By Asiya Firdaus
New Delhi [India], Sept. 8: "I have a deep bond with India; I feel it in my heart. My dream is to go there and inshallah I shall. Please grant me a visa, but even if you don't, I will reach India somehow".
The local authorities at district Gujranwala, Punjab province of Pakistan had heard this ad infinitum from Nagina Akhtar, a young woman born and brought up in the region.
The youngest of four children, Nagina grew up in an atmosphere of love and protection. Her father, Mohd. Hussain, who had made the journey from Poonch district, Jammu to Pakistan in 1965 -had struggled for years to make a life for himself in the country. In time he was allotted a small plot of land by the government and he settled there.
Hearing her friends talk about their Dada-dadi' ( paternal grandparents), one day Nagina, at that time only three years old asked her father where her's were. Mohd Hussain's face became grave and in a voice choking with emotion, he said, "Beta woh hamse bahut door rehte hain aur hum unse mil nahin sakte'. (We cannot meet your Dada- dadi; they live far from us, in India).
After this, a shadow of sadness seemed to come over Mohd Hussain who would fall silent at times, even weep. Then one day, he suddenly died. His death was inexplicable leaving behind a shattered family. Nagina only a small child at the time, missed her father terribly.
Then to perhaps to fill the void, she began thinking about her 'Dada dadi'. Also, from her friends she had heard about their Taoji (father's elder brother) and Chachaji (father's younger brother).
How she longed for a father figure now.
A deep yearning grew within Nagina -to travel to India and meet the family, her father had left behind. And she began to talk about this to her people. Everyone was vehemently opposed to the idea but if anything, this only strengthened her resolve.
Due to difficult circumstances at home, Nagina was unable to continue her schooling beyond Standard VIII. But by then, she knew how to go about giving flight to her dream. First she needed an identity proof, a certificate that she got from her school. Then came the passport application process for which she had to submit the form at a place a short distance from Gujranwala.
Several months of waiting and then the authorities issued a passport to Nagina.
The next step was the visa for which she went to Islamabad, a four -hour travel from Gujranwala.
Then the big day dawned and Nagina got the news that her visa had been granted. Now that she was poised to embark on the journey, the voices opposing her move became even more vociferous. "The border is a dangerous zone; it is like war and you may get hit in the firing." She heard someone saying. Another said, "There are Hindus living there. They can even kill you."
Only her sister, Safina was supportive. " Main tumhari himmat ko salaam karti hoon. Tum kitni khushnaseeb ho. Apno se milne Hindustan jaa rahi hon" (I salute your courage. How fortunate you are! Going to India to meet our family there.) ", said Safina.
Nagina set off on the journey accompanied by her brother, Mohd Ashraf. They took the train from Lahore to Amritsar. Their first stop was Delhi where they had traced a relative, Salim Bhaijaan (brother), who showed them the sites in the city, to the utter delight of the duo. Nagina and Ashraf met several members of the extended family, who had settled in the capital.
It was an occasion to celebrate but with its moments of poignancy. Then it was time for the onward journey to Jammu and thereafter to Poonch -where her real roots lay.
This is where Mohd. Hussain had begun his journey, one that now his daughter and his son were retracing.
In the period of over two months in the region, Nagina and Ashraf absorbed so much. They met family members, mingled freely with people and were enriched in unimaginable ways.
Wherever they went, they were greeted with warmth. Being from Pakistan did not invite hostility, as they had been conditioned to believe. In fact their experience was to the contrary.
On the return journey from Poonch, they met a Sardarji, at a vehicle check-post who was so delighted to hear that they had come from Pakistan that he insisted on serving them tea and snacks.
In Mendhar town, Nagina drawn to a shop selling trinkets, chose a pair of bracelets. When the shopkeeper learned that they had come from across the border, he gifted the bracelets to her-as a token of his sentiment for the people of Pakistan.
Nagina was moved by each of these people, she engaged with. At the same time, she could not help noticing that basically, the lives of people whether on this side of the border or the other was similar -the hardships, the concerns and aspirations for a better life, were all same.
According to Charkha Communication Development network, Nagina felt she had strong roots in both countries; she had an intense love for both lands and its people. In her mind and in her being, there was no division. (ANI)
The views expressed in the article are that of the author, who sent the article to the Charka features. (ANI)