Seasons of Our Being: Punjab On Two Sides of the Wagah
December 29, 2016
Many years ago, the Pakistani writer Afzal Tauseef was visiting Amrita Pritam in Delhi. Although she did not have official permission to enter Punjab, she took a taxi from Delhi and reached my home at Punjab University, Patiala.
Later, sipping tea, she told me about how she planned her trip to my home. “It is not written on my face that I am a Pakistani. I look like you people. And if anyone had checked me and enquired, I would have said, ‘I am going to see Dalip Kaur Tiwana. Who would have stopped me? I know that people in this region respect you a lot’", she said with a laugh. She added, "My ancestral village is near Jalandhar. No one from my family lives there anymore. During the partition mayhem, all the members of my family were slaughtered and thrown into a well. I was away at the time, and so escaped. I had a great desire to see the land of my parents. Tell me how you are. Amrita misses you so much. I asked her who else I should see and she named only you.'
“You have done the right thing by coming here, now stay with us for a few days.”
“I have sent the taxi off. I'll stay here for a day or two surely. I hope your Sardarji doesn't mind, but I suspect he is not the type who would mind a Muslim woman staying with you. You have just one son I suppose.”
“Yes – he is very thoughtful, very considerate.”
She laughed. “I too have a son – also a nice one. I married him off with great pleasure. Soon after, however, his wife took him away. Now I appreciate the saying “note turwayate gya; munda vihahyate gya” [Change a currency note and it is lost; marry off a son and he is lost.] My son is now very miserable. His wife does not bother about anyone except herself. Girls are so different before marriage; they completely change after marriage. Anyway, tell me – have you read any of my writings?”
“I have read three of your short story collections”, I said.
“I know I write well. God has given me everything, but still, I feel a certain void within myself. I wish time could turn back and everything – my village, my people – everything were restored. I'll go to my village next time I'm here in India. I want to see how the people in my village live and whether they remember us or not. I would also like to see the well that my relatives were thrown into after they were killed. Their bones might still be in the well…”
“Tauseef, how strange it feels – God knows what came over our people then.”
“Busy with life's chores, one forgets the past during the day, but when I wake up at night, my thoughts hover around my village here. Sometimes I feel it was a nightmare.”
I had no answer to what Tauseef was saying. She continued, “Dalip, when men fight among themselves they abuse each other's women – why is their whole savagery poured out towards them?”
“This is because women are physically weaker, and faced with bodily harm they are easily frightened”, I replied.
“I think that's why your Gurus asked women to always wear miniature swords – so that they can defend themselves when threatened”.
That night Tauseef talked with me about various things well into daybreak. She also touched on how the Brits had made a fool of us by dividing us: “‘Keep fighting and dying’”, they said, and then they left.
Tauseef stayed with us for two days. Before leaving, she said, “How peaceful your university and home are!”, and she pleaded, as if feeling utterly helpless, “Keep me here forever!”
“If it were in my control Tauseef, I would erase the line that separates us. It is possible that after a century or two, more intelligent and better people than us may live here, and they may realise the folly of the Partition and erase the line.”
On the third day, as Tauseef was leaving, I gave her two silk suits and a packet of sweets.
“What is this?” she asked.
“Even though you have your inlaws’ home on the other side, this side is where your parental home is. Daughters do not go empty-handed from their parents' home.”
Tears welled up in Tauseef's eyes, “You should visit me sometime.”
“I will”, I said, and sent her back to Delhi in my car; she was allowed to return to Pakistan only from Delhi.
A few years later, I got a chance to visit Pakistan. The World Punjabi Conference was to take place in Lahore. Fakhar Zaman was the organiser. Along with many others I too was invited to the conference. We were put up in a very grand and expensive hotel from the British colonial period. The conference covered all our expenses, except for our morning tea. Harjinder Kaur was sharing a room with me. Early in the morning, a waiter brought us two cups of tea. When the waiter returned to pick up the cups, I placed a hundred rupee note on his tray. He salammed us and left. Harjnder Kaur asked me if the boy was likely to return the balance. I said, “I don't know.” Harjinder rang up a delegate staying in the hotel to enquire about the hotel rates. Surprised by what she learned, she informed me that the cost of a cup of tea was forty rupees! I laughed, “That's why the waiter took the hundred rupee note – eighty rupees for the tea and twenty rupees as his tip – and left after saluting us. Never mind.”
“I had planned to pay for the tea tomorrow. Na Baba na, we will not order tea tomorrow. Who is going to pay one hundred rupees for two cups of tea?” said Harjinder.
“Just imagine how much they must be spending on our food and stay. It will look so odd if we do not order tea just to save one hundred rupees”, I said.
The first session of the conference was about to conclude when I was told that, having learnt about me from the newspapers, some Pakistani Tiwanas had come to see me.
“We were very happy to learn that our sister has come from India”, they said when I met them. There was a large group of men of all ages and they had brought with them a beautiful bouquet of roses and a big cake. One of them remarked, “There should be some way for us to visit and interact with each other”. I told them that there was an International Tiwana Brotherhood Association in India and that, if they became members, it would be easy for them to visit India. “All right”, they said, “Send us the forms and we will do what is necessary”. And so the conversation continued for some time.
“Let's cut this cake right now”, I suggested. “I cannot carry it to India”.
“You can leave it downstairs – they will distribute it among the delegates”, a dignified elderly man suggested.
“Sister, let us go to Sargodha tomorrow”, a gentleman said.
“I have a visa only for Lahore”, I said.
“When he is with you, who would dare stop you? The police themselves will escort you”, another gentleman offered.
“He must be a big gun in this area”, I thought. “We will go to Sargodha next time”, I said.
When they were leaving, a forty-something said, “His car will be here for you throughout your stay. It will take you wherever you wish to go”.
I thanked them, and they very respectfully salammed me and left.
After the next day's session, that man met me and Harjinder Kaur in front of the hotel and asked me, “Sister, where would you like to go? Malik Sahib has also invited you to his place. First let's see the places of your choice and then we will go to Malik Sahib's residence.”
He took us to the Lahore museum, the tomb of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, a girls' college, and then to the house of a friend who had a precious collection of a variety of old articles. Finally, we made it to Malik Sahib's residence. It was a veritable palace with uniformed guards manning the gates and luxurious furnishings throughout. We were ushered into the drawing room where four or five persons were waiting for us. All stood up and welcomed us with great warmth. “We are proud of you Sister”, they said. Soon tea was served from a silver tea set. I looked around. Malik Sahib noticed and said, “Sister, you will have to go to the Zenana to meet your Bhabi”.
After tea, an escort guided me to the Zenana. The stunningly beautiful begum greeted and salaamed me. She told her children, “Your Bua has come from India.”
That day I realised that women from aristocratic families in Pakistan do not freely mix with men.
“Stay with us for a few days”, she said, holding my hand.
“I have a very short visa this time. I'll stay with you when I visit Lahore next time”, I promised. “Why don't you come to India sometime?”
“We have been to India twice, but were only able to visit Delhi. We don't have anyone from our own family in India. We have always lived here.” Then, pointing to me, the begum instructed the khansama, “Get us something to eat. Bring some sweets.”
The khansama brought a plate of pistachio and cashew barfi. The begum got up and went into the house and came back with a silk suit embroidered with zari, or gold thread. “This is from us. We thank you for coming to our home.”
I was awestruck by her grace and elegance.
The next day, after the conference was over, the same man with the big car asked us, “Where would you like to go today?” Harjinder said, “To the cloth market. We need to buy chiffon suits.”
He took us to the cloth market. Some distance away from the bazaar, he stopped and said, “The road ahead is narrow and the car cannot go any further. I'll wait here – please, you go and get your suits.”
On both sides of the narrow road were cloth shops. They had nice chiffon, but it was too expensive, so we decided not to buy anything.
The man noticed that we had returned empty-handed. He said, “Please wait here for a while – I'll be back soon.” He went towards the bazaar.
“Don't forget that we have to go to Colonel Tiwana's for dinner”, Harjinder Kaur said.
“How could I forget? The colonel has strictly instructed the driver to take us to his place at 7 o'clock sharp.”
After a bit, I added, “How nice this person is!”
“After seeing how these people love you, one does not feel like going back”, Harjinder answered.
“In that case, I'll have to keep watch over you lest you run away with someone”, I joked.
In the meantime, the man had returned with two packets. Before settling himself in the driver's seat, he handed over the packets to me. They were two suits, one each for the two of us, he explained.
I did not know how to thank him. Harjinder took out the two suits, and we saw that they were very expensive and identical chiffon suits. Right then, there was a phone call from Afzal Tauseef. “Weren't you supposed to be at my place now?” She was impatient. “We are on our way to you Tauseef”, I said.
Soon we were at Tauseef's place. It was a simple house, but neat and well kept. “I don't know what I should treat you to – you have come from my parental homeland”, Tauseef said.
“We have already got suits – your love is more than enough for us”, I replied. Tauseef gave me a basket of real-looking plastic fruits and beautifully embroidered cushion covers and treated us to a very tasty and sumptuous meal. With tears in her eyes, she repeated what she had said at Patiala: “I hope the line that brutally divides us disappears and the old Punjab comes back. May all those who were cut down be resurrected and may we all once again live together in peace – as we once did. This life is no life.”
“We all pray Tauseef – maybe one day God will listen to us.” I tried to console her by holding her hand, but she did not stop crying.
We were to go to Colonel Tiwana's in the evening. Harjinder Kaur had to visit a few friends of her own, and so she took the car, leaving me with Tauseef. When she returned in the evening with many gifts from her friends, we set out for Colonel Tiwana's house along with Tauseef. On the way, we received a message that the dinner was in the army mess. We were insructed to go there instead of going to his residence. I thought he must have arranged the dinner in the mess just to save his wife the inconvenience of cooking at home.
When we reached the mess, I realised that Colonel Tiwana had invited close to 150 people to dinner. Most of them were Tiwanas, and they had come to meet me. I learnt that a very large number of Tiwanas live in Pakistan. I told Colonel Tiwana that we were very grateful to our Tiwana driver who had driven us from place to place. The colonel laughed, “Sister, the one you call your "driver" is the master of 8000 acres of land. The latest car in Pakistan is delivered to his place first. If he is moving around with you in his old car and without his guards, it is to remain incognito. When we went to see you in the hotel, he offered to be your driver as long as you stay in Lahore.”
After dinner, Tauseef took us to the famous food street. On both sides of the street were eateries of all kinds. The owners would call out to us, “Please come, eat anything you like. You are our sisters from the other Punjab. It's all free for you.” At each shop where we halted for a while, the waiters would rush to us with rasmalai, jalebis and other sweets, and beseech us to taste them. It was as if they had been missing us all this time.
The day we were to go back, a huge crowd collected at the railway station to see us off. They pleaded with us to come again. Some of them started running with the moving train, waving their hands. A boy who was sitting in the train near Harjinder did not get up and disembark from the train as he should have. “You don't want to get down?” Harjinder asked, smiling. “I'll travel to the the border with you. I can at least see the other Punjab from there”, he said.
Tauseef passed away two years ago, on December 30, 2014. After having seen so much love and affection between the people of East and West Punjab, I often wonder how they became enemies at the time of Partition. Sadly, even after so many years, the politicians of the two sides have kept the issue of Kashmir alive to prolong that enmity. Now barbed wires have been fixed on the border, heavily guarded by the army. Even so, when occasionally a Pakistani bullet kills an Indian, the pro-Government media in India greatly exaggerates the incident so as to arouse ill will against Pakistan. The same holds true for Pakistan.
The hatred between the two countries is slowly growing. The foreign powers, who see the signs of war in this mutual hatred, incite and manipulate the two sides to their own advantage, making them look petty and foolish.
I completely oppose encouraging people to hatred by declaring them martyrs, when they have only joined the army for their livelihood and have been killed. Similarly, to die in war for the posthumous reward of paradise, as happens in Pakistan, is to allow oneself to be used by the state.
All this is happening before our very eyes, but we refuse to see its reality. A martyr is one who willingly dies for a noble cause, for the good of humanity, not an ordinary recruit.
When a police manor soldier kills or gets killed, it is like one of two brothers getting killed in a fight over land. Does such a squabble make him a martyr? To be sure, his death will be a loss to his family, his friends and even to his country, but, like a goat sacrificed on Eid, we cannot call him a martyr. Such labels are used by clever people to incite us to kill and get killed.
People across the two sides of the border do not want war. The soldiers are merely sacrificial goats. To say all this is not to betray one's country. The country is not going anywhere; it will remain where it is. This is about those who get killed senselessly in a senseless war.
(Translated from the original Punjabi by Bhupinder Singh and Elizabeth A Siler).
For an excerpt from the English translation of Dalip Kaur Tiwana's novel Katha Kaho Urvashi (Tell the Tale, Urvashi), read here.
Dalip Kaur Tiwana is one of the foremost writers in Punjab today. She has published forty novels, seven collections of short stories, two autobiographies and a literary biography. She is the recipient of several awards, including the Padma Shri and the Sahitya Akademi Award. She retired as Professor of Punjabi and Dean of the Faculty of Languages at Punjabi University, Patiala, where she is currently a life fellow and writer-in-residence.
Donate to the Indian Writers' Forum, a public trust that belongs to all of us.