“Google brought nations together in 3 minutes and 32 seconds. The politicians of both countries couldn’t do this in 66 years,” announced a comment on Google’s Facebook page. This got me thinking.
The positive impact of the media is, more often than not, underrated. While most people focus their energy on scoping out the negative effects of the media – whether it is racism or sexism – Google’s recent ad, “The Reunion,” is a step in the right direction toward improving India and Pakistan’s long-sour relationship.
Google released the ad two weeks ago and it has already garnered over 6 million views. The short ad tells the story of how two long-lost friends who were separated during partition, Baldev and Yusuf, are re-united through the power of Google search. Baldev’s granddaughter Suman intelligently makes connections from her dadu’s stories and utilizes Google to connect with Yusuf and his grandson in Pakistan. Together, the friends’ grandchildren organize Yusuf’s visa and plane tickets so that he is able to surprise Baldev for his birthday. The last scene shows the emotional reunion of the two friends and instantly brings the viewer to tears.
Ogilvy and Mather, India (an international ad agency) was responsible for the creation of this masterpiece that received an overwhelming response in both India and Pakistan. This ad evoked such emotional responses because of the importance that the partition of India and Pakistan holds in South Asia’s collective memory. 1947 lingers on in the memory of South Asians, crowded with images of separation, violence, hostility and agony.
Several years on, the relationship between India and Pakistan still has yet to see better days. Wars have been fought, bullets have been shot, negotiations have been attempted, but the media’s power has not usually been harnessed. Millennials across the world spend most of their time using some sort of media, whether it is watching TV shows, tweeting or blogging. It has often been posited that the future of the relationship between the two states must therefore go beyond mere empty political gestures and feeble negotiations. Instead, a lot rests in the hands of us millennials.
Ogilvy and Mather did it right. They targeted the millennials – the generation that grew up hearing stories about partition from their grandparents and through (often one-sided) narratives in history textbooks. It is this generation – the future of South Asia – that has formed strong bonds with their Indian and Pakistani counterparts in universities across the world. Therefore, by showing how the granddaughter (a tech-savvy millennial) surprised her grandfather, O&M and Google were able to touch the hearts of both those who actually experienced partition and those who can proactively do something about it.
The difficulty in obtaining visas for both countries has proved challenging for several reasons. A land that was once joined can no longer be accessed with ease, thus limiting cultural exchange and sustenance of friendships – both old and new. Recent improvements allow those over 65 a visa on-arrival, but lack of awareness about this option has resulted in low usage.
Nawaz Sharif recently stressed the importance of improving India and Pakistan’s relationship at the opening of a literary and cultural conference in Lahore. “India and Pakistan are mirror images of each other and therefore we must have good ties. This is a necessity,” he said. “We must aim to dismantle visa requirement between the two countries.”
Sharif’s choice to talk about such an important issue at a cultural conference again ties back to the importance of using media tools in world politics. Global beverage giant Coca-Cola also released an ad early this year showing the machines they installed in India and Pakistan. The machines enabled citizens of both countries to interact with each other, thus offering actual connections between the people. Using media to create social change at a micro-level is a step in the right direction. These micro-changes will hopefully encourage broader political and social change – allowing India and Pakistan to finally work on mending the wounds of partition.
Google’s ad illustrated the emotions associated with the reunion of two long-lost friends, whereas Coca-Cola’s effort demonstrated the ability to form new friendships across borders.
What politics can’t achieve, the media can strive to.
Watch the video here and (keep a tissue handy – tears are guaranteed). It is also interesting to take a look at the comments on the video.
Sunaina Basu is a senior at Tufts University and a member of SAPAC’s Executive Board