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Family divided at the time of partition finally unites

Harbans Kaur siblings reunited in tears

Khalil Ayub's face is glowing with the heat of emotions as he sits in the lush green lawn of Lahore's Faletti's hotel. Overjoyed, he looks eagerly, rather impatiently, towards the empty driveway. 

Soon a shiny white and brown luxury bus comes to a halt in the driveway. Among the disembarking passengers are three people Khalil is getting so emotional about, especially since he has never met them before. The trio -- his aunt, her husband and their daughter -- are also all first-timers to Pakistan. 

His aunt, Manmohaan Kaur, is all tears as she disembarks the bus. Hardly able to tell her relatives from others in the welcoming crowd, she looks a bit shaken. After some initial confusion, she is swarmed by Khalil, his brothers, his cousins and most importantly his mother, Zeenat. "Who should I blame for the suffering of separation we all underwent all these years?" asks Manmohaan amid sobs and tears.

Hers is a story rooted in the movement of history and changes of geography. Her mother, Harbans Kaur, was a married woman with a son when the subcontinent was partitioned in 1947. As misfortune would have it, she was left stranded in her Muzaffarabad house in what is now Azad Kashmir while others in her family -- including her husband Banna Singh and their son -- migrated to India. Like all hapless women caught in a bloody conflict, she had no choice but to follow what others would ordain for her. Soon married to Maulvi Hidayatullah, also a resident of Muzaffarabad, she gave birth to two children -- Zeenat and Manzoor Hussain. As if all this emotional trauma was not enough for her to put up with, she finally united with her first husband in India after Liaqat-Nehru pact in 1950 facilitated the coming together of split families. 

Harbans Kaur(centre) with her Pakistani children

"The blame for our family's suffering squarely lies with governments and strange agreements they sign," cries out Manzoor's young daughter, Huma, who studies as a second year student at an Islamabad college. 

For Manzoor and Zeenat growing up without their mother was an agony they were never able to overcome. No sooner were they able to think and act on their own that they started searching for her. When they came to know that a large number of Sikhs from India came on an annual pilgrimage to central Punjab town of Nankana Sahib, they instantly sensed that there was a window of opportunity for them, says Manzoor who works in the Islamabad office of Pakistan Telecommunication Corporation Limited.

"Every year we would visit Nankana at the time of the pilgrimage, but it was only two years ago that we came to know that our mother was alive," his sister Zeenat says. "I felt my heart would stop beating," she describes her feeling on hearing about her mother. 

Soon Manzoor and Zeenat were able to locate the address and phone number of their mother and siblings living in Ahmedabad, the capital of India's Gujarat state. 

Thanks to a flurry of phone calls and countless sessions of chatting over the Internet, Huma Manzoor turns out to be no stranger for her Indian aunt Manmohaan's nine-year-old daughter Gagandeep Kaur, lovingly called Nipy. "I feel as close to Nipy as one can get," Huma, bubbling with youthful enthusiasm, explains to TNS. Nipy, too, seems perfectly at ease with her elder cousin. 

But the reunion is not without a tinge of sorrow. "For the last two years, We have been asking Pakistan government to grant visas to all the members of our family in India. But for reasons best known to the authorities, we have been unable to meet our dear ones at one big get-together," observes Khalil. 

The first one to come to Pakistan was Harbans Kaur herself. She was lucky enough to reach Muzaffarabad in time for the wedding of her grandson -- Zeenat's son and Khalil's younger brother, Jalil Ayub. "We wanted aunt Manmohaan to join us for the marriage. But when we realised that it could not happen, we wanted her to come to Pakistan before Eid. Even this did not materialise," says Khalil. 

Manzoor is content despite this apparent setback. "It is an occasion for a big celebration, even bigger than Eid," he remarks.

In their common ancestral town, Muzaffarabad, their old mother may be recounting the physical and emotional scars she received as a result of the partition. The fact that her siblings have been able to reunite after crossing cultural, religious and national barriers may offer her some solace. (The News, Karachi, 7 Dec. 03).

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