This Independence Day I long for peace with India
“Panchee, nadiya, pawan kay jhokay,
Koi sarhad na inhay rokay,
Sarhad insaanon kay liye hai,
Socho tum nay aur mainay kya paya insan hokay ” - Javed Akhtar
(Birds, streams, the flowing breeze
No border can stop them
Borders were made for mankind
Just think, what did you and I get for being human?)
Monday, 5:45am, December 7, 2012:
I am at the India-Pakistan bus terminal in Lahore. It’s bitterly cold and yet the throng of well-wishers outside the gate is ever growing. Some are waving goodbye to their relatives about to embark on the bus for Delhi. Others are crying into their shawls or trying to put on a stoic face for their loved ones who are returning to India. A boy is talking to his Pakistani aunt and can barely speak for his sobs. The air is thick with emotions, elation and grief. Even after two earlier visits I am giddy with happiness, I am about to leave for India.
I have been there a few times. My friends always ask me why I visit so often. Why not Malaysia or Thailand they question. It is not easy to enunciate my reasons; one only has to look around at the people around me to understand why. It’s the sense of belonging and the commonalities that bind me to the town of my forefathers in Uttar Pradesh. It’s the call of my ancestors’ dilapidated havelis, to rediscover my roots and much more.
The journey began some twenty years back. There was a family wedding with guests arriving from India. I was breathless with excitement. The flight was delayed and I fell asleep. Abba woke me telling me they had arrived and I rushed to see them.
As soon as I came into the room, previously unseen uncles, aunts and cousins swept me in their arms. I realised then that these are my people, people who are far away from me, but who love me like their own. I have never met them nor will I be meeting them often but they will be a part of my days, my conversations, my future plans and my family occasions.
8:00am, December 7, 2012:
The bus is crossing the Wagah border. It’s difficult to believe that these two gates and the few meters of land between them causes so much grief to millions of people on both sides. There are subtle differences. The signs are in Hindi and the bearded officer is wearing a Sikh turban but what matters? Surely, the founding fathers on both sides would not have imagined that this border would prove to be so obdurate.
Yet the border with its menacing walls and capricious gates is there. What the partition was meant to be or what could have been had it not happened is a futile debate. Oceans of ink could be bled on the subject but the fact is that there is no way of undoing what was done. Even so, four wars, countless skirmishes, jingoistic politicians and hard liners on both sides cannot change the fact that for thousands of years this was one land with one people.
For eight centuries the Muslims lived here absorbing culture and adding their own blend to the tapestry called Hindustan - Hindustan, named by the Arab traders, meaning land of beauty - Hindustan, the golden bird of riches for which no less a personage than Iqbal wrote these immortal words:
“Saray jahan se acha,
(Better than the world,
Is our Hindustan)
Sadly, such hauntingly beautiful imagery is ignored. The political issues faced by the two countries are difficult but not insurmountable. Countries are made, nations get broken, and wars are fought but as history has shown, the commonality of interests and the desire for peace wins out.
England and France, Russia and America, Germany and France, China and Japan and so many more were all at one point bitter enemies but now exist together at best in perfect harmony and at worst with at least modicum of stable relationship.
Sadly, India and Pakistan don’t see eye to eye in spite of a shared language, architecture, food, music, entertainment, ceremonies, traditions, clothing and norms.
8:00pm, December 7, 2012:
I am 40km from Delhi and the roads now look familiar. The excitement of travellers is detectable and they are peering out of windows. A middle-aged gentleman in front of me is going after 27 years and even though he is grinning I can make out that his cheeks are wet. He tells me of rejected visas and numerous visits to the Indian consulate. All his relatives are coming to receive him. His mother, a sister and two brothers will not be among them. They passed away in the midst of a long gap of his visits a few years back.
There is more binding us than keeping us apart. M Rafi, Dilip Kumar and Shahrukh Khan are loved on both sides. Pakistanis are just as fond of Kishore Kumar and Jagjit Singh as anyone. Nazia Hassan recorded her biggest hit in India and sang for several movies. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Imran Khan and Shahid Afridi were swamped with fans on both sides of the border. Sadequain painted in India, Kaifi Azmi recited poetry here.
Pakistanis, travel to Hyderabad and Bangalore for medical reasons and come back with glowing tales of hospitality. When the Indian cricket team visited Pakistan in 2003 the restaurant owners refused to charge them. In Pakistan saying you are a visiting Indian means discounts at shops and stories of common backgrounds. Sadly, ulterior motives and weak resolve by the powers that be stall peace progress at every turn.
8:00am, January 2, 2013:
I am almost at Pipri, two hours from Delhi back to Lahore. The crying of the young man next to me has subsided. He talks about his relatives who had come to say goodbye and how one of them gave him his shawl, his only protection against the frigid weather, just because he had commented on its workmanship. He tells me about how a visa rejection made him so desperate that he actually contemplated crossing the border illegally. Mind you, he was not a mindless fanatic rather an executive in a telecom company. I couldn’t help but marvel at his stories and found reflections in the frenzied yearnings of others.
When will Pakistan and India relations normalise? When will I simply walk across Wagah and travel across the length and breadth of India?
I don’t know but I have hope that eventually the common bonds of love, culture and mutual interests will win out and the dark stories of rejected visas and border disputes will be washed away by the sunny smiles and tears of joy of loved ones.
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