I was travelling in an autorickshaw. The traffic was stranded. I was stranded. My destination was close so I decided to walk. It was the older part of the city where antiquity still survives though with a little difficulty now owing to the commercial cult ever growing. As I ambled ahead observing the world around, I arrived at the gate of an old hospital and stopped.
It was the Ramakrishna Mission Hospital. A charitable institution from the time of the British Raj which served the old, poor and infirm. Clamped on the big metallic gate of the hospital was a “something” which set me thinking. Something which was poignant enough to fill one with joy, melancholy and a host of mixed emotions. It carried enough potential to send a chill down the spine of every history lover!
A cartographer’s handiwork, an image of a land mass from above. It was a map. But be not mistaken. It was definitely not just any other map. It was a map of undivided India. You no longer get to see such these days. Its an extinct species. I forgot the bustling traffic around, could no longer hear the perpetual chattering of the people and the incessant honking.
Like a shameless leacherous lover, I stared at the map. For twenty three years I had lived in this country and had absorbed three different maps into my psyche- Those of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. But I had never imagined the three entities in one political map.
My Idea of India- the mental image of its map, would limit its territory at Rajasthan on the west. On the east, an aberration, a hollow, a stetch of nothingness existed between western part of Bengal and the eastern part of Assam.
But this map was contrary to that image. It perturbed the mind, it was revolting. Beyond belief. I had not thought of India as such. And I was ashamed.
The territories beyond Amritsar and the stretch of nothingness between Bengal and India’s northeast had been given a life in this map. It was no longer amputated. They fit in perfectly too. It appeared as if someone had found eventually found the lost parts of a jigsaw puzzle and put them together. It now looked complete.
Maps play a funny game with the psychology of the citizen. Maps tell us what is “ours” and what is “theirs“. Just as a person finally begins to believe the lie he keeps hearing all the time, similarly the national map too indoctrinates the viewer to define political limits. But when I stood there, outside that hospital- while people moved beside me, some brushed by my side, some gently nudging me to make way– all my preconceptions of us and them came crashing down.
I was looking at a piece of history and I was immersed in it. I wondered how nice would it be if I could just walk into Dhaka, just like that. No bunch of papers, No embassy hopping, NO FEAR. Just walk into Dhaka and visit the Dhakeshwari Temple.
Or how nice would it be to have nothing at Wagah just the endless fertile fields of Punjab and an unfetterred national highway between Amritsar and Lahore.
Why couldnt the map stay this way itself?
Why did it have to change?
Why cant a person from Peshawar visit the Taj Mahal without hassles?
Why cant I visit the Mazaar of Mian Mir without getting my currency converted?
It was painful to be there for too long. That thing was so beautiful, I knew she would never be mine. I decided to continue walking.
But no matter how far I get, that image stays etched in my mind. And it will stay that way. Forever.
It has altered my consciousness. Hitherto whenever I thought of India, only a single image came to my mind. Now two images of India find place in my mind. One is a broken image and the other is too lovely to be true. Both images cause hurt.
But such maps of our undivided country should remain. People on both frontiers should see them everyday and ask their souls if it was worth the fight. (No! It was not!)
P.S.- I have not the time, energy and interest to entertain historical debates on partition. What is done, is done. Well done Communalism. Fuck you!