Wednesday, August 18, 2010

SO NEAR YET SO FAR - Families meet across border and barbed wire-Hindustan Times


"Aag lag jai iss kandyali taar ku, ab mui tassalli saath paar dekhan bi nai deti (damn this barbed wire, now it doesn't even allow us to see across to our heart's fill).

This was 65-year-old Kaaki Sen from Rajasthan grumbling in frustration as she tugged at her `kurta' caught in the fence separating India and Pakistan. She was at the border to have a glimpse of her grandfather, whom she last saw at the age of two, before Partition, i.e.

Unmindful of the torn kurta, she takes a step into the wire from the Indian side before a making a hugging gesture to the old man, her eyes shut from emotion.

On the other side, grandfather Khadim Sen could be seen -tears in eyes -requesting the BSF and Pakintan Rangers to lower the volume of loudspeakers blaring patriotic songs. "Allah baksh kare," he mutters, before he's given a detailed introduction from the family members accompanying Kaaki, seeing him the first time since August 1947.

Kaaki is among the hundreds of Indians who cannot afford to travel to Pakistan to meet their separated relatives either due to financial constraints or visa restrictions. People on the two sides are allowed to have a "face to face" meeting at this joint check post every year on August 14 and 15.

However, 6 feet is the closest they can come.BSF officials say people come in from as far as Mumbai, Gujarat and Rajasthan.

The Hindustan Times team that spent a day at the border post also spotted Reshma, an 87-year-old woman who "lost" her parents to Pakistan during Partition. Now, having lost her vision, she often visits the border post to hear the voices of her brother and sisters living in the family home in Kanipur in Pak Pattan district of Pakistan.

She had first visited the border in the early Nineties when she could not travel to Pakistan to attend the last rites of her father. "I wanted to have one last look at my father, so I requested my brother Chaudhary Muneer to bring the body to the border. I paid my tributes across the fence.
Since then, I have been coming here nearly every year," Reshma told HT.

BSF officials say often newborn children are brought to the check post. "We can never forget the day when a blind woman in her eighties came to hear the cries of her 25-dayold grandson born to her daughter living in Rawalpindi," a border guard said.For 78year-old Raj Rani -who, separated from her husband Vishambar Nath in 1947, has been living near Fazilka -the check post has been her only reason to live. She recalls how she discovered her husband in the early Sixties, only to learn that following Partition he had remarried and embraced Islam, renamed Ahmed.

"Before the 1965 Indo-Pak war, we would walk across the border and meet him and his new family," she remembers, "but since then, this post is the only link between our divided families".

Whenever she wants to meet her husband --in joy or sorrow -her son Jagannath informs his father in Haveli Lakha in Pakistan, and a rendezvous is fixed at the border. As Jagannath told HT, "This very barbed wire that separated her from her family has become her lifeline."

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