My father was born in Lahore, as was his entire family. My mother was born in Bombay after Partition but her older siblings and parents were born in Lahore as well.
Lahoris, or people from Lahore, are typically very proud of their ancestry, culture and gentility. It’s a city that was once called the Jewel of the East, and its arts, literature, social graces and hospitality were famous the world over.
Even Partition could not rid Lahoris of the Lahore inside them.
Even today, people of my clan – though we are now second-generation Indian immigrants and have always lived in Delhi – refer to ourselves as Lahoris. And we don’t even have to say it out loud. Our Punjabi dialect – which my elders always insisted is the most genteel of all the Punjabi dialects – sets us apart from other Punjabis and declares our ‘Amritsari-Lahori’ roots.
When my uncles and aunts tell me their stories of life after Partition, I am always struck by how tenuous is the concept of nationhood and nationality, and how myopic and self-serving political leaderships are.
You can club people together into one country but you cannot change their relationship with their land. There is always a primordial link between our birthplace and our birth – the astrologers know it, the animals know it, the plants know it, the seas know it. We may travel the world but there’s always something about the land of our birth that remains within us.
Uprooting people from their birthplace without consent is an act of violence. And creating boundaries, disallowing people to travel to their birthplace, and dividing people based on unnatural notions of nationality only lays the seeds for future violence.
I am a dreamer.
I dream of a South Asia without borders.
Where we travel freely between countries without the need for visas, where we follow a single currency, where our countries have no more need for militarization, where war is a thing of the past, and where nuclear weapons cease to exist for human lives have rightfully taken precedence over notions of nationality.
Where we are proud citizens not just of one country but of an entire region and an entire world.
Where divisive forces can no longer use hate as a weapon to accumulate power, and where unity is recognized as the greatest power of all.
Where peace means respect for each individual life – of every species.
The end to conflict doesn’t just lead to stability and prosperity, but also an absence of violence and trauma. It worked for Europe – where once-warring nations came together as a European Union with visa-free travel and one currency, and only grew from that point forward. It should be a matter of common sense, but unfortunately the vilest of human instincts are tapped into by those in positions of political power, instead of our noblest ones.
I’d like to put forward this dream of mine before you all. Perhaps you will laugh at me. Perhaps you may remind me that many others have had this dream before. You may call it an impossible mission. But perhaps one of you may decide to join me. One of you who is a dreamer too.
Humans have tried all kinds of systems – autocracies, kingdoms, communism, dictatorships, democracies. Some work and some don’t. Some work for a while and then fail. But as humans we are defined by hope and so we keep trying and evolving.
Why not try one more – a collaboration instead of conflict? Peace instead of war? Security instead of stability?
Indeed, the real question is, why ever not?