Time to Write Another Story
“Here was the shop of a Hindu family, your grandfather used to buy me snacks from here”. “My first history book was handed to me by a Sikh family when they left, they knew I loved reading. It was from that book that I discovered that Noor Jehan introduced the use of rosewater in the royal family.”
It was always interesting to hear the stories of my father’s childhood. Sometimes, we were able to relate with him about things that he used to do when he was a child and sometimes his stories seemed to be from another world. Stories which sounded like they belonged to another land from another time, a land which is far gone, a land that we never knew, a land that we will never able to comprehend. Good old times those were, at least for those who led simpler lives, those who used to get up with the first light, prayed in the Masjid or Mandir and eat the same food that was cooked in the similar ways in almost all the houses of the village and then head to their respective workplaces, be it, fields or small workshops of a tailor, blacksmith or cobbler. On their way, they will greet each other with a smile on their faces and ask for family’s wellbeing as well. “Salam Pa, hor suna, Baybay da ki haal a?” (Hello brother, what’s up, how is mother doing) This was the usual greeting that was answered several times before they reached their destinations. Its sweet how everyone used to address others mother as mother instead of aunt or uncle. Such was the relationship among people regardless of which farangi was in power because they did not know him and never did they even try.
And then the stories changed. Now it went like, “there was this Hindu businessman on the railway station waiting for the train and someone shot him there,” and the story comes to conclusion that the Hindu died with one shot but we heard that the killer stayed in pain for a long period of time before he breath his last. Scene changes once more and now we are seeing a refugee’s camp set up for the Sikh families who had to leave their villages because of threat to their lives. This young strong and tall boy sees some of his friends from the village near the camp and the call him to come and meet him. They have been raised together, what fear he should have of them, and he goes to meet them.
Death awaits him in the disguise of his friends and he looks into their eyes and makes one final wish. He would like his friends to finish him off with their bare hands without the use of any weapon. His wish is granted and it took the strength of all three of his friends to strangle him to death. They had to struggle for sometime though. The Sikh boy was well built. The story ends with the thought that his family must have been waiting for him to come back in the camp. The end of these stories is always heartbreaking, no matter which side of the border they happened.
Many independence days later, there is yet another story of children who are growing up to be patriots, they have heard the stories of independence, and their minds have painted the horrors of partition on their lives. They feel very passionately about their country and everything good or bad related to it. They feel pain of their parents and reciprocate it with all it’s due. They know the sufferings of their elders and they remember their loss. And the impact is so powerful that they dream about it.
A neighborhood with houses of our beloved neighbors, we are like family to each other. But there is urgency in the atmosphere today, every alley I turn into is empty. This is not the first time that the streets were empty, this is usual in hot summer days, but today, there is a feel of abandonment and for the first time in all the years of my life, I am afraid. I don’t know where I am going; there is no predetermination for my feet to follow. I am just taking rapid steps, running away from where? Home? Running to where?? Definitely not home. This does not make any sense, if I am afraid I should be running towards my home but this is different from anything that I have ever experienced and I am unable to make it out. There is a string of sweat drops on my forehead and I turn into another alley, and there I see them. There is a burning torch in one’s hand and another has a sword. Two others behind are holding sticks in both hands. Friends or foes? It really does not matter, at least not for them; it is there in their eyes. I want to run away from them, but is there any place I can go to, and even if I tried will I be capable of actually escaping them. My legs break underneath me and I want this to be over quickly.
They wake up with a start, wondering what might have happened if they had not woke up. It might have been real quick like they had hoped in the dream if their captors had been kind. But how can we expect them to be kind when they are there to destroy you completely. Indeed, death must have been a kind outcome of such an encounter.
This is their dream but the string of sweat they felt on their forehead is real. They can feel it as they cool off their heads. The pillow is also wet with sweat so the fear must have been real. But the faces of our adversaries in the dream are unrecognizable. They don’t know them. They can’t place them if I actually knew them. Who were they? I was never under any illusion when they were near me. They were not the people I had known my entire dream life. The passion becomes stronger than ever because even if they had not experienced it for real, they know what their elders felt. Independence Day arrives and they filled with renewed sense of the importance of this day. The stories changes one more time, and now we hear our elders speaking of places so lovingly. There are friends who were forced to leave, friends they tried to protect on both sides of the lines drawn, and friends to whom they owe their lives.
What a mess of events, this whole month is about. What are we supposed to do, love or hate?
The land they speak of so lovingly is long gone. A new story has found its way into the book. A song is heard across the drawn lines and it is felt on both sides of the line. The song is of peace, harmony and friendship. The song does not speak for nations but a beautiful bond of friendship between two people. This story is the story of hope. The dreams are improved too. They have stopped having nightmares about that particular terror. The scars of the land they speak of with horror will not be forgotten anytime soon, but there is a new land, a new era, a new opportunity to start over. There is a chance to go over the curve of the graph once more, to live the happy moments, and write new stories.
The nightmare has been replaced by a new dream, a dream of creating happy memories, of smiles that are beyond the differences, a world where similarities are more binding then variances pulling them apart. How about we set ourselves free one more time, free of old fears, free from mandatory bonds, free from restricted expressions and most importantly free from borrowed opinions. As humans, life gives us so many chances, to bounce back and revive what is lost; mostly we become our own hurdles. How about we strive to achieve that innocence of relationships where we became one family. How about we try to reach out to each other as individuals, content with what we have today and try it work it out. This world is full of friends and we find them in the most unlikely places. There is no restriction of race, color or idea in this, just a small handshake with a smile on your face and the same old greeting, “Hey brother, how you doing, all well at home?” I wish this not for you and me only, I wish this for all of us, because there is only one fact that remains, in the eye of adversary, we are all the same. We see it happening around us in all the violence that is reported or goes unreported. We still own the pen to have another start, to write another story.
Ruth Naymat Gill is a conservationist, an explorer and traveler. She loves to read and write. She is a storyteller when she shares her own experiences with others. In this six part series, she takes us to a trip to the beautiful Hunza Valley of Pakistan.
Image Credit: LIFE