“I remember we used to play with bricks at his home. On one such occasion a brick fell on my foot and it started bleeding. So he picked me up and carried me inside. My aunt applied mustard oil on my wound,” recalls 76-year-old Amir Singh about his elder cousin Dalbir Singh, with a proud smile on his face. For the last 72 years he firmly held on to this piece of childhood memory in his heart as he desperately searched for Dalbir Singh whom he had lost during the Partition.
Amir was four when the Partition was declared. The family was then located in Ghadiya Kalan village of Gujranwala province. He distinctly recollects the night he was woken up from sleep and told they would have to leave immediately. “We quickly packed up our things and gathered outside. It was the middle of the night and it was raining heavily. There was water all around us,” he narrates. In the course of the chaos that followed, their horse tripped and he along with his mother was stuck underneath the caravan that was carrying them. Finally a neighbour came to their rescue and they somehow made their way through the rampage.
Dalbir on the other hand was a ten-year-old in 1947 when he was told about the creation of Pakistan. He was visiting his maternal grandparents and separately started out on a journey to build a new home and life on the other side of the border. “We walked through some distance, and rode bullock carts as well,” recalls Dalbir.
While Amir made his way safely to Panipat, Dalbir was located in the adjoining Karnal district. However, they remained completely unaware of each other’s whereabouts. With the passage of time, Dalbir moved from Karnal to Sangrur, joined the Indian Army and then settled in Noida where he opened a mind, body and soul clinic. Amir moved to Udham Singh Nagar in Uttarakhand and became an agriculturist there.
Like most Partition refugees, Dalbir too had moved on in life, safely burying his days across the border within the creases of memory. But a more emotional Amir, remained persistent in his efforts to join the missing dots of his family. His search for his elder cousin began way back in 1960. “Someone told told me that Dalbir lives in Sangrur. Since then I started searching for him,” says Amir.
Over the years, he collected various bits and pieces of information to map out Dalbir’s whereabouts, but was unable to meet with him. In 2014, he visited his village in Pakistan to acquire their land records. Dalbir’s name in those pages once again reignited his desire to be reunited with his lost cousin. When in 2018 the ‘1947 Partition Archive’ reached out to him for an oral history interview, he decided to make a final attempt at his search. He gave them a video interview with the hope that it might somehow make its way to his brother.
Amir’s 72-year-long quest finally came to an end last month when a relative managed to trace down Dalbir’s phone number. Last week, the two brothers met for the first time after seven long decades at Gurudwara Rakhab Ganj in central Delhi. “The last few minutes that I spent waiting to meet him were the longest moments of my life,” says a teary-eyed Amir. As they enthusiastically hugged each other, their families grew ecstatic amid chants of ‘Jo bole so nihaal’.
“Now we know who is where. We have phone numbers and addresses as well, and will keep meeting each other,” says Dalbir. “Ab hum alag nahi honge (now we shall not be separated),” says Amir.