“Sat shri akal. Ji ayaa nu ji…”
A burly Pakistan Ranger greeted me with a broad smile, as I entered the neighbouring country’s gate along the zero line on the day the Kartarpur Sahib corridor was to be thrown open.
There was warmth in his smile and honesty in his expression. “Assi tan savere ton udeekde san tunhanu. Akhhan odhar hi laggiyan san (We have been waiting eagerly for you since morning with our eyes on Indian side of the gate),” he said.
He was not the only one who was greeting the pilgrims from Indian side with folded hands. The drivers of e-rickshaws, immigration officials, the security personnel, all seemed to walk an extra-mile to extend hospitality to the pilgrims. And it came quite naturally to them. The smiles were certainly not plastic.
“Do not worry. Just show me your ETA. This is your own country. Just that we are meeting after Partition. I just wish our grandparents were alive to witness this historic day. They suffered the most after Partition. Their friends went to the other side. I used to hear stories. I am sure when our children are our age, this border will be gone,” said an immigration official, his nameplate with Shoaib written on it.
Shoaib’s words melted my heart. As a child, I had heard first-hand accounts of Partition from my grandmother, who had to leave Lahore to settle down in Patiala in August 1947. She was always starry-eyed as she remembered Lahore and narrated her stories.
I always felt she carried a wound that did not heal. She was not alone. The whole of Punjab, in fact, lives with that wound of Partition. That is the reason the political narrative opposing Kartarpur corridor does not resonate in the state. The corridor is rather a small band-aid on that wound, still hurting somewhere, even after 72 years. Not that the people have forgotten the trouble-torn days of militancy in Punjab. They are cautious, yet they want free access to the other side, at least the Gurdwara associated with Guru Nanak Dev.
It is from this longing that Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is being hailed in this part of the country for the corridor and Punjab MLA Navjot Singh Sidhu on the other. Both are being seen as facilitators for realising a dream that people from this part of the border would be able to go to the other side to have a glimpse of the resting place of Baba Nanak. It was actually a dream that has been realised and Sikhs had made this longing a part of their ardas seeking “khulle darshan deedar” of religious places. They have been watching the gurdwara through binoculars since 2004 from Dera Baba Nanak, as the hastily drawn Radcliffe line separated them from a part of their own land.
And when Khan spoke about how Sikhs longed to visit the gurdawara, he struck a chord. His speech went viral on social media and posters hailing him as a hero mushroomed in Punjab.
As we returned from Kartarpur Sahib, there were warm goodbyes and invitations to visit again. There did not seem any deficit of trust as the Pak Rangers posed with us for selfies. As we crossed back into India, the lines of American-English poet WH Auden reverberated in my mind: “But in seven weeks it was done, the frontiers decided, A continent for better or worse divided.”
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