Lahore, 159 kilometres — a yellow-white milestone in Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi greets students as they approach an open-air cafe inside the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) campus in Ludhiana. As some stop to click selfies, reinforcing the cultural bond that still connects both Punjabs, others approach benches placed under a huge peepal tree. A cool breeze blowing under the canopy of trees and lush green fields on the left, first-time voters here are busy discussing how the Pulwama attack can actually influence young voters, and if loving ones country has to mean hating Pakistan.
The stage for this informal discourse is PAU’s Farm View Cafe with symbols of shared culture and history of undivided Punjab strewn all across the setting.
Underneath the peepal tree, there are carefully-placed stones — five of them in five different colours with Sutlej, Beas, Ravi, Chenab and Jhelum, the names of five rivers of Sanjha Punjab (undivided Punjab), written on them in Punjabi. There’s Waris Shah’s painting under the tree, and two walls nearby have murals of Baba Farid and Shiv Kumar Batalvi — the three great litterateurs and pride of collective heritage of India and Pakistan.
The cafe brings alive pain of Partition in 1947 and in words of Gurdas Mann- ‘Ho Raavi ton Chanaab puchda, ki haal hai Sutlej da..’ (The river Chenab flowing on Pakistan side asks Raavi which flows near the border, that how is Sutlej on the Indian side).
Tushar Sharma (21), a student from border district Fazilka, says, “When I vote I will remember that there certain politicians benefiting from entire India-Pakistan conflict due to which situation has worsened. Through this initiative on our campus, we just want to tell students that Pakistan was also once a part of us. Lahore was a part of undivided Punjab and loving our country (India), does not mean we should hate Pakistan. Electronic media is playing a big role and working in favour of the government to create this hysteria but it is not that easy to manipulate new voters now.”
It a view that 21-year-old Sakshi echoes. A Home Sciences student, she says: “Politicians are not guiding us in the right way….A narrative is being built that entire Pakistan is against India. It is going to benefit politicians in Lok Sabha polls. None of us either in India or Pakistan want to fight. Terrorism is a major issue, of course, it needs to be solved. The worst thing a country can do is to sponsor terrorists and that is what the Pakistan army and government are doing….But we need to remember that people are suffering on both sides…..No, I do not hate Pakistan. All people in Pakistan are not terrorists.”
Jhanvi (20), however, feels that the anger among people after Pulwama attack will impact first-time voters. “There is anger among youth against Pakistan and maybe it will affect how they will vote. There is badley ki bhaavna (feeling of revenge). Anger is justified but to use it for political benefits is wrong.”
As Bineet Kaur (20) joins the discussion, she adds: “My grandfather is from Lahore…Ohna nu Lahore di mitti di sugandh haley vi bulandi hai (He still misses Lahore)..”
Meanwhile, a wooden slate hanging on peepal tree asks, ‘Peeplan dasdey vey, kehda raah swarag nu jaandan…’ (Dear Peepal, please tell which way goes towards heaven). And Waris Shah beneath it, rests in peace in his Saanjha Punjab.