It was the Christmas of 1950. Suresh had been asked to come to Amritsar. His father had called him to settle certain affairs, connected with the claims for family land and property left in Pakistan when the country was partitioned in 1947. There was a heavy rush in the trains those days, and to get good accommodation, one had to reach the railway station early. Suresh was lucky and managed to get a full berth to himself. Thank God! He would now be able to get a good night's rest. He spread his sleeping bag on the berth and then took a stroll on the platform to find out if someone known to him was traveling and with whom he could chat for a while. Finding no one, he returned to his compartment to retire, and was soon in deep slumber.
Suddenly he woke up and noticed that it was broad daylight. The train had stopped at a small station and a porter was trying to wake him up saying, 'Wake up sir, wake up, it is Atari.'
'Oh, Atari! I had to go to Amritsar,' he said.
'Amritsar! The train passed that station early in the morning. It reached Atari also a considerable while ago.'
Suresh got up at once. With eyes wide open he saw that it was true. All the passengers had gotten off, and he was the only one left in the compartment. He looked out of the window and noticed a low platform with a big conspicuous name board 'ATARI'.
'All right,' he told the porter, 'take me to the train that is going to Amritsar at this time.'
'Well sir, there is no train to Amritsar at this time. This very train will leave for Amritsar in the evening.'
'O.K. Let's go to the waiting room, then.'
'Oh sir, there is no waiting room. either, here. It is just a small station. Only on account of the formation of Pakistan, the station got its importance. Otherwise who would have come to stop here?'
'Of course, that is true.' Suresh wondered, how he kept sleeping, and thus unnecessarily wasted his day. Any way, what should he do now? There seemed to be no other alternative except to stop here. But to idle away his time like this would be meaningless. Why should he not make use of the time, by going to Lahore in Pakistan and meeting some of his friends? It is long that he had met them. There was a time when he would become restless in a few days, if he did not see his friend bhaijan (dear brother) Hanafi or bhai (brother) Ali. And now with the formation of Pakistan, they had not met for a long time. Years had passed and they had not even heard from each other; meeting them was quite a different affair.
Oh how pitiable it was, when friends who were like brothers could not even see each other, only because they had been forced to live in separate countries, India and Pakistan. 'Oh God!' he thought, 'May be some day our sons might form a 'Son-istan' or our wives a 'Wife-istan'. We will, then have to go on with our lives without seeing them. Oh no! my friends, whether in India or in Pakistan, I cannot bear not to meet you.' He wondered whether a divine power was taking him towards his friends. Or else, why should he have kept sleeping at Amritsar and reached Atari? 'Oh, today, I must meet you and eat the delicacies prepared by 'Bhabhi jan' (friend's wife) and the chicken cooked by Maqbool (cook).' Recollecting those good old days, Suresh made up his mind to visit Lahore.
He got off the train, and with the help of the porter, took his luggage to the Bus Depot. There was a bus ready to leave for Lahore. He asked the driver if he could get the front seat. Oh for sure, but he would have to pay four rupees for it and an additional eight annas as non-Muslim tax.' (Eight annas is equi'valent to half a Rupee.)
'What is this non-Muslim tax?' Suresh inquired.
'Well! In Pakistan the lives of non-Muslims remain in danger, and for their safety, the government has to employ a lot of army and police. The non-Muslims must, therefore, pay for their safety. That is the non-Muslim tax.'
Suresh felt a little scared on hearing this and questioned the advisability of his trip. Should he continue this madness? Why should he get into all this confusion? Yet the desire to meet his friends was so great that it overcame his caution. He said to himself, 'All right, let me pay these eight annas also. I do hope that after paying this sum, I will be safe.'
He got into the front seat and the bus started on its journey soon after. Having traveled some distance, he noticed a barbed-wire fence, and a gate. He also saw the Pakistani and Indian soldiers stationed on either side of it. This was the man made, un-natural boundary between the two countries. Or was it a crack in the hearts of two brothers? On the other side of the fence was Pakistan. He entered the territory after a thorough check up at the customs office. The bus resumed its journey.
Suresh saw that there was no difference on either side. The same fertile lands; the same types of fields, flowers, and leaves; the same bright sun, the same blue sky, the same types of trees, plants and shrubbery, and the same mother earth. The types of villages and settlements were similar, some brick houses, some mud houses; rivers, rivulets and hillocks. Women were taking meals to the men-folk, and the men were working hard to produce food for others. There were cows grazing, and buffaloes roaming. Beautiful faces, ugly faces; healthy people, sick people; old men, young men, and children. Everything was virtually the same. If there was any difference, it was in the uniforms of the soldiers, who wore green dresses with the moon and the star as their insignia.
These soldiers glared at him as if questioning, how could this 'non-Paki kafir' enter the 'land of the pure' (Pakistan). Suresh felt extremely sleepy but the attitude of the soldiers was so threatening that it gave him the message, 'If you sleep, we will see to it that you die.' With great difficulty, he was able to keep himself awake. He, however, felt a little assured that he had paid eight annas for his safety. Some of the tax money must have gone to these soldiers too, and surely they will not be ungrateful.
After what appeared to be a long time, the bus reached Lahore. Here also there appeared to be some trouble. As passengers started coming out of the bus, there was checking of their passports and permits. Suresh had no passport or permit. He had no idea of coming to Lahore; nor was he aware that a permit was necessary to enter what was his own country, and the place of his birth. He had no idea about these new requirements. He had never come to Lahore after the formation of Pakistan. He thought of it at the last moment to see his dear friends. Now what should he do?
'Where is your permit?' asked the person checking.
'I don't have any permit.' was Suresh's reply.
'Why did you come without a permit?'
'To meet my friends. Prior to this I never needed any permit to come here.'
'Oh that was another matter. After formation of Pakistan, no foreigner can enter Pakistan without a permit'.
'How does one get a permit? Does one have to become pure to enter 'the land of the pure' (Pakistan)? Is everyone who lives in Pakistan truly pure? And how does one become truly pure?'
'Oh shut up! You seem to be an enemy.'
'Enemy ? What enemy?'
'Oh, India. Every Indian is an enemy of Pakistan.'
'But India does not consider Pakistan to be its enemy. India considers it to be it's friend.'
'Hey, if you talk like that you will have to face grave consequences.'
'Why is it wrong to speak what one feels to be the truth.'
This enraged the person and he shouted, 'Enemy! Here is an enemy spy.'
At once a soldier came running and as soon as he whistled, quite a contingent of soldiers gathered. The officer of the group shouted saying, 'Where is the enemy'
The permit checker pointed towards Suresh and said, 'Here is the Kafir. Here. He says India and Pakistan are friends, and is spreading doubt and trouble.'
'Oh is that so? Then catch him and shoot him.'
Then he ordered one of his soldiers to make Suresh stand against the wall and another to aim and shoot. Immediately the order was obeyed. The soldier aimed and put his finger to the trigger. Suresh was thinking of the calamity he had brought upon himself just for nothing. It would have been better if he had stopped at Atari for the whole day. 'Is that the punishment one gets for his desire to meet friends? Is that justice?' He said to himself, 'Oh God, why should it be so?'
'Fire!' the officer ordered and the soldier immediately opened fire --- 'Bang!' But Suresh continued standing without being hit. Of course there was the noise. Everyone heard the bang. Did the soldier miss his aim? The officer immediately ordered another soldier to fire. Once again the firing was repeated but Suresh was still standing alive. How is it? What is it? Did the second soldier miss his mark too? The officer was now really enraged and ordered the whole troop to aim and fire. At once they all pointed their guns at Suresh and again there was a big roar in the air --- 'Bang!', 'Bang!', 'Bang!'. It was a miracle that Suresh remained unscathed. It had never happened before. So many people shot at the same time at an unarmed person, and he was still alive! Suresh was amazed and started thinking. Everything that happened was so strange, so amazing! He overslept and reached Atari instead of Amritsar. Then so many people firing at him simultaneously and missing him. Could it be a divine providence? Again he thought of that mysterious power which makes our destiny. Is there some hidden motive behind all this? He thought of his deep desire that India and Pakistan should again join together and become one country. When Pakistan was formed, how his heart was broken and how often he had prayed that they should become one again. Was it the result of his prayers that God had selected him as a messenger of Peace. Was it on that account that he became immune to the bullets. Or else how could he, with so many people firing at him, be saved?
So he said to himself, 'I will meet Bhaijan and others later. First let me follow the divine command.' And then he addressed the officer, 'Oh ignorant officer! You wanted to kill me but the divine plan was otherwise. God has sent me to show light to you all, who have lost their way and are going in the wrong direction. Instead of following the path of God, why should so many people have taken to violence and become savages, cutting each other's throats. Do you think only the Muslims are the sons of God. Aren't the Hindus, whom you consider your enemies, not created by the same 'Allah'? If they are, how can Allah, our heavenly father feel happy or satisfied when some of his children are cutting each other's throats? Why are you after the blood of others and thus getting away farther and farther from our Allah? Hasn't such savagery affected people on both sides? Has not there been a blood bath everywhere? Were innocent women raped or innocent children massacred only by members of one community. People feel angry that the other side also is acting similarly. But can two wrongs make one right. No! Never! If it can be set right, it is only through mutual love and consideration. Some people, for their personal gain and power, created all this trouble and hatred. Innocent people got misled and suffer the most. Those few people are enjoying their power. And what did poor public get? Only lot of bloodshed, mutual distrust and hostility resulted. Those, whom you considered your neighbors, friends, and brothers and who were always with you in your joys and sorrows became your staunch enemies, and for them you developed hatred, distrust, and fear. To remove that hatred, distrust and fear, and to sow the seed of love and friendship, Allah has sent me to you. So wake up oh children of God and unite again. By joining me in this good mission you will please God. Let us all raise our voice together for that unity.'
The officer was already under the spell of Suresh on account of the miracle he had witnessed, in Suresh being alive and unhurt despite so many firing at him. So he saw no reason to doubt Suresh's statement, and joined him in shouting the slogan, 'Hail to the unity of India and Pakistan.' The people and the army contingent together shouted, 'Hail to the unity of India and Pakistan.'
Everyone joined and formed a procession. They marched ahead with the mission to unite India and Pakistan, to reunite and revive old friendships. As the procession marched ahead, the momentum and the enthusiasm of the crowd also increased. Old sentiments were getting revived. Each and everyone wanted to end the years of bitterness so they could all progress in peace. They were all proceeding to unite the divided people and remove the walls created between them. Amongst this great enthusiasm, there was a very loud cry, 'Hail to the unity of India and Pakistan.' This loud shouting shook up Suresh, who got up with a jerk and heard, 'This is Amritsar. Please wake up.'
So all this was a dream. 'But how beautiful this dream was? How I wish this could become true? And why not? The morning dreams often do get fulfilled.' Suresh pondered.
And he is still pondering, and he is still hoping for his dream to come true!