Five years ago, I accompanied my friend and her family to a fair at their ancestral village of Naushera Dhala near the Attari border in Amritsar district. It was her father who had insisted I join them on the visit when he learnt that my ancestral family belonged to Padhana village in Lahore district of Pakistan. He told me that the village was situated barely a kilometre from the border fence on the other side.
That was enough to trigger my curiosity and I couldn't wait to reach the border village. My friend's father introduced me to a gentleman who claimed he was 93 years old. The moment I told him the name of my great grandfather, he burst out laughing and said, "Oh kutte maar sardar see Padhane de."
An awkward silence followed before the elderly gentlemen explained how my great grandfather acquired this name. I couldn't conceal my pride as he recalled how Mewa Singh, my great grandfather's real name, was an upright and strict police officer. Once, he said, Mewa Singh's team caught hold of a criminal and thrashed him like a dog till the poor fellow admitted he had committed the crime. Since then, Mewa Singh went by the name 'Kutte mar sardar'.
The nonagenarian enjoyed cordial relations with our family and often visited my ancestral home before Partition. He recalled that summers were best spent in the basement of our house at Padhana. The house was a three-storeyed one but the top floor was destroyed during the Indo-Pak war of 1971.
In the good old days, the ground floor was used only for dining purposes and the cook used to ring the bell once the meals were ready. Mewa Singh was particular that the food would be served at the fixed time else the cook had to face the music. In the dining room, he would sit near the window and relax. The stairs in the house were built in a complicated manner for security reasons. I was told that a stranger would probably get lost if left to his own devices.
The elderly gentleman asked me if I wanted to see my house. "Uppar jao bilkul same jithe kaafi drakht lage ne oh hai tohada ghar," he said as I hurried to the roof. In the distance, I saw a blurry, two-storeyed building with lots of Ashoka trees around it. My eyes welled up and I called up my father to share what I was seeing. His voice cracked when I asked him about 'kutte maar sardar'.
That's when I realised how a kilometre and a barbed-wire fence had distanced the present from the past forever. Now my only desire is to visit that home away from home once in this lifetime.