As a 90-year-old Indian woman, Reena Varma stands on the balcony of the house in Pakistan where she was born, visiting on Wednesday for the first in 75 years, she recalls her playful childhood.
“I would stand here and sing,” said Varma, as her eyes filled with tears. “These are tears of joy.”
Varma has vivid memories of the day she and her family left the small, three-storey home tucked away in the narrow alleys of the garrison city of Rawalpindi, where residents showered her with rose petals on her arrival on Wednesday.
She also danced with some of the residents who beat drums as she entered the street, where she said she used to play from dawn to dusk.
Her family were among the millions whose lives were thrown into turmoil by the partition of colonial India into two states, mainly Hindu India and mostly Muslim Pakistan when British rule ended in 1947.
One of the biggest mass migrations in history was marred by violence and bloodshed as about 15 million Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs swapped countries in a political upheaval that cost more than a million lives.
“I’m very happy to see that the house stood intact,” she said after spending several hours inside recalling memories of a childhood spent with her parents and five siblings.
At one point she burst into laughter over being unable to climb a staircase without support, saying she had once tackled it “like a bird” countless times a day, according to a member of the family that now lives in the house.
LONG WAIT FOR VISA
Varma’s family fled to the Western Indian city of Pune shortly before the partition. She was 14 years old at the time. The rest of the family all died without seeing their former home again.
Pakistan and India have fought three wars since 1947 and relations have remained tense, making travel between the two countries near impossible.
But after decades of attempts to get a visa, Varma crossed into Pakistan last week by road at a border crossing near the eastern city of Lahore.
The India Pakistan Heritage club run by Imran William and Sajjad Haider, which works to highlight the shared heritage of the two countries and reunite families separated by partition, helped with the process of finally getting permission to travel.
Varma urged both countries to ease their visa regimes to enable people of both countries to meet more frequently.
“I would urge the new generation that they work together to make things easy,” she said. “We have the same culture. We have the same things. We all want to live with love and peace.”
When she lived in Rawalpindi hers was a Hindu street, she said, but Muslims, Christians and Sikhs all lived in her neighbourhood peacefully.
“I would say keep humanity above everything,” she said. “All religions teach humanity.”