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Separated during Partition, reunited after 7-decade search

As a four-year-old in 1947, Amir Singh Virk held on to a tender memory — that of his older cousin bandaging his toe after he’d slipped and fallen.

india Updated: Mar 06, 2019 10:07 IST
Harinder Baweja
Harinder Baweja
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Pakistan,India news,Partition
Major Dalbir Singh Virk (L) and his cousin Amir Singh Virk were reunited, in New Delhi on March 5, after 72 years. (HT Photo/Raj K Raj)

As a four-year-old in 1947, Amir Singh Virk held on to a tender memory — that of his older cousin bandaging his toe after he’d slipped and fallen. What Amir didn’t realise was that the cousin, Dalbir Singh, would slip away from his life for the next seven decades.

The extended family lived in a haveli in village Ghadiya Kalan in Pakistan’s Gujranwala province. One day, Amir was dragged out of the house by his mother and found himself in a caravan that was making its way to India. Fires were blazing and mobs were on the rampage.

Dalbir Singh had been visiting his maternal grandparents and he was separately making his journey to a new homeland. Dalbir remembers wearing four shirts and four trousers, one on top of another. He was older, nine at the time the family was torn apart.

Both have vivid memories of the riots that erupted after Independence and Partition. And the brothers had to deal with the pain of living without each other. Hundreds of families were divided across the India-Pakistan border. Neither Amir nor Dalbir knew that both had made their way safely to India.

For the first few years after Partition, Amir was in Haryana’s Panipat and Dalbir in adjoining Karnal.

Dalbir, who went on to join the Indian Army, gave up on hopes of ever seeing his younger cousin, but the emotional, tenacious and persistent Amir kept up the search. He leaned on other members of the family, including an aunt, and found out that his cousin used to live in Sangrur.

Before he could get any more concrete information on Dalbir, who was by then a Major in the Indian Army, he had moved on.

Years melted into decades. There were no mobile phones or an internet connection in those days for an instant Google search that might throw up a clue. All his aunt’s family could tell him was that Dalbir went to Delhi.

Amir moved to Udham Singh Nagar in Uttarakhand and became an agriculturist while Dalbir Singh served out his time in the army and opened a mind, soul and body clinic in Noida. One stayed emotional; the other “grew beyond emotions’’, as he put it.

In 2014, Amir managed to get a visa to Pakistan and he travelled back in time and memory to the village in Gujranwala. He had an overwhelming experience in Pakistan: he was showered with rose petals, the neighbours fought over who he’d stay with and their hospitality was generous. “The haveli was still there but had many more occupants. I pulled out all the land records and held on to those pieces of paper. They were a reminder that I had a [cousin] brother somewhere. I knew he was alive and I had to find him,” Amir said.

The 1947 Partition Archive, a website dedicated to reuniting families and recording personal histories, caught up with Amir and he gave a video interview in the hope that his cousin would chance upon it. Finally, the aunt’s grandson, Amandeep Sandhu, got a number for Dalbir through the larger family network.

Amir dialled the number with trepidation. The voice at the other end confirmed that he was Dalbir Singh. The search had taken 72 years. “I couldn’t believe it. Tears just rolled down my eyes,’’ said Amir, who had to wait for another month before he could make the journey to Delhi to see his “Dalu.”

When the two finally met on Tuesday, Amir was emotional as ever. His eyes kept welling up. Dalbir, who has stayed focused on a spiritual journey, was happy. The soldier in him masked his emotions. The two embraced each other at Delhi’s Raqab Ganj gurudwara.

It mattered to neither that they were cousins, and not siblings — their paternal grandfathers were brothers. That was just a technicality, a thing for the record.

First Published: Mar 06, 2019 07:11 IST