By Kulbhushan Kain
Our subcontinent is obsessed with the India- Pakistan World Cup T20 Cricket Match which will be played in Dubai on Sunday. To put it mildly – it’s akin to a war between bat and ball being fought by 22 players, cricket boards, coaches, analysts, journalists and the populations of the two nations. What most do not seem to realise is that many of our parents and grandparents were, at one time, part of the same country – till 1947 cruelly split us.
However, there are a few who still yearn for the old times. I learnt that one evening in Dubai where I worked for about 3 years.
I was waiting to board a metro at the glittering Sharaf DG Station to get to Burj Khalifa. Being new to the city, I was a bit confused as to whether I was on the right metro line or not and looked for help. There was a young couple in an animated discussion. I avoided them. I did not disturb a Chinese gentleman listening to music with headphones on. Neither did I disturb a group of ladies who were huddled near a kiosk.
Then I saw Munnawar. He got off the escalator carrying a computer bag. He was about 50 years old and balding. He looked tired and stressed. His eyes met mine.
I asked him in Hindi.
“Is this the Rashida Metro line? (Rashida is the last station on the way onwards towards Burj Khalifa).
He asked in chaste Punjabi, “Tussi kitthey jaana chaandeh ho?” (Where do you want to go?)
My ears cocked up. A Punjabi in Dubai – wow!
“I want to go to the Burj Khalifa. Are you from Punjab? I am from Hoshairpur,” I gushed excitedly.
“No, I am from Pakistan. But our family migrated from Jalandhar during the Partition,” he answered.
He told me that, although he had never been to Jalandhar, his father had grown up there. He also told me he had an aunt who had migrated from Hoshiarpur. I told him that my father had studied medicine at the King Edward’s Medical College at Lahore and that my father-in-law was from Gujranwala. He was thrilled. “My wife is from Gujranwala,” he said with a smile.
I asked him what he was doing in Dubai. He told me that he was working for a Security Agency. He also told me that his family was in Lahore and he was prone to bouts of homesickness very often.
“Why don’t you work in Pakistan and be with your family in the city you love?” I asked.
It touched a raw nerve. He spouted venom at the political structure in Pakistan. He told me how it was impossible to find work or feel safe in Pakistan.
He looked at me and said, “India is a heaven compared to Pakistan. It is a super power. It has guns, tanks, nuclear missiles. It also has tomatoes, rice, industries, agriculture, 5 Star Hotels and Malls. Look at the way your TV anchors talk to your politicians, Army generals, bureaucrats, anyone. You have democracy. Pakistan only has guns and a sham democracy!”
I was quiet for a minute. I absorbed the praise. Not for the first time, I realised how important democracy is. More for the poor, because even if injustice is being meted out to them –they or others can speak up. The Press will pick it up. People will rally around Durga Shakti. Or Nirbhaya. Or Lakhimpur Kheri. There is always hope in India because we are a democracy. Not a single South Asian country started its independence with democracy – be it Singapore, Malaysia, Pakistan or Sri Lanka.
I realised all that at the Sharaf DG Station.
Munnawar looked at me and at the sparkling lights of Dubai. The Burj Khalifa jutted out into the sky in the distance. The skyline of the city looked like drawings of tall buildings in bold glittering colours. At the station, the crowd had swelled. There were Asians, Africans, Chinese, Arabs, Europeans. The world seemed to be compressed into the metro station.
Munnawar spoke as the metro pulled into the station, “Sir, I have a ‘khwaab’(dream) that one day people from all over the world will come to India and Pakistan to take part in its economy. We should be giving them employment and not the other way around. But it is a ‘khwaab’! I know it won’t happen in our lifetime!”
“Munnawar – even I have a ‘khwaab’. Your father was from Jalandhar and my father and father-in-law were from Lahore and Gujranwala. We got separated in 1947. I have a khwaab that one day we will be one though I also know it won’t happen in our lifetime.”
Just then, the metro pulled in and its compartment doors opened. A sea of people ran towards its doors. I ran towards one that appeared less crowded and Munnawar ran towards another. He looked over his shoulder and gave me a thumbs up. I clasped both my hands above my head – signifying unity and friendship.
And then I lost him forever. We were separated. Just like our countries were in 1947. We called it Independence!
(Kulbhushan Kain is an award winning educationist with more than 4 decades of working in schools in India and abroad. He is a prolific writer who loves cricket, travelling and cooking. He can be reached at kulbhushan.kain @gmail.com)