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June 20, 2008



June 20, 2008

Ustani ji taught me to read the Quran in Arabic, in pursuance of the family tradition where children had to learn to read the holy book whether their parents were religious, liberal or nonreligious. Only two of our Christian cousins abroad were spared. Being a favourite pupil, she would take me around to the neighbourhood and show me off to the parents of her English-medium students. Learning to read the Quran was ensued by a better comprehension of Urdu since I learnt the aa'raab, zer, zabar, pesh, jazm, auqaf, largely the system of vowels in Arabic and Persian, which is followed in Urdu script. I am grateful to ustani ji for not only teaching me to read the Quran and contributing to my sense of rhythm, metaphor and simile, but helping me improve my Urdu. Whatever little I understand of the Quran had to come later from the translations in English by Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi and Allama Abdullah Yousuf Ali. But ustani ji initiated my interest in scriptures, their vastness and depth.

Ustani ji was a teenager when her family was forced to migrate. Everybody had to leave from the "agreed areas" of Punjab under the partition plan if they were Hindus and Sikhs living in the Pakistani part or the Muslims living in the Indian part. And they were to be looted, abducted, raped and killed on the way. Advocate Rajinder Singh Cheema, a wonderful friend who lives in Chandigarh, told me once that as a child the number of Hindu and Sikh corpses he saw on their way from Gujranwala to Amritsar in 1947 didn't let him eat or sleep properly for years. Perhaps around the same time 's brother, who was already settled in West Pakistan, went to Lahore to fetch the family home. What he found was a railway wagon full of 36 dead bodies including that of his mother, and a terrified younger sister miraculously surviving the carnage. She was traumatised and never stopped crying even after moving to Karachi to live with her husband. He was a man of simple means but a gentle soul who

soon took her for hajj. She had insisted on going for the pilgrimage from the first day of her marriage. She told me once that her wounds were healed while dreaming during the hajj. She saw her mother asking her to move on.

Ustani ji came back and started teaching Quran to children including three of her own. She prayed more than five times a day, fasted for three consecutive months in a year and for six days after Eid-ul-Fitr. But she never forced any of her students or people she would meet into believing and practising things she thought necessary for herself, be it ideas or rituals. She would never utter a despicable word against Sikhs or Hindus who had killed 36 members of her family except for herself and her brother. Many of her neighbours in Ranchore Lines in Karachi were low caste Hindus. She was not for or against partition. It didn't matter to her any more. She loved Pakistan but without saying it in as many words, she understood that although hate breeds hate, someone has to break the cycle.

What and Rajinder Singh Cheema understood, the governments of India and Pakistan must also. It is never too late. For heaven's sake, stop imprisoning, torturing and killing the poor, be it fisher folk or villagers, who unknowingly trespass the manmade borders. Change the intelligence paradigm and put an end to this insanity. Stop conspiring against people's hope for a peaceful and prosperous subcontinent by intriguing against each other in the name of national security. While the privileged Indian and Pakistani old boys drink together to their nostalgia of Doon School, Government College Lahore or St Stephen's in Delhi, the poor languish in each other's jails. India has to cover an extra mile now in the wake of the successive deaths of Pakistanis in its prisons.

The writer is an Islamabad-based poet and rights campaigner. Email: [email protected]

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