Magazine article New Internationalist

Homeward Bound: Indians and Pakistanis Are Beginning to Pick Up the Threads of Their Divided Lives, and Start the Process of Healing, of Remembering, of Talking Again

Magazine article New Internationalist

Homeward Bound: Indians and Pakistanis Are Beginning to Pick Up the Threads of Their Divided Lives, and Start the Process of Healing, of Remembering, of Talking Again

Article excerpt

There was much excitement in our household as my 80-year-old father prepared to visit Pakistan for the first time after 53 years. He'd fled, amidst gunfire and smoke, the day India and Pakistan were partitioned, carrying nothing but the clothes on his back, having handed over his apartment keys to a friend who was staying behind. All these years, though, he hadn't forgotten Lahore, his home, or Shamsher, his friend.

'This will probably be my only chance before I die,' he said when we expressed concern about his health. We were worried: he's diabetic, suffers from angina, tends to overstrain himself. He loses things, he's never kept a wallet -- what would he do if he lost his passport or something equally important? But he was adamant.

The determination, however, began to wear a little thin as the day drew near. He couldn't sleep for worrying but he wouldn't, or couldn't, tell us he was worrying. We knew though, and made all sorts of oblique suggestions that he plead ill health or doctor's orders and back out. But he wasn't having any of that. 'I just have to go,' he said.

This desperation to visit each other's countries may seem strange to outsiders. But Indians and Pakistanis will immediately understand -- as will others whose lives have been partitioned arbitrarily in doomed attempts at political solutions. The one thing we hanker after all our lives is to be able to visit the other country. For people who came from Pakistan to India (as my parents did) or those who went from India to Pakistan, this longing is even more deep. For many Indians and Pakistanis, that moment in 1947 when a more or less arbitrary boundary was drawn dividing one country into two was a moment of deep loss: of friends, of family, of homes and roots, of a culture. It was a moment which represented a division of hearts.

Today, it's well nigh impossible for Indians and Pakistanis to get visas to travel to each other's country. There is such deep suspicion on both sides that neither government is willing to allow the other's citizens to visit freely. If you get a visa at all, it's not for a country but for a city -- the maximum being three cities -- and everywhere you go you must report to the police within 24 hours and again 24 hours before leaving. So my father also felt that because he was fortunate enough to obtain a visa, he just had to go.

We saw him off at the airport, giving him all sorts of instructions about how to hold on to his passport. No sooner had he entered than he turned the folder upside down and dropped the passport on the floor. …

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