Lucknow, India – Final month, 90-year-old Reena Chhibber Varma, undeterred by her age and illnesses, launched into a journey that many thought was inconceivable. She travelled to Pakistan to see her erstwhile residence for the primary time in 75 years.
Because the colonial British left the Indian subcontinent, they divided it into two nations on non secular traces – Hindu-majority India and largely Muslim Pakistan, which included Bangladesh, then referred to as East Pakistan.
The partition, because it got here to be identified, compelled greater than 15 million folks to maneuver to the opposite facet in what was the world’s largest compelled migration. Practically two million folks had been killed within the riots in the course of the exodus and the bloody historical past of partition continues to have an effect on relations between the 2 nations.
The historic tensions between the 2 South Asian nuclear powers have largely closed the borders, leaving many individuals longing to go to their kin and even their properties on the opposite facet of the border.
Amongst them was Varma, who was 15 when her household fled Rawalpindi in 1947 and is presently based mostly within the western Indian metropolis of Pune. Since then, she had been longing to revisit her ancestral residence in an “enemy” nation.
“My eyes welled up. I couldn’t imagine I used to be residence once more. It felt like I used to be dwelling there simply yesterday,” she instructed Al Jazeera over the phone.
Varma confused that the governments on each side ought to permit folks to fulfill effortlessly and simply. “As a result of it’s true that they wish to,” she mentioned.
Varma remembers the day they needed to flee Rawalpindi “as clear because the day”. Her dad and mom and siblings – two sisters and as many brothers – reached India to start out a brand new life. All of them handed away earlier than they might flip 75, mentioned Varma.
“We first went to Solan pondering we are going to return residence in the future. We didn’t see it coming. India and Pakistan had been divided and plenty of bloodshed occurred,” she mentioned, referring to a hill city in Himachal Pradesh state in northern India.
Regardless that her household didn’t undergo any violence, they heard and browse many tales of what occurred, of individuals they knew being killed on the trains.
“We noticed our dad and mom cry quite a bit. For 2 years, they might not settle for that they received’t return to their residence,” Varma mentioned.
Prior to now 75 years, Varma made a number of plans for a visit to Rawalpindi however they didn’t materialise, although she did journey to Lahore as soon as as a teen.
“I at all times wished to see my home once more. I acquired my passport made in 1965 however the particular person I used to be purported to journey with couldn’t come and the plan was cancelled,” she mentioned.
She renewed her passport in 2020 however the coronavirus pandemic disrupted her plans once more. In the meantime, she discovered the Fb web page of a gaggle known as India Pakistan Heritage Membership, which provided to assist Varma in travelling to Rawalpindi.
For a go to to Pakistan, an Indian citizen will need to have a number household within the nation. Two Pakistani males, co-founders of the group, stepped up for that function.
Varma left for her daughter’s place in New Delhi final month. From there, she went to Wagah, the border transit terminal between India and Pakistan, within the western Indian state of Punjab.
“The second I noticed the massive India and Pakistan signboards up at Wagah, I broke down. It felt unreal that this was only one complete place for us however now there’s a line and we can’t cross it once we need,” Varma instructed Al Jazeera.
As she crossed the frontier, Zahir and Imran welcomed her on the Pakistani facet and took her to Lahore the place she spent three days.
“I’ve a particular reference to Lahore as properly. Earlier than the partition, we visited Lahore yearly, my in-laws hail from there too,” Varma mentioned.
On July 20, she left for Rawalpindi and was greeted by folks within the neighbourhood amid the beating of conventional Punjabi dhol, or drums.
“I’ll at all times bear in mind the nice and cozy welcome I obtained once I reached my ancestral home. There was drum beating by the locals. I by no means anticipated that,” Varma mentioned.
A video of the welcome Varma acquired additionally went viral on social media as folks in India and Pakistan exchanged messages of peace and love.
This 90-year-old Indian lady is lastly revisiting her childhood residence in what’s at the moment Pakistan.
Reena Varma and her household fled to western India 75 years in the past, when Britain break up India in two.
She mentioned, “A really outdated dream of mine has come true.” pic.twitter.com/jTIHXIoLpA
— AJ+ (@ajplus) July 22, 2022
Muzammil Hussain, who now lives in Varma’s erstwhile home, modified its identify to Prem Niwas (Love Abode) in her honour. The lane during which the home stood was renamed ‘Prem Gully’ (Love Road).
Hussain’s household even added a nameplate to one of many rooms she lived in. It mentioned: “Reena’s home”.
“I’m the one one amongst my members of the family who might see that home once more and I’m not exaggerating that once I was in there, I might see my household roaming round, strolling and sitting in the home once more. I noticed them in each nook,” Varma instructed Al Jazeera.
“My dream got here true. Wherever my household is at the moment, they should be wanting down and should be blissful and proud,” she mentioned.
Describing the home, she mentioned the rooms had not modified a lot. She didn’t discover something in the home that belonged to her and which she might have returned with as a memento.
However she did discover a number of issues.
“The flooring within the bedrooms was gotten performed by my father and so they had been the identical. Within the sitting room, which we known as ‘baithak’, there’s a hearth the place my father had gotten tiles made with particular designs. They’re nonetheless intact,” she mentioned.
Varma mentioned their home was one of many poshest within the neighbourhood. The principle highway close to the home had modified significantly, she mentioned. The homes reverse her home had been substituted with outlets. However not less than 5 homes in her lane, together with hers, weren’t a lot altered.
Varma’s face turns pensive as she recollects her childhood spent on this Pakistan residence.
“What occurred again then was very unlucky and mustn’t have occurred. Sure, it was painful however we can’t bear in mind all of it our lives,” she mentioned.
“We should always transfer on. Folks in India and Pakistan, our cultures, garments, pondering – all of it is vitally comparable. There may be love on each side.”
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