiz me with the how, when, what, why, where of our love story. Once satisfied, like a good Lahori lady, she immediately began discussing wedding clothes and jewellery. She hit the gym to get into shape for my wedding and began planning my sangeet performance. The Indian consulate in Thailand, where she currently lives, advised her to apply for an Indian visa in Pakistan. The next week, my ever optimistic across-the-border bestie was on a flight to Islamabad. Despite her best efforts and my father’s sincere attempts, Annie could not get a visa. The documentation was too demanding and the papers did not reach the embassy. We rued the general state of affairs in the world and Annie began following my wedding festivities on Instagram. She saw my bidai video and claimed that she did not cry—like me. Liar.

Three days into my seemingly decade-long wedding, I called Annie for advice. The lehenga I wanted to wear from Pakistani designer, Ali Xeeshan, was stuck in Lahore due to some delays. I needed to fly someone from Lahore to Dubai with the lehenga where Fahad’s friend had arranged a further courier to Delhi. The person had been identified, but I needed to pay a travel agent in Lahore who was holding the ticket. I called Annie to ask what was the best way to transfer money between India and Pakistan. “Let me check,” said Annie. In half an hour, she sent me the ticket. “You bought it?” I exclaimed. “Tell me how to send you the money for it,” I asked. “It is my wedding gift to you,” replied Annie, with a heart emoji. State machineries can deny a girl a visa, but how do you stop a resolved bridesmaid from doing her job helping the bride; even if it is from across the border? Thanks, behen Annie. We couldn’t make it to each other’s wedding, but hopefully we will make it to our children’s weddings. One day!

The writer is an award-winning Bollywood actor and sometime writer and social commentator.