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The Last Post: a dead hope

chandigarh Updated: Jan 12, 2013 17:26 IST
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In 1985, walking in the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh, I heard someone call me out in chaste Lahori Punjabi. "Sardarji, ithay aao janaab, zara gal suniyo," said he, a man in his seventies. He called me inside his shop and after customary introductions over tea began narrating his life saga.

"I am a Bengali," he said, "and was a well settled businessman in Lahore for decades when India liberated Bangladesh in 1971. I was forced out of Pakistan, hounded for being a Bengali. Here in Dhaka, the locals harass me for being a "Punjabi", just like the Punjabi evictees from Pakistan are called refugees in India. Sardarji, at this stage in life, where do I go? India has made my life miserable."

He was a shattered man, living as recluse in an alien land that was his motherland actually, and dreaming of "Sonar Bangla, greater Bengal made by the unification of the Indian West Bengal and Bangladesh.

Cut to September 1989: driving from Hamburg to Munich in Germany, my friend suggested that I visited the Berlin Wall, a few miles of detour. "The wall has been there for decades," I said. "I will see it on my next visit." By the time I got back to India in November after visits to the UK and US, the wall had been pulled down. East and West Germany had reunited. On my return to Chandigarh, many Punjabi friends asked: "When do you think India and Pakistan will reunite?" "Never" I said, to their disillusionment.

"East and West Germany reunited because they had a common language, German," I reasoned, "while in India, we have no bridge of that sort. The bonhomie between India and Pakistan is only from Anarkali Bazaar in Lahore to Hall Bazaar in Amritsar, and between people who have common Punjabi roots, which don't go beyond Delhi in any case." There is no love lost between a Pakistani citizen from Baluchistan and any Indian from Madras (Chennai), Kerala or Karnataka but the two countries will never be one again.

When the Berlin Wall collapsed, it brought back to my mind the words of the old man in Dhaka, and his make-belief "Sonar Bangla". I wondered why did India name it West Bengal and not Bengal, and why Punjab and not East Punjab? I am sure the Bengalis in West Bengal and Bangladesh share a lot of bonhomie, irrespective of their different religions. "Nauh nalo maas vakhra nahi hounda (you cannot separate the nails from the skin)," goes a saying in Punjabi.

The recent barbaric killing of Indian soldiers by the Baluch regiment of the Pakistan army affirms my belief that the two countries will never reunite, however much the Punjabi intelligentsia might like to differ. The Radcliffe Line stands like the German Checkpoint Charlie between the two countries.

India will remain a divided nation, united by war.