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Google's India Strategy: One Teardrop At A Time?

A screen grab from Google's ad about two friends separated by history and reunited through the Internet.
A screen grab from Google's ad about two friends separated by history and reunited through the Internet.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars, countless skirmishes and engaged in a decades-long standoff over Kashmir. But a new Google ad has warmed the cockles of subcontinental hearts, leading to an outpouring of goodwill on social media and newspaper websites.

The ad centers on two friends separated by Partition. That's the period in 1947 that led British India to be divided into two countries: Pakistan, a homeland for Muslims, and India, which is predominantly Hindu but officially secular.

Partition occupies a central place in the collective memory of the two nations. Millions of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were killed, and millions were uprooted from their homes. The legacy of that era clouds much of the relations between the two countries even today.

Enter Google.

In the ad, an old Indian man tells his granddaughter about his childhood friend Yusuf and their adventures in Lahore, which was then in British India. She then — well, watch the ad for yourself. It's a little over three minutes long — and not short on schmaltz (in a good way, of course).

The ad has gone viral, with nearly 2 million views at the time of writing.

Of course, this being the subcontinent, commentators — the ones who aren't trolls — were quick to note the near-impossibilities portrayed in the ad.

"If oh, it was that easy," wrote Pakistani columnist Beena Sarwar in her blog. "For Pakistanis and Indians to get visas to visit each other's country is just short of impossible."

The ad is the first of five videos that Google has released about the reunion of the two men. The others are shorter and deal with other issues that unite the subcontinent: cricket, food and clothes. They can be seen here.

"Yes, this is a sensitive topic, a part of history with bitter memories," Abhijit Avasthi, head of the Ogilvy India team that developed the ad, told The Associated Press. "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."

Google views India as a strategic market. At the end of 2011, the country had 120 million Internet uses, a number expected to grow to 300 million next year. Writing in 2012 about Google's plans for India, The Mint newspaper said, "The company ... wants to increase its YouTube and mobile Internet users while simultaneously sharpening its focus on social media, cloud computing and solutions for small- and medium-size businesses and enterprises."

This isn't the first time Google has used a heart-wrenching story from the subcontinent to advertise its products. You may remember the true story of an Australian man adopted from India who used Google Maps to reconnect with his birth family. That video is below (keep tissues handy).

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.