Wednesday 12th August 10am
Today, my heart is back in Amritsar. I am sitting in Belfast, waiting for my best friend. Chai, bagel, Mumford and Sons in the background. It is the perfect writing scene. All we need now is a window with rain drops trickling down the pane and a warm cosy fire. Shall we, for the sake of argument, say these things are present too?
We left at Day 1 – Amritsar.
Day 2 – a day of food, friendship and stories.
Saturday 11th May 2013 1pm
I am at Hotel C.J. International. Literally on the doorstep of the Golden Temple. It is well into the 40s right now so I am bidding my time before I go into that mad crazy rush. Maybe I will eat my left over parathas from this morning and then head.
So yesterday I went to this place called Amritsari Kulchas Chana on Maqbool Road and sampled my first ever kulcha. It’s like an Aloo Paratha but with more spices. It was good, though I got a lot of looks!
I was then picked up by Kamal Kishore to go to the Wagah Border ceremony. It was amazing. Lots of music and dancing. Colour and noise and vibrancy. the stands packed to the brim, a sea of multi-coloured saris. Kids were running up to the border with these huge flags of India, adults too it has to be said and I, along with all the others, was singing ‘Hindustan, Zindabad! Bharat something – Jai! Vandematharam!’ It was infectious, I really enjoyed it.
I did notice however, the Pakistan side was practically empty. I later learned that this was probably because they have to pay Rs 500 to get in AND one thing I did not notice until it was pointed out to me was that the men and women were sitting separately. It only struck me afterwards that this had been the case.
We then headed towards the Golden Temple to check out the hotel (the hotel I am staying in right now) and I was more than happy with it. The location is so perfect, and the surrounding area is so full of life I know I’ll not get bored.
Actually, the other hotel, Sham Regency, had cockroaches and was a bit dusty. For Rs 2300, I really would have expected more. Anyway, I ended up staying with Mr Arora’s brother’s family after having had dinner with them.
It was a really interesting visit because their dad, Charandas, had come to Punjab during partition. Can you believe it?! He was 18 years old and came by truck and was given this house to live in. He then started working with the Railway Company as a guard.
It was interesting to hear their opinions on Pakistan and on Islam and Muslims in general. I think they thought I was a Hindu and actually I had originally thought they were Sikh. They were saying how the religion is not fair to women, how they have to sit separately, how they don’t educate their women. ‘All these things are wrong’. And of course I totally agree that they are wrong. Though perhaps, not necessarily the truth. I, for one, am an educated Muslim woman. And I never sit separately to anyone, even when it is expected of me. Especially when it is expected of me. But I know where it all was coming from, really I do.
I decided I would spend the night with them (to get more stories) and I was not disappointed. Charandas told me of his journey over to India, how he hated feeling like he lived in somebody else’s house, how he would never see his own home again. He spoke in Hindi with broken English words and I in English with broken Hindi. His wife smiling at me, crooked teeth and glinting gold in her ears.
That evening we watched the Mahabharatha and I muddled my way through Seeta and Rama. In my room, there was a garlanded Shiva which I was not to put anything in front of. ‘You know who this is don’t you?’ my host asked me, quizzing my Hindu knowledge. I do, and then again, I don’t.
It may sound ridiculous and somewhat prejudiced but their mistrust of Muslims was so complete that I let the lie of them believing I was Hindu continue uncorrected. Why rock the boat? Or embarrass them? Or provide any ill feeling when in fact they warmed to me, and I them, so much that they showed me all their family photos, kept me up for the night and told me I was just like their brother’s daughter. I was one of them.
Something magic happened that day in their home – a connection, a moment, a memory. I was grateful to have met them, to have shared their food with them, listened to their stories of struggle during India’s turbulent history and feel a part of something so pivotal and significant in my motherland’s inception.
I took their email address, fully intended to write to them and tell them of the rest of my travels. I still have it, saved on my phone for when I finally pluck up the courage to write to them. There is a part of me that wants to somehow show them I am not Hindu, yet I am just like them. I hear your pain and your sadness and your hurt and truly understand how such a move can make you feel so much like a refugee, like you have no home. I think of pictures of packed trains, stampedes, bull-carts and woman carrying children and cloth bags filled with all the worldly possessions one could bring. I cannot imagine what that must have been like. I am grateful for what I have. And in that gratitude I think – I am not worthy of the love you have shown me.
How could I ever repay you?
May this be a homage to your kindness, a fellow lost soul, displaced and ever searching.