“Wahga Canal” 1947 by, Fikr Taunsvi

Fikr Taunsvi (October 7, 1918 – September 12, 1987) was an Urdu poet, born in a village of Taunsa Sharif, then part of India. He was famous for his satires and was a Hindu by religion. He wrote twenty books in Urdu and eight in Hindi. He studied up to higher secondary school at Taunsa Sharif and got his higher education from Lahore. He migrated to Delhi after partition of the sub-continent.

This Partition story is taken from the book “Lahore 1947” by Ahmad Salim. In his book he has shared partition stories of famous writers from India and Pakistan sharing their personal experiences and views regarding the partition of 1947 and its effects on Lahore.

Wahga…it is neither located on a plateau nor on a river bank. Neither does it produce cotton to be sent to Vassawar. Nor is it a port for which the British and the French fought for years. Wahga is a plain and simple canal-silent, gentle and calm.
It watered the fields before the formation of India and Pakistan and breathed into swaying fields of corn.
But the moment the bugles were blown to herald independence, it seemed as if the Wahga Canal had turned into an arid west land. Instead of milky white cascading waters. The troops were stationed there. Guns, canons and armored cars brought news of freedom of Wahga and relieved the canal of burden of cultivating the fields hence forth the fields around Wahga canal were not to wait for the stream lets carrying life giving nectar. Instead they were to get used to the weight of cannons and armored cars. The fields, in any case, were not servile to either the canal or its glistening sweet waters. Nor were they bonded to the farmers who ploughed them to the ears of corn that swayed over them. They were, in the reality, only a few pieces of dry land. And land either belongs to god or the king. No one else has any claim over it. And the king, the deputy of god on this earth, can dispose it of any time and anyway he likes. If he so wills he can destroy the ears of corn and replace them with guns and bullets. He can change the face of the earth. He can turn a jungle into a flourishing country and then divide it into two and call one Mangal (mars) and the other Sanichar (Saturn). Having done that he can proclaim before the whole world to the beat of drums that Mangal is Mangal and Sanichar is Sanichar. That is why the twain will not be allowed to meet.…
And then to emphasize the divide between the two, huge signboards were installed. Colorful flags were hoisted, a green one this side and red on the other. Now they had separate names.
Separate flags, separate uniforms and separate cannons. That is how the world came to know that the canal which watered the fields, both on the east and west, of Punjab would now be used to divide east from west and hence forth historians will call it Wahga.
I could have easily called Wahga, the border between India and Pakistan. But I feared and I had solid and valid reason for my apprehensions—that all the leading historian and geographers would have immediately censored me for doing that because, for them the old concept, according to which their used to be only border between the two countries had now become redundant. Moreover, a few astrologers in 1947 made the heavenly bodies revolve in such a scientific manner that instead of having one border between them, India had Pakistan had two. Actually the word “two” had befuddled their minds in such a way that now neither the stars moved in an orderly manner nor did their predictions come true. Exasperated by this very “two” and swayed by their animosity to “one” they became oblivious of the fact that the new unit they were trying to create was by itself a derivative of “one”.
Consequently you may be exasperated or annoyed but I can’t deny the two borders between India and Pakistan. One is Wahga and the other …. But what have I to do with the other one? I only want to convey a few things about Wahga crossed by over 90 lakh people during the last few days In the name of safe guarding their religions. I chanced to cross the border three times during the last few days.

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I chanced to cross the border three times during the last few days.
The first time my status was of a regular citizen, i.e., entered the territory of India as a regular refugee, riding a regular army truck, and with proper “pomp and show”. I say “pomp and show “because our grand caravan, consisting of trucks was given a grand reception of a fluttering red and yellow flag and extensive army camp approbation and applause, and slogans shouted by the refugees themselves. The first thing I did was to try and search for that dividing line.
To define it, the pages of the Quran the Vedas and the Grunth Sahib had to be re interpreted so as to bring out altogether different meaning from what they actually stood for.
On this the prime minister of Great Britain said: ‘it is not merely a line on the country, it is a sacred link which will strengthen the bond of relationship between India and Pakistan.
There was no formidable mountain, sea, river or jungle on the border. But almost immediately I repented having thought so foolishly, because having a river a sea or a mountain for a border was a concept associated with the Stone Age, man was afraid of man then, one state was against the other, and the border existed as defense barriers against the enemy. Wars were fought to vanquish adversaries and gain dignity and honor. As far as I could understand there was no earthly reason for India and Pakistan to be enemies. Whenever the elites of the two countries met, they embraced one another like brothers. That the commoners of the two countries always pounced on one another like hungry wolves was an altogether different matter. The down trodden people are by nature wolves, eternally hungry and blood thirsty. Why should anyone raise walls for the sake of people like that? Actually the real cause of a war was clash of interests between the elites. Otherwise, how else can one explain that when the commoners are virtually tearing each other apart like wolves the elites, over flowing with love and affection for each other, sit together, cause comfort over tea, rub their snouts with each other like goats, and work out how two bear other crushing burden of the extra millions racked in as profit under the new industrial policy.
I was shocked to see the border guards of both countries indulging in idle gossip-mongering outside their camps. I felt like shouting at them and telling them: ‘aye soldiers! What’s the use of posting you here? Don’t you know you are there to strike terror in the heart of the enemy? And here you indulge in meaningless chatter, as if you have been trained since childhood just to do that! How comfortable you look playing cards, as if you were born masters.’
But before I could learn more about the Wahga border our caravan set out on the road to India, the land of paradise. My desires remain unfulfilled.
The next time I went to Wahga on a lorry from Amritsar. This one too, like other Lorries, collected a fixed fare from the passengers and took them to the border. The passengers were either Hindus or Sikhs. Almost all were traders. All of them cursed Pakistan during the journey. I got angry several times. One person deliberately picked a quarrel with me when he heard me say that I was going to Wahga to meet Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, a Muslim friend of mine. When I asked him are you going to Wahga to sell bundles of Kashmiri cloth to sell to your Muslim friends?’ he told me truthfully that the merchant in question was no friend of his. He was just a merchant. And as far as he was concerned there was not even remote connection between trade and friendship.
This time I was shocked to see the way the two governments functioned. There was no sign of the Wahga Canal on the border, nor did I see the flags of the soldiers. There was just a three mile long sea of people who had swallowed up the marks which demarcated one country from the other. This sea was pulsating with the same people , who until only a year ago were enemies, now they could be seen sitting together under the shade of the trees having a friendly chat, sharing a sliced melon, enjoying a joke, guffawing and hugging one another. A man donning a Turkish cap was slicing a mango and offered pieces of it to a Sikh. A Muslim woman had brought homemade qeema parathas and was laughing and affectionately feeding a dhoti clad gentleman. Thousands were crossing the border at will without fear of being stopped. I really felt sorry for the way the two governments functioned. What could be more absurd than this: that these thousands of people seemed to have absolutely no feeling and regard for the dignity and honor of their respective governments! They hardly remembered that only few months ago they did not carry melons and mangoes and qeema parathas for one another.
Instead they had dagger, swords and bombs to destroy one another. I wondered how the intensely violent religious hearted in their hearts had subsided. I wish to god they had the sense to keep their religious feelings alive for a few more days so that their respective government could prove to the world that they were two different people prepared to destroy each other! But that had not happened. Yesterday’s enemies were sitting together recounting their tales of woe, Their tales of ransacked homes, Tales of how their women were dishonored, how their flourishing businesses collapsed, how their homes were set on fire, how their children got separated from their mothers and the wives from their husbands. All these tales were shocking and full of anguish. They brought tears of sympathy to every listener and carried with them a faint glimmer of hope that one day they might go back to their home and live together once more. Now, those tales had no meaning. At the most they could provide raw material to the future historians. And there was also the possibility that future historians might refuse to include them in histories because they had more melons, mangoes and qeema parathas in them than daggers and swords. Such non-political aspects had no place in history books.
The history of Wahga of those days is absurd because it was against the basic ideology of our government and encouraged disloyalty towards the government. And the truth was that the down trodden people have always rebelled against the ruling classes and betrayed their trust in them. That was why I felt like descending on their camps and giving them a piece of my mind: ‘Gentlemen! Stop this crushed friendly intercourse between these people otherwise, if people keep on meeting one another like this, they might begin to understand the reality and all that has been achieved so far would go down the drain.’
The most interesting feature of the Wahga Border were the shops set up for the organized sale of religion. A bearded molvi sat there with a huge pile of books including the Vedas, Sahstras, Granths , Geetas and Upanishads and many more works in Hindi and Sanskrit. Sitting next to him was a Sardar ji who sold copies of the Quran Majeed, Fikha, Hadith and dozens of other writings in Arabic. All those books were a part of the lot which the two gentlemen had brought to sell. Otherwise, they would have been at each other’s throats by now, but at Wahga they were selling their books peacefully, the molvi selling the Hindu scriptures and the Sikh works on Muslim theology. In their heart of hearts they were thinking the once the books were sold they would sit back and live comfortably at least a few months. If by selling religion one could have two square meals every day, what would be better.
Next, I met the writers. They were Muslims. They had come to Wahga from Pakistan. Their group consisted of Sahir Ludhianwi, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Ahmed Rahi, Abdul Mateen Arif, Ibn-Insha, Barkat Ali Chaudhary and Salahuddin Akbar. We just rushed and hugged one another, the earth under our feet did not shake with this nor did it protest that the earth which the Hindu and Muslim writers trod was either a part of India or Pakistan. As such it should have carried out in protest against the aliens treading on its bosom. But it remained quiet, how dumb this earth was!
Actually, we were totally oblivious of the religion of the soil, stones, straw and grass underneath our feet, though were ought to have been more aware of. If we had made these mute elements conscious of the greatness of their religion and their regional culture, there was every chance of their revolting against us!
Anyway, we writers were not bothered about the protest or lack of it. Our was a meeting of writers. So we poked fun at one another’s writing and enjoyed kebabs, qorma, rice and tea at an exclusively Muslim hotel. We almost forgot that we were sitting at a place called Wahga which divides Pakistan from India. We laughed at the folly of those thousands who wanted to forge an intimate relationship between the two dominions. Then, we informed one another about the major achievements of our respective governments so that we could convey the information to them and thus perform the literary duties of fifth columnist. All sort of suggestions were mooted to strengthen each others governments, so that they could join hands to wage war against the half-naked and the semi starving masses and suppress them. A couple of writers suggested they should raise a wall of tigers on one bank, and a wall of elephants on the other bank of the Wahga border so that people who regularly set on either side and devoured melons and mangoes should learn to stay put in their own homes. Anyways, we noted these absurd and impracticable suggestions and dispersed. The evening was drawing near and the military post on the border had sounded their bugles, warning people to return home. Gradually the dividing line at Wahga emerged more clearly. We suddenly realized it was time to part, and walked to the border together. Neem trees were lined on one side of the Grand Trunk Road. One stood bang on the border, or most as if it were a communist, otherwise it might have easily grown a little away, on either side. How boldly it stood there, as if no one could touch it! Had this been reported to the authorities of either country, the tree would have been surely felled but why do that? Why not divide the leaves and branches equally between India and Pakistan, why not tell the trees which of its branches and its leaves are Hindu or Muslim? Sahir said to me: “why bother about this tree? Come let us go to Lahore”. And then all the Hindu writers went over to the other side of Wahga to the enemy country.
No one knows which politician forwarded the suggestions we had aired at Wahga just to have some fun at the expense of the law makers in both countries when I went to Wahga for the third time, I was glad to see that the hallmarks, signs and symbols that distinguish one country from the other were in place. There was no trace of melons, mangos and qeema prathas. Silence and desolation prevailed. All those guffaws, echoes of laughter, those tears and tales of woe had retreated to where they belonged. Their place was taken by tigers and elephants. Realizing the special importance of Wahga Canal and fearing that this “beauty” would become world famous and start attracting hordes of lovers from all over, it was hidden from there prying and unwelcome eyes about half a mile away on this side of the border a lion stopped me and gave me a look which seemed to say: “Sir, your daily instructions have made the border an object of ridicule. Don’t you know the border came into existence after long and serious deliberations? You should know the difference between taking this fact seriously and mocking at it?”
Following this, I and many other fun-loving people like me raised their heads and fluttering their eyelids attempt to catch a glimpse of the Wahga Canal. But we could see nothing except army camps and the outline of some familiar sites. One of the tigers told me that half a mile away to the west of Wahga Canal an elephant was an expert in constitutional and international law. He prevented people from crossing over and informed them that the outmoded and un civilised way of friendly social intercourse among people belonging to different countries was prohibited. Now, only regular passport holders could touch the “Wahga Beauty”. The government had to be convinced that the person claiming to be a lover was “genuine and that he was not a threat to the security of the “beauty”. I quietly took the army sentinel aside and asked: “well sir, a tree stood on the Wahga Canal. Can you tell me weather it has been felled and thrown away or….?
The sentry pointed his bayonet at me and staring at me said: “who are you to interfere in this business which concern the two governments?”
And in the core of my heart I said:
“Listen good man; after all I am a branch of the same tree.”
(Translated from Urdu by A.S.Judge and Musheer ul Hassan.)

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