“Before 2005, my Nana was the main obstacle between my Nani [in
Pakistan] and her family [in India]. Now it’s the relationship
between India and Pakistan.”
I am a
37-year-old British Mirpuri Kashmiri. Four years ago, I came to
Pakistan with the sole intention of taking my Nani, my maternal
grandmother, across the Line of Control to meet her family on the
other side of Kashmir.
She was born
into a Hindu-Brahman-Saasan family in the early 1930’s, on the
Pakistani-administered side of Kashmir, not far from what is
described as the Line of Control (LoC). The communal frenzy and
folly that was August 1947 in the Punjab was replicated in Kashmir
by October 1947. My Nani’s life changed for ever.
her fleeing family, destitution was quickly evident, dishonour
imminent and death almost certain. What transpired as a rescue
mission by my Nana, maternal grandfather, led to her having to
convert from the faith of her forefathers, marry a stranger in a
strange environment, bear children, rear grand-children, even
great-grand-children and engage in almost 61 years of constant
extemporisation to combat the persistent estrangement she endured.
Her background was literally a closed chapter, sealed and
suppressed. Not too unlike the border that has un-naturally divided
My Nani had
probably accepted her predicament as fate as soon as she had entered
my Nana’s house, way back in October 1947. I, however, have
increasingly felt otherwise. I’ve always considered this to be part
of a perverse political drama. Lack of imagination by the rulers
accompanied denial of creative expression for the ruled. Improvising
a constructive alternative has been my self-imposed mission for the
past four years.
I had learnt of
her story in 1988, while I was visiting my grandparents in Mirpur,
in Pakistani-administered Kashmir. News had filtered through the 70
kilometres or so of mountainous terrain that her mother had passed
away. We listened to a cassette recording of her kid brother’s
forlorn attempt at getting a Pakistani visa a few years earlier.
A year later,
after my GCSEs, I took a year off to explore my “origins.” I visited
my Nani’s family in Rajouri, in Indian-administered Kashmir in
December 1989. Three days was all I got with them — my father had
accompanied me to India, and, being a staunch, orthodox Muslim,
could not prolong the prospect of spending too much time with
non-Muslims. The emotions of my Nani’s siblings and their offspring
etched a permanent impression on my mind. I promised them that I
would reunite them with their sister.
India to Pakistan and relaying my adventure to all and sundry had a
mildly sensational effect on the local population. Forty-two years
of jingoism was momentarily set aside and human emotion was
purposefully reflected on. This cut little ice with my Nana though.
He remained rigid and paranoid over the idea of my Nani visiting her
siblings, fearing she may never return.
The 1990’s raced
past, conflict in the region easily overshadowing all else.
Nevertheless, I made an attempt in 1993 when I tried to insist on my
Nani accompanying me to India. Eventually, after a month of
unsuccessful insistence, I crossed the Wagah-Attari border by
myself. The lonesome figure that I was, instead of venturing north
to visit her family I decided to ride my sorrow and angst by
proceeding south to Bombay and Goa. The mere idea of meeting them
without Nani was unbearable.
Life carried on
but the emotional baggage increased. Nani’s kid brother’s death in
February 2004 proved to be the final shock that I was willing to
passively endure. It wasn’t until March 2005 that we were informed
of this tragedy. A subsequent emotional verbal exchange between me
and my Nana secured his long-sought acquiescence for my Nani to
visit her family.
I arrived again
in Pakistan in April 2005. The three of us applied together for an
Indian visa in Islamabad. That was the advice the Indian visa
officer in London gave me after getting over his disbelief that I
could be related to both a Muslim and a Hindu family. We waited in
vain. The Indian High Commission told us they were waiting for a No
Objection Certificate to my visa application from the High
Commission in London. The Indian visa delay prompted my Nana to
revert back to his original stance of not allowing my Nani to
travel. In effect, the Indian government had inadvertently done him
a favour as he was not overly keen in the first place.
In October 2005,
in the wake of the deadly earthquake that struck Kashmir, I applied
for a cross-LoC permit, under the impression that people would be
allowed to travel in a matter of weeks if not days. Finally, in
February 2008, my cross-LoC permit came me through. I visited my
Nani’s family in Mendhar, in the Poonch district of
Indian-administered Kashmir. There was mutual elation. I witnessed
the fourth death anniversary of my Nani’s younger brother, Sita Ram
Sharma. He, along with his parents, had lived in constant anxiety
over their sister and daughter respectively. They all died in vain.
Anyway, meeting my Nani’s remaining two siblings after 19 years
evoked a sense of mutual revival of hope. I explained my Nana’s
intransigence and they eventually managed to convince him to apply
for a cross-LoC permit so that he and my Nani could visit them. My
Nani’s heart condition had become such that travelling via
Wagah-Attari or Lahore-Delhi would be almost impossible.
In March 2008, I
returned to the Pakistani-administered part of Kashmir and promptly
made applications for cross-LoC permits for myself and my Nani and
Naana. It took many months of haggling with the local authorities
and the ISI to get them to send the forms across the LOC, but not
before October. It is understood that the authorities on the Indian
side cleared our applications in March this year. However, their
counterparts on the Pakistani side maintain that they have not
received our applications to date.
Although I have
received email confirmation from the sorting centre in Srinagar,
Muzaffarabad is adamant on a ‘dispatch date’ in order to locate the
files. My Nani, in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, and her 2
siblings, on the Indian-administered side, are ailing, and 63 years
of separation will not withstand the test of time for much longer, I
fear. This thought has been etched on my mind for the past several
years. Not a day passes without it continuing to haunt me.
Before 2005, my
Nana was the main obstacle between my Nani and her family. Now it’s
the relationship between India and Pakistan. My Nani is now 79 years
old. Please help me reunite her with her family, separated for over
60 years by a distance not much more than 60 kilometres.
I desperately hope this story doesn't culminate in that most
antagonising of cliches: "So near yet so far."
Tanveer Ahmed is a freelance journalist.
He can be reached at at