By Radhika Bhirani
New Delhi, Sep 19 (IANS) Be it the food, the streets, the people or the music, Pakistani children who are contestants on Indian reality shows hardly feel any difference between the two neighbouring nations. For them, it's like a home away from home.
Karachi-based Wanya Jibran, a participant on STAR Plus' music reality show "Chhote Ustaad", says she was apprehensive about travelling to India with her mother but felt extremely well settled once she touched Mumbai.
"I was scared of travelling alone with my mom. But my parents were very supportive and said it's a lifetime's opportunity. And when I came to Mumbai, I found no major difference. It's like my Karachi. People here are also so nice; they take good care of us," the 13-year-old told IANS.
Wanya says she fails to understand the constant refrain about the two nations being at loggerheads.
"I don't know why people keep talking about tensions between India and Pakistan. I have never felt for a single moment that these two countries have bitter relations. I think relations are good and friendly," she added.
Wanya is one among 10 children shortlisted from Pakistan to take part in "Chhote Ustaad", which has one Indian child teamed with a Pakistani child to denote unity.
There are others too like Rouhan Abbas, 13, and Rosemary Mushtaq, 11, who are enjoying the Indian hospitality and their newfound friends across the border.
"Mujhe yahaan vada pav bahut achha lag raha hai (I have been enjoying eating vada pav in Mumbai). I have made so many friends here and have learnt so much from all judges that I will always remember India with a smile," said Rouhan, who lives in Lahore, and is a big fan of Indian singers Sonu Nigam and Hariharan.
Rosemary, also from Karachi, says she enjoys the rehearsals and the fun they have off-screen. She too is not concerned about the supposedly strained relations between the two countries.
Sonu Nigam and popular Pakistani singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, who has given several Bollywood hits, are the judges on the singing contest.
Children apart, Khurram Iqbal, the only Pakistani contestant on Zee TV's "Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Singing Superstars", says people had taunted him before coming to India for the show. But now he is glad he didn't pay heed to them.
"My parents and friends gave me a lot of support, but I heard that many others were saying things like - 'India kyun jaa raha hai yeh ladka (Why is he going to India)'. I was frankly scared of coming here," Iqbal told IANS.
"But believe me, I have spent three-and-a-half months here in India now, and I have not missed home at all. I don't feel I'm away from Pakistan," said the 21-year-old, who dreams of becoming a Bollywood singer.
Khurram is still overjoyed that he got a chance to come face-to-face with his idol - Salman Khan. It's such simple moments of joy that these contestants will take back with them.
In the past, established singer Abhijeet Bhattacharya had expressed his displeasure about Pakistani singers coming to India, but Sonu Nigam feels this exchange of culture will go a long way in changing attitudes.
"Children have impressionable minds; so inculcating positivity and a feeling of brotherhood in them from this age will result in a very good future. Our show is a good initiative and I hope people will appreciate it," the singer said.
Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, who has sung tracks "Teri Ore" and the recent "Tere Mast Mast do Nain", said the show "encourages brotherhood between India and Pakistan, advocates peace and that love should be the foundation of everything".
Over the years, many Pakistani singers have found a foothold in the Indian industry like Adnan Sami, Atif Aslam and Shafqat Amanat Ali apart from Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.
And Ashish Golwalkar, creative head (non-fiction) of Zee TV, says, "Raag Bhairavi does not change in Pakistan. The basics of music are the same everywhere. It is just all about bringing the best of talent on one stage and spreading peace."