Sedition seems to be the latest trend that has hit India and is on the up rise with Indian activists. You may have come across the news of people getting arrested or charged under the sedition law in our neighbor country. Now what is sedition? Dictionary describes it as any action, especially in speech or writing, promoting such discontent or rebellion. But, in India, you could get yourself in trouble even by calling Pakistan “not a hell” or not a war ground. There are other ways of course, but this is by far the fastest. Stil some people are courageous enough to take on challenges that could land them charged or even convicted. Harsh Mander makes the top of our list for throwing down the gauntlet to the lawmakers. His experience of visiting Pakistan will leave you flabbergasted and proud.
Harsh Mander is a social worker and a writer. He is known for his distinct and candid style of writing and also for speaking up against social and political injustice. In his recent piece of writing, he deliberates over his visit to Pakistan. Harsh’s mother originally belongs to Rawalpindi but had to leave after Partition.
My mother was forced to leave behind the city of her birth, Rawalpindi, when she was just 18 because of the tumultuous ruptures of Partition. She had never returned. When she was to turn 75, I thought the best gift I could give her was to take her, if it was at all possible, to the city and to the home in which she was born.
He reached out to his friends in Pakistan and the only thing they let him do was arrange visas. Luckily that wasn’t a problem.
I emailed my friends in Pakistan tentatively with my plan. They were immediately very welcoming. “Just get her visa, leave the rest to us”, they said. I applied for visas for my parents and the rest of my family. It seemed then a small miracle that we got these easily. I booked our flight tickets, and before long we were on our way.
Now the real journey began from here. It was a challenge to locate his mother’s birth place but the journey triggered a lot of emotions for him and his mother.
Our flight landed at Lahore, and our friends drove us from the airport to their home in Islamabad. I noticed that my mother was initially a little tense. Maybe it was memories of the violence of her exile; maybe it was just the idea that this was now a foreign land, and for many in India the enemy land. I watched my mother gradually relax on the road journey to Islamabad, as she delighted in hearing my friends and the car driver speak the Punjabi of her childhood, and as she watched the altered landscape of her journey.
After spending a few days absorbing Pakistan’s culture and travelling to nearby hill stations, it was time to revisit old paths.
My mother recalled that the name of the residential colony in which she lived as a child was called Gawal Mandi. My friends knew it well; it was now an upmarket upper middle-class enclave. When we reached there, my mother tried to locate the house of her childhood. It seemed impossible. Everything was new: most of the old houses had been rebuilt and opulent new structures had come up in their place. She located the building that had housed their gurudwara. It had now been converted into a health centre. But we had almost despaired of actually finding her childhood house. We doubted if it was even standing all these years’ later.
The moment when they thought they had to leave empty-handed, Harsh’s mother was finally able to locate the house. The thing that really took them by surprise was the warm reception of local people.
Taking a chance, we knocked tentatively on the door of the house. A middle-aged man opened it, and asked us who we wanted to meet. My mother said apologetically, “We are so sorry to trouble you, and intrude suddenly in this way. But I lived as a child in Gawal Mandi, before Partition, when we had to leave for India. I think this maybe was our home. The house owner’s response was spontaneous and immediate. “Mataji, why do you say that this was your home?” he said. “It continues to be your home even today. You are most welcome.” And he led us all in.
His mother spent hours relishing her visit, reviling old memories. Now it was time to leave but the hospitality didn’t stop just there.
Half an hour later, we thanked the house-owners and said that we would be on our way. But they would not hear of it. We were told: “You have come to your childhood home, then how can we let you go without you having a meal with us here?” They overruled all our protestations, and lunch was prepared… Only when they were sure that we had eaten our fill, and more, did they allow us to leave.
The news of their successful tour spread like wildfire. Now it was the time for dear in-Laws to pay a visit to their home city Gujranwala. There they were about to witness another episode of conviviality.
Our experience this time was very similar to that of the previous year. The owner of their old ancestral haveli in Gujranwala village took my mother-in-law around the sprawling property on her wheel-chair, and after we had eaten with them asked her, “Would you not like to check out your farm-lands?” On both visits, wherever my wife visited shops, for clothes, footwear or handicrafts, if the shopkeepers recognized her to be Indian, they would invariably insist on a hefty concession on the price. “You are our guests,” they would say. “How can we make a profit from our guests?
This wasn’t it. Harsh also arranged a visit for his associate from an NGO Ashagram that works for the rights of people suffering from leprosy in a small town.
This adventure by an Indian man renews a sense of pride in us as Pakistanis. It took an outsider to realize the reality of our people and highlight acts of warmth and friendliness. Even though he also invited a lot of criticism and censure towards his way. He dared to call Pakistanis the most ‘GRACIOUS” nation and challenges people to sedition that.
I have travelled to many countries in the world in the 60 years of my life. I have never encountered people as gracious as those in Pakistan.
This article originally appeared at Scroll.in