By Sibtain Naqvi
August 15, 2013
December 7, 2012, Monday 5.45am: 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. 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.
December 7, 2012, 8am: The bus is crossing the Wagah border. It’s difficult to believe that these two gates and the few metres of land between them causes so much grief to millions of people on both sides.
Yet, the border with its menacing walls and capricious gates is there. What 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.
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.
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.
December 7, 2012, 8pm: I am 40 kilometres from Delhi and the roads now look familiar. The excitement of the travellers is detectable and they are peering out of the 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.
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 2004, restaurant owners refused to charge them. In Pakistan, saying you are a visiting Indian means discounts at shops and stories of common backgrounds.
January 2, 2013, 8am: 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.
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.
Sibtain Naqvi works at the Habib University Foundation