By Gajinder Singh
At Gurmeet Singh’s modest home, Bharat and Pakistan are brothers. The carpenter in his late twenties has named his sons after the two neighbouring countries.
“I abhor hatred,” he explained at his home in Malout in Muktsar district, 150km from the India-Pakistan border.
Gurmeet has experienced what hatred can do. He was hardly five-six when his family was forced to migrate to Punjab from Haryana’s Hansi after having their home attacked during the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom.
“I was very young but I remember the violence. Later, I read about it,” said Gurmeet, who earns Rs 5,000-6,000 a month and prefers to call himself a day labourer.
“So I decided that when I grow up, I should do something to lessen whatever hatred exists among people, nations or neighbourhoods. I named my elder son Bharat and the younger Pakistan the day they were born.”
It gives him immense pleasure to hear two-and-a-half-year-old Bharat say: “Pakistan is my brother.” Pakistan is 18 months old while Gurmeet’s eldest child, daughter Gagandeep, is four.
Naming his younger son Pakistan evoked derision and shock among neighbours and friends, Gurmeet said.
“People used to berate me but my family didn’t yield to pressure. Now many people have changed their minds and have no problems calling my younger son by his name.”
Bharat can speak broken Punjabi but Pakistan finds it difficult to complete a full sentence. But when asked what they would like to be when they grew up, both said “deshbhakt” (patriot) in unison, as if tutored.
Gurmeet’s wife Lakhwinder has backed her husband throughout. “I have learnt a lot about life from him. The thought behind the names we gave our sons is all about forgiveness,” she said.
The parents tell their children stories about patriots like Bhagat Singh, Udham Singh and Kartar Singh Sarabha.
“Hatred should have no place in our hearts. The people of the two countries do not want war,” Gurmeet said.
But he knows he can do little. “As a carpenter I can join two pieces of wood with gum or by driving a nail through them, but...” he shrugged.
This story originally appeared in The Telegraph, Calcutta, April 20, 2008