October 06, 2009

62 years

The last time, I went to Wagah as one more of hundreds of tourists from both sides of the border. Every evening, they flood here to watch the elaborately choreographed ritual that is the lowering of the flags and the closing of the border gates. On both sides slogans ring out: "Bharat Mata ki Jai" on our side, and "Pakistan Zindabad" on that. Random folks pick up flags and run up to the gate. Young men lead the crowds in the slogan-shouting.

But it's all done in a cheery, festive mood; and the result is a spectacular spectacle.

This time, I went in the morning. No elaborate ritual, no slogans. Just a huge number of trucks parked on the road and off to the side, packed to the brim with crates. "Those? They're tomatoes going to Pakistan", said my driver, Tony, in the thickly Punjabi-accented Hindi I love listening to. And at the dhabas just before the Customs gate, milling crowds of truck-drivers and blue-uniformed men.

I sit down to wait, I've got at least an hour to wait. Order a chai, then another. Then something to eat, and I am served the fieriest paratha I've ever sampled, luckily with a large dish filled with cool dahi. All around me, the truck drivers sit, chatting and drinking and munching.

Suddenly there's a commotion. Someone has emerged from the gate with a sheet of paper. He's quickly surrounded by a knot of drivers, more joining the knot as he walks over to the gate pillar and sticks the paper there. Some drivers whoop in delight and hare off to their trucks, and there's quickly now a line of them barreling through the gate, some playing who-blinks-first to edge others out. The tomatoes are heading across the border.

Coming across this way, at least an hour later, are the men I'm waiting for. A long-retired Pakistan Army Major and his son. Now 84, the Major grew up in Kapurthala, in now-Indian Punjab. He used to play tennis at the club, and had a good friend in town. The Major left for Pakistan in '47, and has not returned since, being turned down for a visa several times. 62 years that he has not been able to return to his roots.

I'm here because I know someone in his family, and I helped the Major, in a small way, get his visa when he applied last week. So for the first time in 62 years, the Major returned home. I was proud to be there to greet him, happy to accompany him to Kapurthala, moved to see his tears when he saw and embraced his friend for the first time in 62 years too. The friend turned 94 today. It was important that the Major made it today. Both men have felt the pressure of time building against them, against their chances of ever meeting.

But now they've met. May there be many more such meetings, between many more old friends.

(More when I get the time).


Ugich Konitari said...

I know this is a naive comment. But I cant help feeling that the politicians of both countries need to be removed/fired/cashiered or whatever. People to people the two countries would have managed living peacefully.

In the meanwhile ISI trains Kasab types, and we bend over backwards to appear to be just, even though the proof of his guilt is there in technicolor.

And I am so glad you were able to unite these two senior friends...

Anonymous said...

and Oh....why don't you write about something happy.

Coming to these plethora of plaques, Indira, her Sikh opponents and their perceived supporters were unreasonable in their ambitions and hence they deserved whatever they got.

Only consolation is that I didn't have any part in this saga. So I sleep in peace. Only that bleeding heart liberals are envious of my peace and they pound me everyday with their banality...

Anonymous said...

All the ancient prophets, saints etc have all failed utterly in their tasks. Modern day politicians and liberals have only complicated it even further.

Sheer personal indifference and the Fable of the Three Monkeys might just shore up things a bit

Sidhusaaheb said...



Chandru K said...

Actually, India needs to reduce and eliminate contact with Pakistan, until the whole composition and ideology of Pakistan changes totally. Pakistan is a country where the military dominates everything, even when there is nominally a civilian government in power. It was shocking to learn that 70% of the capitalisation of the Karachi stock exchange is accounted for by military owned firms. There are a few, but vocal, naive or blind Indians who have this belief that if Indians reach out to the people, all will be well. But, (apart from the fact that at least 40% of the Pakistani population supports terrorism in Kashmir), every time there is a kind of civic engagement or reaching out, the military steps in to show who's the boss. Witness Kargil, Mumbai and the umpteen Kashmir terror attacks.

XO said...

So, what was the post all about. Making a 84yr old Pakistani happy or lamenting that he was earlier denied a visa?

Germany fought and butchered tens of thousands of neighboring country men before WW-II. After WW - II, they made their peace and have been peacefully co existing (with a single currency) and open borders for last 6 decades.

Unfortunately, here Pakistan is hell bent on seeing to it that no matter what happens to itself, it will try to cut & bleed India as much as possible. With that attitude, why should it be surprising that a Ex Major did not get his visa.

After all, he is no Saint.

Prasoon said...

Wow :)

Dilip D'Souza said...

UK: speaking for myself, and I've said this before: I'm proud that we are trying Kasab, and thus showing we are a country that believes not in shooting people like he and his pals did, but in law and order and justice. We fall short of ideals in other ways, but let's at least acknowledge this attempt to live up to one.

The meeting between the old friends moved me no end. At least a couple of the comments already on this page are by themselves the argument for trying to make more such meetings happen.

he is no Saint.

Would you say that of an officer in the Indian Army? Why or why not? Think about it. Again, this pronouncement is more reason for more such meetings.

Chandru K said...

"Would you say that of an officer in the Indian Army? Why or why not?"

False equation between Indian and Pakistani officers. The Pakistani military not only represents the real ruling force in Pakistan, it is an entity that is fiercely anti-Indian( and anti-democratic, anti-secular and anti-plural), and they've shown it over and again. The Indian military is apolitical, it is not unduly lionised, and it is purely a defensive organisation. There is no hard ideological anti-anybody position hard-wired into its genes like the Pakistani military.

Anonymous said...

As far as I know, most folks in India & Pakistan join the armed forces not because they want to 'kill the 'enemy', but because it's a good, secure government job, with a retirement & medical coverage. In countries where everyone is struggling to make ends meet, that's huge.
Bottom line, one can't decide that members of the armed forces of either country have no other thought in mind but to kill the 'enemy'.
Most probably, more than anyone else, they have learned the futility of trying to settle disputes through war.
Another thing, not all Pakistani army personnel were part of the various martial law regimes, especially among those who joined the army right after partition. This is most probably true of the Major in this story.
This is just the story of an old man who wanted to meet his childhood friend again. & he finally managed to do it.
That's good news.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Thank you, anon above, for saying what you did. It's more or less an accurate characterization of the Major.

There was an interesting moment during his visit. He had come with his son, a teacher now 55 or so. We were sitting with a Kapurthala family including several young men (22-23). The son told them quietly, "when I was your age, I really wanted to join the Army and I had only one thought -- defeat India! But then I met a group of Indians who had come to Pakistan and I realized how idiotic I had been."

Chandru K said...

"when I was your age, I really wanted to join the Army and I had only one thought -- defeat India! But then I met a group of Indians who had come to Pakistan and I realized how idiotic I had been."

To what extent is this outlook in any way a reflection of the policies and attitudes of the Pakistani military establishment(which, as stated before, is the real ruling entity in Pakistan) the Islamic fundamentalists, and large numbers of Punjabis, who are considered the 'martial races' from British days? And while what the officer said about how stupid it is to go on fighting is commendable, isn't it a fact that the Pakistani military and Jihadists have shifted their policy to one of 'low intensity warfare'? The idea being to harm( which means kill, BTW) India enough so that it is forced to make concessions on Kashmir, the big 'prize' of Pakistan?

Chandru K said...

Not only propaganda, but 62 terrorist training camps, including 10 that have been opened *after* the Mumbai terror attack. And all D'Souza writes is about some poor Pakistani military officer unable to get a visa to come to India. Tasteless.