I was to go to Lahore next week. But because of the lines drawn by history, we tripped mid-way with a bureaucratic hurdle and landed flat on our faces. Now, we have nothing to do, but brush off our expectations and visions of the trip – of visiting the night markets, of buying beautiful cotton, and of crossing the ‘border’ – and slink away into the sidelines.
Well, in my case, I am on a train bound across the northern plains. In the hot afternoon sun, with the land shorn of its bounty, it is difficult to imagine that this land has seen all manners of kings and queens fight over it. So many of these rulers – rajas, nawabs, the maharanis, the begums, the majesties, the diwans, the didis, and the netas – have come and gone, and yet, the contours of the mountains, the flatness of its plains, and the shape of the horizon seem to be the same. But I know that’s just illusion. A lot has changed. Isn’t that why I am making this journey – to document exactly how much things have changed.
But when the train crosses a river, with that familiar thumping beat when it rides over a bridge, you feel that you haven’t quite grown out of the young girl who was excited about trains because it involved tinkle comics, air pillows, gold spot, and compartmentalised food. But it is the grown woman who is startled by a dome in the river. I look up from the water – a perfect white dome against the blinding white of the sky. Even the brightest sun can’t blunt the perfect symmetry of the smooth curving lines of stone that defined beauty in an earlier time.
And suddenly, my heart swells with my love for this land – with the history that is seeped into this land by the sheer force of time. But my love for this land is not simple. I know this land treats the powerless cruelly. It is difficult to love this land that kills men for cows, that is frothing at its mouth to build a temple for a man-god who abandoned his pregnant wife based on a rumour, that paints the diversity of the land a uniform colour of saffron in the guise of ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’, that dictates who can love and live in this land.
Yet, here I am, feeling an overwhelming urge to explore its colours, its flavours, its legends, its stories, its hypocrisies, and its anger – perhaps, to really understand this strange beast that I love. I don’t know why I have this urge. But I know I am increasingly thinking of the border lines that trip us up – the ones that we create in our heads – about who is good and who is right and who can eat and who should die – and I know there are deeper lines drawn between us than any that can be drawn across this land I love. And these lines are also carved out of love, not unlike mine.
So, here’s my ode to this land – may it survive our love for it.