If I had to name a few countries that I would want to visit in my life, Pakistan would be one of them. It is not that my ancestors lived there before the Partition, but the desire to visit the place where the founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak, was born. ‘I heard the buglers sound the last post as Lord Mountbatten lowered the Union Jack from the ramparts of the Red Fort. The band played the National Anthem as Pandit Nehru hoisted the Tricolour and the cannon roared to salute the new leader of the country. Tears of joy blurred my vision and my heart was full of pride that I am a citizen of free India. But was it that simple for me to admit that I would now require a passport and a visa to visit my native village and meet my childhood friends? Definitely not!’ reminisced 90-year-old Sher Singh with tears in his eyes. While the whole country was rejoicing, Punjab was witnessing the bloodshed of their near and dear ones.
In 2015, during a seminar organised by the Folklore Research Academy, Amritsar, I met progressive people from Pakistan who worked to strengthen India-Pak relations. The Pakistani delegation, headed by Karamat Ali, was received with open arms by the NGO with roars of ‘Hind-Pak dosti zindabad’ from both sides. The moment was encapsulated with love and emotions, and one could easily sense a shared pain of the Partition. The delegation was scheduled to remain with us for two days and I was given the duty to accompany them to Qila Bazaar, Patiala, for shopping. What surprised me was that shopkeepers did not charge for their purchases or gave them handsome discounts after learning that they were from Pakistan.
Another incident that made us emotional was when we saw an unknown group of students heading towards the delegation to offer them sweets and welcoming them to India, in a restaurant where they were scheduled to have tea. One of the students even hugged a delegate, admitting how pained he was over his inability to visit his ancestral village near Lahore and pay obeisance at Nankana Sahib Gurdwara. ‘Note down my address and contact number, you have to stay at my house in Lahore,’ the delegate replied.
These incidents resonate in my mind whenever tensions escalate between the two nations, diminishing the slim chance for many people in India and Pakistan to visit their native places. As the Kartarpur corridor observes its first anniversary, I strongly feel it would emerge as a luminous light for de-escalating tensions between the two nations, when virtually every avenue of people-to-people contact has been closed.
I recall a couplet by poet Muzaffar Razmi: ‘Ye jabr bhi dekha hai, taareeq ki nazron ne/Lamhon ne khata ki thi, sadiyon ne saza payi (Much injustice has been seen in the saga of history/When for a mistake made in a moment, we are punished for centuries).’
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