Kashmiris' Journey Into History
30 March 2005
Surankot: The mood is festive in three houses in mountainous Potha village, about 210km (130 miles) north-west of Jammu, overlooking the Suran river. On 7 April, the houses will each have a member on the new bus service linking Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir to Muzaffarabad in the Pakistani-controlled region, uniting divided families after decades of separation. The houses are whitewashed to receive relatives and friends coming to convey their best wishes to the passengers. Elderly widow Ghulam Fatima is excited to be on a journey that will take her into history. She has two brothers living in Pakistani-administered Kashmir with nephews and nieces. She showers blessings on those who took the decision to start the bus service. 'God bless the rulers of both India and Pakistan who facilitated my meeting with brothers who were separated since 1947 (when India was partitioned).' Shawls and bangles Fatima is going with her daughter-in-law, Munira Bee, who is no less thrilled. Besides gifts we will take good wishes for our relatives there,' she says. Her gifts will be shawls, bangles and honey. 'I want to take all those things that give a smell and flavour of my land.' But one thing that tops her list is 'pictures of our family here, the house, the surrounding mountains and roads'. They open their suitcases to show how quick they were to pack their clothes. 'We knew there would be a line of visitors as the journey date drew closer,' says Fatima. 'I will be overjoyed if my brothers come here later to see their native land and meet the family.' Long journey The festive mood also prevails in Muradpur village, in mountainous Rajouri district, about 145km north-west of Jammu. Of the 13 people from the districts of Poonch and Rajouri travelling on the first bus to Muzaffarabad, seven are from this village. Celebrations abound in the 20 or so scattered mud houses. The eldest passenger, 90-year-old Said Mohammad is going to Mirpur in Pakistani-administered Kashmir to meet his daughter who migrated during the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war. He is going along with his son, Mohammad Gani. Majid Ahmad Khan, Said Mohammad's grandson, is looking after the packing and all other arrangements for his father and grandfather, besides attending on guests coming to the home. 'I have bought a gold ring out of my savings over years as a gift for my cousin,' says an emotional Majid, who is a student and also helps in farming. 'This is a big occasion when my grandfather will meet his separated daughter, and my father his sister.' Mohammad Taj, a 50-year-old farmer from the same village is also excited but concerned over the cost of the trip for such poor people. His 15-year-old daughter is taking care of preparations for a journey in which her father will meet his sister who also migrated to Mirpur during the 1965 war. 'I am a poor man but I still do not mind spending money to meet my sister,' says Taj, estimating his costs at about 10,000 rupees ($230). For many separated families the new service is a breakthrough, but still involves a long journey to Jammu, then to Srinagar and on to Muzaffarabad. Many are looking forward to the day when the buses can make shorter, more direct links.