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A plane note of Partition

Old red brick wall damaged background

Old red brick wall damaged background  

Walls break in a flight aisle, helped on by the smile of a little one

Having grown up listening to stories of how my family migrated from Pakistan to Independent India, I often wonder about the cruelty of Partition.

A few months ago, just before the lockdown, it took a three-year old boy to remind me once again of this cruelty and the humanity inside each of us. As the captain announced the departure of my flight from Washington to Dubai, my eyes fell on the toddler sitting diagonally opposite my seat, laughing innocently with his parents as our flight climbed rapidly. Two hours later, the boy was still smiling and playing with his toys as the aircraft flew across oceans.

It was during a short walk up and down the aisle to stretch my stiff legs that I met Mahad properly, accompanied by his doting father, who had taken up the responsibility of taking him for a short walk. Mahad, meaning the Great One, did not speak a word, but had the most infectious smile I have ever seen.

I tried grabbing his attention, to play with him and it wasn’t long before he came to my arms of his own accord, pulling my long, unkempt hair. He unknowingly slapped my face, all the while laughing, and reached out for my spectacles, as my nieces and nephews do. I held Mahad delicately, afraid of hurting him and taking away his smile.

It was by a sheer stroke of bad luck that Mahad and I were born in different nations which were once a single force to reckon with. As Mahad wrestled playfully against my grip, I got talking to his father, who turned out to be from Karachi. And a very unique history of our ancestors unfolded.

Cross currents

Here was Mahad whose ancestors had fled the United Provinces to go to the newly formed Pakistan, while my ancestors had moved from Sialkot to what remained of India. Perhaps our ancestors crossed paths while going to their new homes, or perhaps they did not. Perhaps they helped each other, perhaps they did not. But I sure hope that they did not inflict violence upon each other.

In 2005, when the Pakistani cricket team toured India, Mahad’s parents visited their neighbouring country to follow their passion for cricket. But most astonishingly, when they came down to Chandigarh to watch the Test at Mohali, they stayed just a lane away from my house, with a family I know very well. The world is indeed small.

Mahad does not know which country I belong to, or what my faith is. The child was just happy to have found another person to play with. Neither his family nor I thought twice before embracing a person from a country often branded as the enemy. It took a plane ride at 30,000 feet on no man’s land, taking us back to our respective “homes”, for two “could-have-been” compatriots to meet.

Happy encounters

I have had pleasant encounters with Pakistanis in New York, Vienna, and even remote places such as Bogota. But I never thought that a smiling three-year-old child who cannot even speak would leave behind such an indelible impression on me.

As our flight prepared to land at Dubai, before Mahad and I boarded different flights to India and Pakistan, I wished his family good luck. We exchanged notes on places to visit in both our countries. I got an enticing offer to visit Karachi and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while I made them a standing offer to take them around Punjab the next time they visit, though the coronavirus has ruined the plans for now.

But it was all because of a young boy that I had such an encounter, which left me with a warm feeling unlike any other. And in that moment, there was only love.

rishabhkochhar92@gmail.com

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Printable version | Jul 13, 2020 2:19:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/a-plane-note-of-partition/article31932533.ece

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