Living History – Punjabiyat: A shared inheritance of two Punjabs

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There is an odd-looking sitting area in front of Kulwant Singh’s beautiful home, in the Andlu village of Ludhiana district in Punjab, which does not match the modern architecture of the house. When I asked him about it, Kulwant told me it was a remnant of the Muslim family who used to live in the house prior to 1947—he had retained the sitting area in exactly the condition it was when the family left. Kulwant said, “The reason I did that is, if ever the new generations of the old owners of the home come from lahnde Punjab”—Pakistani Punjab—“they should find at least some vestiges of their ancestors.” He added, “My own family came here after getting uprooted from Lyallpur, in Faisalabad. I never got the chance to see my old home, but at least someone must have this good fortune.” 

The gurdwara in Kulwant’s neighbourhood is built on what used to be a mosque’s land till 1947, but even today the mosque is part of the gurdwara. Kulwant looks after the upkeep of the mosque. According to him, “I have been in charge of the gurdwara for many years; I take as much care of the mosque as of the gurdwara.” He added, “Last year, my nephew who lives abroad sent eight lakh rupees for religious work; I spent four lakh rupees on the gurdwara and four lakh rupees on the mosque. After all, they are both a house of the one true god.”

In Halwara, another village in the Ludhiana district, Jagjit Singh left a pre-1947 haveli that belonged to Muslim Rajput intact right in front of a grand mansion he built for himself in 2009. He told me, “A lot of my relatives told me this old haveli does not look good in front of such a beautiful bungalow; pull it down. But I will not pull it down.” He added, “Sure, my family was not displaced from Pakistan, but the image of our old undivided-Punjab is etched in my heart. I am a person who loves the idea of Punjabiyat. I believe this haveli is my inheritance. How can a man part with his inheritance?”

There are many such examples in both the Punjabs—the state was split during Partition—which exemplify the shared legacy of the Punjabis settled there. One such indicator is the term each uses to refer to the other. Lahnda Punjab translates to setting Punjab or west Punjab, while the term for the Indian Punjab is chhadta Punjab, which means rising Punjab or east Punjab. The Punjabi prefixes refer to the sun’s rising and setting.

Indian Punjab is a border state and the animosity between India and Pakistan has a direct impact on its populace. The people living in the border areas are displaced again and again. Despite this, there is no feeling of enmity towards Pakistan in Indian Punjab, unlike other parts of the country where war is nothing more than news on Doordarshan and the radio. In the past few years, whenever India’s relationship with Pakistan deteriorated—during incidents such as the Dinanagar attack in July 2015, the Pathankot attack in January 2016 and the Pulwama attack in February 2019—the voices raised in Punjab were different from the rest of the country. And whenever Indian and Pakistani politicians have talked of friendship, Punjabis have given it their full support. Guests from Pakistan take part in government programmes whether the state is being ruled by Captain Amarinder Singh of the Congress or Prakash Singh Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal. The gurdwara in Nawaz Sharif’s ancestral village, Jati Umra, which is in Indian Punjab, held a prayer meeting for his long life when Sharif was going to be sentenced after being arrested on charges of corruption during Pervez Musharraf’s military rule.

On 9 November 2019, when Pakistan announced the opening of the Kartarpur corridor—the site of the first Sikh commune established by the first Sikh guru, Nanak Dev—Punjab welcomed the decision more than anyone else. I met a devotee in the Dera Baba Nanak gurdwara situated near the corridor, who believed that “this work of opening the Kartarpur corridor happened because of Baba Nanak’s blessings that reached Imran Khan’s heart. The relationship between the countries will become peaceful due to this.” Another devotee, 65-year-old Ratan Singh, said, “My father used to roam the other side on bicycles; he would often tell me many stories from the Kartarpur mela. Many of his Muslim friends stayed back on the other side and till he died, he spent his entire life remembering them.” Ratan added, “It is easy to speak of war sitting in Delhi but only people like us who live in the border areas know what we go through.”

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