Two nations; one people

Macaulay wrote of revisiting the places of one’s childhood, but he was fortunate in living in the country of his birth, for me to have the same experience, I needed a passport and a visa, because my birth place now belongs to another country Pakistan. So when I got an opportunity to visit the places of my childhood 15 years later, with the Indian delegation to a session of ECAFE held in Karachi, I jumped at it.

After the session, the Government of Pakistan offered to take delegates to Peshawar and the Khyber Pass, I was excited, but our high Commissioner in Karachi warned me that I would’
t get to the pass for ‘security reasons’.

All the delegates were given their air tickets the same evening — except me. I was handed the ticket the next morning but by that time, the flight had left. I took the next flight and reached Peshawar to find the group had already left for the Khyber. I had to content myself with a visit to the bazaar.

The High Commissioner turned out to be right, I don’t know what the Pakistanis gained by the stratagem because I wasn’t exactly a trained spy, just some one out to enjoy the scenery. Then, every Indian was suspect. In private, the official in charge of the arrangements admitted that I had been left behind on purpose. He laughed at he absurd policy and sald there was hide between India and Pakistan because all the ordinance maps had been duplicated and given to both countries at Partition, but official policy is rarely rooted in common sense.

The official also told me a story, which went back to 1947, when the British Indian Army was divided along communal lines. The Muslim officers went to Pakistan while their Hindu colleagues stayed on with the Indian Army During the Invasion of Kashmir b tribals backed by the Pakistani colonel heard a volco over the wireless which sounded like his former subedar major, a Sikh. They identified each other and exchanged greetings.

Having inquired after the family, the colonel asked the subedar major his location. The former junior officer readily revealed it. Then he authoritatively asked him to with draw 50 yards. The Indian JCO obeyed, and the Pakistanis effortlessly captured an important feature.

On the way back form Peshawar, I stopped at Lahore, where I had spent much of my childhood, I hired a taxi from the day and first went to what had been my material grandfather’s house. The family welcomed me when I told him that the house had once belonged to us. They asked me why there were two basements, and I told them we used to spend the summer afternoons there because it was so cool. They were refugees from Amritsar, so they knew the meaning of losing hearth and home. We talked about the pointlessness of Partition the unimportance of religion and the fundamental brotherhood of man.

I then went on to my father’s house. As soon as we had vacated it —temporarily, we had thought —the locals had moved in. Here, too, I was welcomed by the new occupant, who told me that he had found a lot of clothes and valuables left behind in an almirah, he was referring to the dowry collected for my elder sister. I remembered its slow accumulation, necessitated by rationing after the War.

I went to my old school, visited the Mall Road and the Lawrence Gardens and returned to my hotel late in the evening. I asked the taxi driver to the bill. To my surprise, it appeared that I didn’t have to pay. The occupant of my grandfather’s house had picked up the tab.

I was deeply touched. Who were the people, I wondered, who had so brutally thrown each other out of their homes, who had raped, murdered and pillaged? Not him. Not me. Not us. We had merely exchanged dwellings, as it were. Here was a refugee who understood the pain of anther. We were two nations, but one people.

(Indian Express 17-10-1997)

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