Tears, smiles at the border
The city that witnessed massive Partition bloodshed is enjoying the biggest India-Pakistan CBM. And it could be a big vote-getter, reports Neelesh Misra. See Special Coverage | See videoindia Updated: Nov 24, 2008 23:47 IST
The Indian brother and Pakistani sister, both now grandparents, had never seen each other, never heard each other's voice. So they recorded their letters and put a cassette each on the bus across the border.
This week, he took the bus to meet her.
In a region where tens of thousands of families are divided, many due to panic migration after the 1965 India-Pakistan war, a bus service between Poonch in India and Rawlakot in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir is touching lakhs of lives.
It is expected to swing votes as well.
In many ways, it is the largest and most successful peace measure between India and Pakistan, far more popular than the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus.
"All I had from her was a few letters. Then her husband came here two months ago, and brought me a cassette with her voice. I sent her back my own letter on a cassette," said kohl-eyed Tufail Hussain, 50, of his 65-year-old Pakistani sister Nifa Bi.
"Its been too long, brother. I am praying that we meet soon," Bi said.
"I am waiting to the day when I can get on the bus and see you for the first time," Hussain replied.
The cassette exchange seemed lucky: officials ended a two-year wait and approved Hussain's application to go on the bus on his first visit to Pakistan.
Across the football field where he stood, hundreds of people had assembled near two red and white buses. Only a few were getting to go; the rest were family and friends who had come to see the passengers off.
People hugged, cried, gave last minute messages, scrutinized whether the gifts were packed well, and pushed and lunged at a bus window to get their travel papers in first. Most were taking back bunches of local umbrellas, hugely popular across the border.
It is not easy getting onto the bus – many applicants have waited for two years amid frustrating paperwork and tedious security clearances.
Still, it is hugely popular. Despite the complex red tape, more than 8,000 people have travelled to and from on the bus in two years, a huge number considering the clampdown on travel earlier.
The Congress party, heading the central ruling coalition, and the People's Democratic Party which was running the state government when the bus was launched, are vying for votes in the name of the bus.
"I thank the governments for this bus. I am going to see my family – although I am going with great pain," said 70-year-old Gulshan Begum as she sat on the grassy lawns surrounded by family, awaiting her turn.
Begum had missed all of the birthdays and weddings in her family across the border. In 2005, after the deadly Kashmir earthquake, she also missed being at funerals.
The earthquake killed her two sisters, a brother and a nephew.
"Many people died. I could not go. I am going for the first time after the earthquake," she said, and then broke instinctively into a Pahadi song of longing, loss and separation as she wept along with her daughters and granddaughters, standing behind her.
In another part of the football ground, Hussain did a last minute check, even as relatives hugged him, overwhelmed and tearful.
"I am taking clothes for my sister. But I have never seen her – I hope they will fit her," he said.