An emotionally charged and sentimental online advertisement by Google India, a unit of Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG), that exploits the melancholy and tragedy of the 1947 Partition has been embraced and lauded by people in both India and Pakistan. The formation of the two countries out of the former British India resulted in one of the greatest man-made forced migrations in human history, dislocating millions of people away from their ancestral homes and leading to the deaths of at least 1 million and rapes of uncounted others. Hindus fled what was carved out as a “Muslim” homeland in West and East Pakistan, while Muslims fled Hindu-dominated India to their new countries. Partition remains one of the bloodiest and most devastating episodes of South Asian history, while India and Pakistan have fought three wars since and now both boast nuclear weapons.
Now, more than 65 years later, Google has created a three-and-a-half-minute "mini-movie" called “Reunion” in which the grandchildren of two elderly men – one a Muslim in Pakistan, the other a Hindu in India – who had been friends but were separated by the turmoil -- are reunited (through the assistance of Google Search, of course).
In the tale, an old Hindu man named Baldev now living in Delhi tells his beautiful granddaughter about his childhood friend named Yusuf, a Muslim, whom he knew in Lahore (a city that is now in Pakistan). Through Google, she is able to search for the sweet shop that her granddad spoke about, and somehow -- by inserting various search items on Google based on her grandfather’s stories -- miraculously locates the old man Yusuf. In turn, Yusuf’s grandson helps Baldev’s granddaughter arrange for a surprise trip for Yusuf to Delhi (again, through the benevolent services of Google Search) for a reunion of two men who have not seen each other in almost seven decades.
Despite the unlikely series of events depicted in the short filmed commercial, observers in both India and Pakistan praised the warmth and good wishes behind it. "If it doesn't move you, you've got a heart of stone," wrote Beena Sarwar, a Pakistani journalist who has advocated for peace between her country and India, on her blog. Abhijit Avasthi, boss of the Ogilvy India organization that developed the advertisement, defended the choice of such an unusual and controversial backdrop. "Yes, this is a sensitive topic, a part of history with bitter memories," he told reporters. "But that was the whole point, which is to tell people that those memories are in the past, that there is a way to revive your connection with your lost ones."
The film depicts Yusuf going from Pakistan to India with relative ease, but in reality, obtaining such a visa is more difficult, although the two countries signed pacts last year to facilitate travel for businessmen, the elderly, religious pilgrims and those who were displaced by Partition (like Baldev and Yusuf). "I don't see much hostility at the people's level," said Sanjay Mehta, a 48-year-old Delhi businessman whose family was forced out of what is now Pakistan. "I want to visit Pakistan, but it's not easy to get a visa." Sarwar herself added: “As if... it was that easy. For Pakistanis and Indians to get visas to visit each other’s country is just short of impossible.”
On social media in both countries, the sentimental ad – which has gone viral -- evoked much admiration. "Wonderful campaign highlighting all the similarities and shared experiences instead of the differences," said someone called "Pakistanis for Peace." "Google brought nations together in 3 minutes and 32 seconds. The politicians of both countries couldn't do this in 66 years," wrote Akshaya Aradhya on Google's Facebook page.
A Pakistani blogger named Mehreen Kasana wrote on her blog: "Many families in Pakistan don’t have family in India, including mine, but at the same time there are many who have loved ones across the border. This is probably the most beautiful video I’ve seen on the subject…Got a little teary, not gonna lie." Similarly, Umar Alam from Pakistan commented on the YouTube: "Such an awesome effort by Google. Love and respect from Pakistan." Also, someone named Bhuvanesh Tomar gushed: “Beautiful, sentimental, nostalgic. Wish families across the Indo-Pak border can unite again and peace and harmony can return forever.”
However, not everyone was impressed by the “Reunion” ad, with some people questioning Google’s motives. On the YouTube comments section, someone calling himself IraqiFreedomFighter wrote: “In the time it took you to watch this Propaganda video about an American company, Google has helped the NSA to kill and maim several hundred Pakistani schoolchildren. What else can you expect from a company run by a Jew?” Yet another commenter calling himself ‘Raven Reznor’ spewed: “F--- Pakistan Bloody terrorist -- all they want is war -- why do people waste their time making such bullsh_t videos. Pakistan wont and never will share the same sentiments -- all Pakistanis want is war – f--- that nation.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.