Childhood memories of India

Boarding the train to India was the best part of the year for us. I am Pakistani but Indian at heart.

Hiba Naeem October 21, 2013
In the early 80s my parents, who were both Indians, settled in Pakistan and got married. Yet, somehow they never left India behind and thus began our annual tradition of travelling to Rampur, India each summer. As toddlers, my siblings and I loved the feeling of crossing the Wagah Border. We used to grin and wave at the Sikhs guarding the border who stood there tall and proud, flaunting their grand horses. And how can I forget the petrichor as we passed by the vast, barren fields - it was truly beautiful.

For my parents, India was a safe haven – their salvation where they returned just to breathe in the air of their childhood. However, it wasn’t until later, that I realised India was their escape; it was their retreat to a wonderful world of childhood memories that had now become ours too.

Enroute to India, we devoured daal chawal and bhaji with gusto. Every now and then when we got off at stations, my mother used to make us sit on our luggage, tugging on to us and making sure we were within an arm’s distance from her.

Along the way we would giggle and exchange stories with our newly made Indian friends who would share incredible and unknown facts about India's infamous landmarks. Awestruck, with our mouths full of bhel puri and lemo pani, we would yearn to visit them all.

Our conversations would go like:
"Aur batao bhaya, aur kia kia hai daikhnay ko?"

(Tell us more brother, what else is there to see in India?)

Ever so inquisitive, we would shower them with our queries and stories of our own. Some of them went like:
"Humari dadi bhi Shimla se theen, kia khoobsurat pahar, kia manzar hai wahan ka!"

(My grandmother was from Shimla too, what a beautiful hill station it is, what a view it has!)

The passengers would share their stories with my parents as well - Indian or Pakistani was a fact that remained irrelevant in all conversations. My teary-eyed mother would sit and nod silently, longing to return to Nenetal and Shimla.

A distant view of the hills near Rampur and my mother walking down the stairs. Photo: Hiba Naeem

Thus became the annual, seasonal ritual of escaping to India and it was such an important part of our lives. It was, perhaps, even the most awaited season of the year. We would relish every moment of it, from the rowdy, heart warming Punjabi families to the coy Rajistani girls, each one with their own tale to tell.

With swiftly got used to complete strangers inviting 'Pakistani bhai bhain' to their weddings, and so went their hospitality on and on...

My uncle's wedding in 2001 in India. Photo: Hiba Naeem

My Khala's wedding in Rampur, India. Photo: Hiba Naeem

In retrospect, we fondly remember our visits to India with watery eyes and heavy hearts. We remember boasting about our vacation to the motherland to our friends and family in Pakistan - as if our sun kissed faces, 'narial ki batya' (dry coconuts), chunri k dupattay were not souvenirs enough of our obviously great trip.

Though we are Pakistani, we felt as Indian as our parents and leaving India was as hard for us as it was for them - each time. Bidding adieu while promising to return, our hearts never failed to twitch while we silently confessed with a proud glow on our faces,
“Hum bhi Indian he hain bhai!”

(We are Indian too, mate!)

If ever it were possible for a Pakistani to love India, my family and I are living proof and believe me, there are those on the other side of the border who feel the same way about Pakistan too.

Here is hoping that the leadership of India and Pakistan allow us to be united, because at heart, we are all family.
Hiba Naeem Currently an undergraduate who is pursuing her degree in English Literature with a minor in European History and Mass Communications at University of Karachi. She aspires to be a Journalist and loves to travel.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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