Monday, February 18, 2008

Questions And Answers

We are watching Sanjiv Bhaskar’s Journeys of India. Today he is showing Punjab. First he shows a Sikh wedding in a prominent Jalandhar marriage palace. Then he travels to the Indo Pak border at Wagah. The scene is complete with the blue attired coolies on the Indian side handing over the stuff to the coolies in red on the Pakistani side.

He travels to his home village and tries to find his ancestral home but it’s impossible for him to locate it. After all, the winds of change have swept over the Pakistani villages too.

His sentimentality is so well received among me and my children. Rasan is preparing her school bag for the next day. I am telling her to go brush her teeth. She is mesmerized by the similarity of the land, vegetation, the sunset and the sky that is common between the two countries.

She suddenly asks, “What is Lahore?”
“It’s a city in Punjab,” I say.
"Yes, there is a Punjab in the Pakistan too , and it was once a part of this Punjab.”
“Okay, that is where Nankana Sahib is, right?”
“Cant they give it back to us?”
“Why, its our land!”
“No, its no more ours. When the country was partitioned, it went to the Pakistani share.”
“Okay, so India and Pakistan fought?”
“No, not over Nankana Sahib.”
“Mama, when Dhesi mama (my mom, Dr Dhindsa) came to India, how old was she?”
“She was Jai’s age.”
“Oh, and how did she come?”
“She was brought with her family on a truck by my Bapuji.”
“Oh, and your dad?”
“Well he and his family had to travel by foot over to India.”
“Oh, and how did they manage? Did they have water?”
“Well I am not so sure; they probably didn’t carry water bottles in those days…”
“Did they have any money?”
“No, when you are asked to leave your house suddenly, I don’t think you can get hold of any money, right?”
“Why did they have to leave the house?”
Well, because the leaders said Sikhs and Hindus were in danger in Pakistan.”
“Because they said that Sikhs and Hindus had killed Muslims in India and the Muslims might like to have revenge, and they might kill Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan.”
“They were lying, right mama?”
“Yes they were, partly.”
“So the people didn’t kill each other?”
“They did, but again that is because they were misguided by leaders.”
“What do leaders get out of it mama?”
“They like to know that they have power over people, and that people agree with what they say…”
Meantime she goes and brushes her teeth in between the commercial breaks. She comes back to announce,
“I hate England.”
“Because they divided India.”
“Well, they didn’t. Partly it was our own fault. We allowed them, so they could.”
“But they ruled over us. Why did they have to rule over us?”
“You like to mind your class, right? You like to be the monitor too, right? How would you like if you were told that everybody around you would agree with you and you will have immense power over your friends? Every body likes to be obeyed.”
“Well ruling people is different, ruling countries is not acceptable.”
“Yep, but that’s no reason to hate England, you don’t have to use the “hate” word, (Well, as a rule, my kids don’t use the phrase, “I hate”)
And I tuck her into her comforter…

“So what did your grandpa do, Mama?”
“Child, he was a farmer, but he died 5 years before partition.”
“Oh, what did your dad do then?”
“He had to rely on government scholarships.”
“Does government give money to study?”
“Yeah, to intelligent children who need it.”
And the conversation lulls her to sleep.

Everytime I visualize the scene of people abandoning their homes from this side, and from that side for ever with next to nothing with them, my throat is choked. And now my daughter’s too.
Are my children inheriting that pain, too?

Answering the simple questions is so hard sometimes.