'Get out, the Pakistanis are coming!’
A fine headline to be greeted with this morning, on October 2, the day of Gandhi Jayanti. Made me check my calendar to confirm it wasn’t 30th January.
To all those bandying their jingoism the past few days, jung mubarak, you’re welcome to your war. How comforting it must be to thump your chests as you listen to Ornob and approve ‘surgical strikes’. Us folks who live on the border - 553 Kms of Ferozepur, Fazilka, Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Gurdaspur, Pathankot - teetering forever on Radcliffe’s line, are fleeing; leaving behind, yet again, our homes, our land, our crops, our selves.
But, I digress. Happee budday, Bapu! (that’s how we say it in Punjab). If you don’t feel like partying with the chest thumpers, join us as we hastily evacuate and scramble away from the border, sweat lining our sweaters in the autumnal chill, a thousand questions on our minds. Who will harvest the rice? Feed the buffalos? Where will we find shelter? How far before we can rest? Will Pakistan also do surgical strikes? Or will its tanks roll across the border like in ’71? Will we have a home to return to? We have no plan - we were ordered to ‘Evacuate at once!’ - but once we find shelter, in a gurdwaras perhaps, we can swap stories.
You can tell us about the Purana Qila of Delhi, the same Old Fort where in 1947 you found Muslim refugees huddling from the tyranny of their Hindu brothers, much as the Pandavas had sought refuge from the Kauravas as the Mahabharata says. And I can tell you about fleeing from home astride my father’s shoulders, ducking into bushes as sirens sounded, crying when my embroidered jutti slipped off my foot and my father paused in flight as he searched for that one shoe even as the PAF fighter planes threatened to incinerate us any moment …
When the war passed and we returned home to ‘normalcy’, we exchanged stories with friends and neighbors as we recalled our flights. We have so many stories, Bapu, the night will pass before you can blink an eye. For a people used to evacuating upon a crisp command, stories are all we can carry. And in an amnesiac nation (not a single memorial to Partition), stories are all we have.