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The worst affected in the disputes between India and Pakistan, as in all conflict situations, are the women. They have lost children, husbands and homes, suffering the fallout of militancy.
Azad Kashmir is predominantly Muslim, although over 100,000 Hindus and Sikhs lived there until 1947.
Finding Spring
Mina Farid Malik
Most Lahoris, whether natural or naturalized, are indolent and laid-back. We like to bask in the sun and eat oranges on a wintry Sunday morning, take leisurely lunch breaks and enjoy our food. It’s like being French, only friendlier, louder, fatter and with a charpai.

And because we live in a city that is green, well-watered and fed (for the most part), we can afford to maintain our personal versions of Olympia undisturbed. Of course, that isn’t always the case. Two days ago when a pretty stranger walked into my office, my personal Olympia, I remembered what reality was like.

She was from Delhi, a young lawyer visiting Pakistan for the first time. We like people where I work, and soon enough we had scooted our chairs over in a semi-circle and were deep in conversation. She was working in Indian Administered Kashmir, and soon enough the subject turned to the area.

Our pretty lawyer - let’s call her Aman, for peace – had never visited “our” part of Kashmir, but I had visited “theirs” in the stories I’ve grown up hearing. They survive at the edges of my memory, along with the stories of Partition I’ve heard from both sides of my “migrant” family. Kashmir, the land that looks like Heaven; the land where the sleepy village my grandfather’s family belongs to lies.

Aman was fasting. So were we. She was wearing a kurta and a shalwar. So was I. She lapsed into Urdu, so did we. As we all added our threads to the conversation we wove around our curiosities, my mind wandered back to Muzaffarabad, to Qum, to the little nameless places that felt like home. A dappled, young-tree lined side lane that meandered dustily down to some faraway little houses, where a little girl and a baby goat trotted companionably down the dirt track together. There was also the bombed-out mess of an army station a stone’s throw away from the border with Indian Kashmir.

While we were speaking with Aman, I remembered the day my siblings and I gingerly navigated the ruins of the mess, which had only the day before been a newly-renovated building. We climbed up a small hill, and with the naked eye could see bunkers on the Indian side, small bumps in the identical hillside. I waved at one of them when nobody was looking, almost expecting bullets to whistle out of the air around my feet, making dust spit up from the impact. It was a clear, sunny day, and if it hadn’t been for the destroyed mess and the army jeep standing a few yards away, I could have been anywhere in the world where there are mountains and hills, greenery and something sweet in the air. For a child of a generation who has never lived through a war in the country, this was the closest I had ever been to real violence, to the reality of conflict – and it was unsettling.

Aman said she was glad she had had the chance to meet us; we were her first young, “authentic” Pakistanis who lived in the land, drank the water and ate the dubious burgers from the corner store unconcernedly. We carried fashionably oversized handbags, knew the English bits of “Hips Don’t Lie,” were conversant with philosophy and politics

As forthcoming as Aman was I still couldn’t ask her “Do people in ‘Held’ Kashmir wear sleeveless clothes? Do they go to parties?” I don’t know, all I see of That Side is gory footage on television after the nine o’clock news, when the children are asleep. I wonder if there is a girl-woman who wakes up in the middle of the night with a poem or a story burning on her fingertips, someone who reads Erica Jong, Sylvia Plath and Hélène Cixous, someone making fierce plans to break the mould but still going crying to Ammi when she dents the car. Are the strawberries there crisp, tart and sweet? Is there anything left that would make my grandmother’s eyes light up with recognition and love?

My parents are more matter-of-fact about war. During the nuclear race between Us and Them some years ago, my Air Force uncle made dire predictions that made my blood go a little pink. Ammi, what will we do if there’s a war? I asked her. Nothing, she said, stock up on daal and dig a trench in the rockery. She tells us about air raids during the ’71 war, when a siren used to wail urgently for everyone to switch off all the lights and then the entire family, including the servants, would hurriedly, tensely climb into the long trench dug at the back of the house and crouch there, breathing quietly as if the pilot roaring overhead could have heard them. When the danger was over for that while, they would climb back out and resume their “normal” lives until there was another raid and they would find themselves holding their breath in the deafening dark once more, in those mass-grave trenches.

My generation has never known the pain of separation my grandparents endured all their post-Partition lives nor the terror of war my parents’ generation has. We’ve grown up taking peace for granted. War is something that happens to other people, and while we may protest in rallies and boycott MNCs, at the end of the day we don’t know the sound of an air raid siren, the taste of fear.

My generation has crossed the border – that flimsy little white line – marveling at how clean Delhi is, how intensely alive Lahore is, wearing FabIndia kurtas or lawn three-piece suits with the gusto of a local, depending on which side you came from. Globalization has made family of us, and time has given us the distance with which to view strangers with none of the suspicion earlier generations had. Whose “fault” Wagha’s existence is is something that does not occupy our minds as much as it must have for my grandmother’s generation. All we know is that we came from the same root, even if our trees have branched in different directions. It’s something we are still exploring in our tentative questions about each other – here, there, Kashmir; that three-way tug of war – but maybe is only because we know peace that we can speak of war.

In Amritsar’s dark streets, on our way home from our first thaali dinner we made a stop to buy Lays from a little corner shop. The vendor tried to guess where we were from, making several wrong guesses before finally deciding firmly – “Delhi ke ho!” You are from Delhi. An afternoon spent with a stranger makes me realize again that in some part of us, we have come from Delhi in the same way so many Indians have come from Lahore or Lyallpur or Multan – in the stories of our mothers and grandmothers, in the fabled tastes and smells and sounds of what was home, once.

Aman confronts war in her work, literally. We confront it as we navigate those amorphous swamps called memory and association, trying to forge identities as women, as Pakistanis, as global citizens. We are surrounded by violence, and yet in its midst we find spaces in which to realize that people are people, and that wars are things governments and politicians wage to make us forget the dream of wholeness again, the dream to walk by a river in one’s personal heaven again, the dream to go back to the house one grew up in, whether in Model Town or a back lane in Bareilly. I’m from Lucknow and Ludhiana, I’m from Lahore, I’m from Baramula. My tree branches all over this land and all our roots are entwined, for all our blusterings and bombings. Maybe it’s time now, more than ever before, to bury the hatchet. It’s time for spring.


Charpai- literally, ‘four feet’, a charpai is a cot strung with smooth rope

Kurta- A loose tunic of varying length

Shalwar- Baggy pants that are worn with a kurta

Ammi- “mother”

Daal- lentils

Thaali- a large round metal platter in which food is simultaneously served in little cups
Choosing Sides
Ani Rosemarie
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