A letterexchange drill that binds people on two sides

A letterexchange drill that binds people on two sides

The partition of India marked in history with bloodstains of a million people has remained a matter much mined by historians. The savage violence that accompanied the birth pangs of India and Pakistan in 1947 spawned a harvest of surliness laying the turf for future animosity and conflict between the two nations. More than 10 million people were forced to move as refugees in one of the greatest migrations history has known.

Countless were driven from their villages, ancestral homes and communities. They lost property and were left deprived and robbed, both of their emotions and the ones they loved and grew up with. While for many the gory memories of the partition are still etched deep within, over the passage of time people of the two warring neighbouring nations have perhaps learnt to live with the unaddre­ssed agony. For friends to meet, relatives to unite, it now requires a visa. But memories, emotions and love have spelled across borders in letters for decades. 

Two red-coloured vans, one from Amritsar and the other from Lahore, have been delivering letters, books and postcards from either side of the bord­er diligently regularly for years now. These epitomize peace and hope, perha­ps, ironically covering up what is gross deficit between the two countries in the era of Facebook and Twitter, the telegram waned into oblivion. Technology and electronic-mails left little space for handwritten letters. But at the Attari-Wagha border in Punjab, this exchange goes relentlessly, beyond just preserving the fading legacy of penning down letters. 

Columnist and President of Building Peace Bridges for Development’ Chanchal Manohar Singh, who has travelled to Pakistan 26 times, recalls the nostalgia that gripped his father Probjot Singh Bedi every time a post card or a letter reached them from across the border. 

Talking to Deccan Herald, Chanchal Manohar Singh said: “We migrated to India from Rawalpindi. Partition finished everything. But those who had love in their hearts continued the connect with each other through letters, like my father. The days letters came from Rawalpindi from his friends and relatives, it was like festivity for him.” He said this tradition of delivering letters at the Punjab border continues as a mark of delivery of hope and love sans borders.

At 11 am at the Attari-Wagha check post, the shudder of the vans sound the arrival of letters. The rear of the doors of the vans open. The postal staff on either side drags down the baggage of letters. Indian Post official Hari Om Sharma said he feels happy that this exchange brings smiles to the faces of many and connects people. He said both sides make sure that the arrival time is adhered to. Sharma said the delivery of bags of letters by the two postal authorities takes place in the presence of the Border Security Force and Pakistan Rangers, its counterpart in Pakistan.

The communication between the two sides is limited to greeting each other due to security reasons. The process starts and ends with the drill of signing registers of delivery before the consignment from each side is lifted for further distribution.

A frequent visitor to Pakistan, senior journalist Gajinder Singh,told Deccan Herald the connect through letters, especially for those who lost and left behind everything during the partition, is of paramount significance. Gajinder, who has friends across the border who keep exchanging letters and gifts through postal means, says: “Those who write and believe in writing, will write no matter what. The older generation feels closer to relatives and friends when they write. They even preserve such letters like an endearing memory close to their heart.” 

Postal authorities say over the years the trend of writing letters has declined on both sides. “Still the mail is in bulk, but nowhere close to what used to some 30 years ago before the advent of technology tools for communication,” they said. 

Interestingly, the flow of letters from Pakistan is more than what is delivered from India. Officials say the rush of letters increases on festivals. Chanchal Mahohar Singh said even the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbhandhak Committee subscribes to this form of border communication. “I receive letters from the committee through this mode. They generally write invites for participation during various Sikh religious events, for purposes of pilgrimage etc,” he said. 

Chanchal opined that many of the older generation of people, especially the ones who went through the horrors of partition, still communicate in letters, also because they aren’t so internet savvy.

“Letter exchange between the two nations has dipped because of security surveillance by various agencies on both sides of the border. Although much of the surveillance goes on clandestinely most of the time, people on both sides may not be wanting to get under any scanner merely on account of their writing  letters,” he maintained. 

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