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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Middle-Beyond the Divide

 Key words : Indo-pak border, indo-pak unity, border life, crossborder firing, Istanbul, UK, Atatturk Airpot
Beyond the divide
Jupinderjit Singh
 

IT was music to my ears when I overheard a conversation in chaste Punjabi after spending four days in Istanbul where one could converse in either Turkish or English. I had just settled in a waiting lounge at the Ataturk Airport after the tiring security checks.  

Behind me sat three middle-aged, burqa-clad women, with a young man and a man of about 50.   They discussed shopping and the food they had brought along. I was enjoying their conversation when a security officer asked for their passports. The woman coolly switched to British-accent English, much to my surprise.  
The officer asked them several questions. They responded politely. As he left, one of the women cussed and switched back to Punjabi: “These goras try to act smart and superior but we have handled many of them.” All smiled.
Soon, another officer came along to check their passports again, this time concentrating on the younger male in the group. He also asked questions from an Indian, seated near the Pakistanis. It seemed the officer was headed towards me when he got a call on his walkie-talkie and walked away. This time the Indian vent his ire in Punjabi:
 “They single us out — Indians and Pakistanis — especially when one is headed to England.” The woman joined in, calling him brother: “Nice of you to bracket Indians and Pakistanis as ‘us’. The westerners ruled us, looted our jewels and resources and left us poor, forcing us to migrate to their countries.” I wanted to participate in the conversation but hesitated, perhaps because of the years of hatred for Pakistan. I come from a border village whose land is divided by the Radcliffe Line. I have seen cross-border firing and terrorism from close quarters in J&K.  The Indian continued:
“They ruled us due to our petty divisions. Even now we are fighting amongst ourselves.” The older man agreed: “True, the avaam (public) has suffered much. If we were united, our economy would have been better.” The conversation weighed on me.  Later in Manchester, I went to a grocery store to buy a SIM card. I started conversing in English but the shopkeeper stopped me: “Appan taan ik haan. Apni zubaan vich gal karo (We are one. Let us speak in our mother tongue).” I asked if he was from India. “No, Lahore but the ancestry is the same.”
I told him my village Khalra-Bhikhiwind (now in Tarn Taran) was less than 15 km from Lahore. I also  shared that my father-in-law was born in Lahore and had an Indian passport. He was always singled out for questioning at airports.  He responded with an insightful smile. “The world has moved on. But we are still stuck in time. The British have given us the opportunity to live together in their country. If we can coexist here, enjoy each other’s festivals, why can’t we do it back home?” he asked, pointing to ‘Happy Diwali’ greetings outside his shop.

first published in The Tribune dated November 9, 2015.

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