On November 13, 2013, Google India released a video advertisement, Reunion, which tells the story of two fictional, elderly men—Baldev and Yusuf— who are long-lost childhood friends. Baldev lives in India, and Yusuf lives in Pakistan. Baldev’s granddaughter uses the Google search engine to track down Yusuf, and then coordinates a reunion between the two men with the help of Yusuf’s grandson.

Within twenty-four hours of its release, Reunion had well over 900,000 views. To date, the advertisement has been watched over 10.6 million times on YouTube. Why has Reunion with its simple plot, become so immensely popular?

The story is sweet, but interestingly, takes on one of the most volatile events of the twentieth century—the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent into separate states, Pakistan and India. Partition coincided with the end of British colonial rule in the region, and led to the migration, often forced, of some twelve million people and the deaths of one million. Reunion does not mention partition in word, but implies that this moment had far-reaching consequences, including ripping best friends apart. One gathers that Baldev, a Hindu, left his childhood home of Lahore for India, while Yusuf, a Muslim, witnessed Lahore become the capital city of Pakistan.  Then, over six decades later, these men—separated by time, distance, and their different nationalities—embrace one another in a heartfelt reunion facilitated in part by Google’s search engine.

Why would Google take on such a sensitive topic, one of loss, hardship, and national identity? Sandeep Menon, the director of marketing at Google India, stated, “We wanted to strike up a conversation to showcase the different uses of Google, and tell magical stories that show why our users love the product.” Reunion is no doubt a “magical” story, but the history that it touches upon runs wide and deep across the Indian subcontinent and not without controversy. Partition is no lighthearted matter, and its darker sides are left untouched in Reunion.

Ultimately, Reunion can be seen as a commentary on the continued salience of the partition of 1947.  The national boundaries of India and Pakistan were created during partition, yet these physical boundaries remain contested, as many people’s identities cannot be neatly divided between the two countries. Reunion also demonstrates that the history of partition is negotiable, not just for individuals, but for large corporations with their own set of interests as well. Google seems to be using partition to prod people into not only watching Reunion, but also into joining the over one billion people who use Google as their go-to search engine.

If you are interested in exploring the history of partition and the subcontinent’s struggle for independence from colonial rule, check out Choices’ curriculum unit, Indian Independence and the Question of Partition (released August 2013). The trailer below provides a summary of the main themes explored in the unit.

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