Punjab

An Indian postcard from Pakistan

March 23, 2017 11:01 AM

By Gajinder Singh

 

I travelled on a motorcycle and three-wheeler. I walked the narrow lanes of Dharampura, Krishnanagar and Santnagar.

There were emotions unbounded: I managed to track down the house where my father was born, studied and lived till he completed his MTech from the University of Panjab, Lahore.

The rough sketch of the area scribbled by my octogenarian cousin in Mohali, where the house stood, was enough for Mohammad Ramzan, a photographer, to lead me there, pillion-riding, and with a smile on his face. It was, as he later confided, “Uperwala” had chosen him to lead me to my “roots”.

It is difficult to explain my feelings standing outside the home that my father lived with my grandparents. The engraving on the door was the same as I had heard from him. Even the windows had the same design when my father left Lahore with only his certificates in hand. Apart from the occupants, nothing had changed.

I encourage all Indians to visit Pakistan and Pakistanis to visit India whenever they get a chance. For it offers a unique opportunity to discover oneself through another body and to rid of pre-conceived notions and bias

I was taken around the house, now occupied by Omar Farooq Khan, a Pathan family originally from Jalandhar. “We left everything in Jalandhar. The house we lived in was demolished later. In Pakistan, we don’t raze old homes,” he added.

Then something happened which made me sweat all over. A neighbour, in his sixties, on getting the news that an “Indian” had come to see his ancestral house, barged into the lane demanding that I leave immediately. I asked him the reasons for his attitude, with folded hands, of course.

What followed next is the tragedy that is called “India” and “Pakistan”. His anger was a culmination of years of wait for a visa to Jalandhar to see his house.

“I asked for a visa to Jalandhar but was granted a bus visa for Delhi. My house was metres away from the road. The bus went past my house but I could not get down,” he said with tears in his eyes.  His anger was not without reason: there are lakhs of people like him in Pakistan and India longing for a glimpse of what was once their “home”.        

All over Lahore I visited, the havelis that once housed Hindus and Sikhs and were emptied suddenly, stood as they were, a mute testimony to history. Houses that still bore the “Om” or the “Ek On Kar” insignia on their entrances. The intricately designed doors of homes that have housed generations of people without bias of religion or hatred. The names of streets, lanes and bylanes that were the same in 1947 as they are now.

I have been to Pakistan four more times since my first visit in 2011. While the trips have been short, they are about a whole lot of love, affection and building relationships. They are also about realising the huge gap that exists between perception and reality on both sides of the border. And a genuine desire to rectify the wrongs.

No words can be enough to thank Imtiaz Alam who heads the South Asia Free Media Association in Lahore and Chanchal Manohar Singh of the Society for Promotion of Peace in Chandigarh. It is citizens like them who help in building bridges where none exist. It is their endeavour to search for everlasting peace, making many foes turn into lifelong friends.

One of the first things I did on reaching Lahore during my first trip was to drink tap water. And it was noticed. The moment I mentioned that my roots lay in Lahore and I had to drink tap water to quench the decades of thirst inside me and walk the alleys that my father and ancestors once traversed daily, a lifelong relationship was established.

Plenty of things happened during the first few hours in Lahore. And nothing was surreal. I went to visit a family in Dharampura for tea and almost the entire locality was eager to meet me, get themselves photographed with me. The children, especially, thronged out of their homes to catch a “glimpse” of what they had so far been only hearing of “India” and “Indian”. They wanted to touch me, hug me.

For them, I had become a “Lahori”.

I continue to stay in touch with the friends I have made in Pakistan and they are from all across the country. We discuss far more relevant issues than just politics. Take for example Farah. The sister of a cousin’s friend in London whom I met for the first time in 2011. We are now members of an extended family. Hers and mine.

I encourage all Indians to visit Pakistan and Pakistanis to visit India whenever they get a chance. For it offers a unique opportunity to discover oneself through another body and to rid of pre-conceived notions and bias.

Whether it is village Killianwala in Faisalabad, Patiala Jewellers and Chandni Chowk in Rawalpindi, Jinnah Market and Saidpur in Islamabad, Kashmir Point in Murree or Anarkali Bazaar in Lahore, the refrain is the same. Peace.

 

The author is a senior journalist based in Chandigarh

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