At first look, Jagjeet Dhori looks like your quintessential Jatt Sikh: tall, well-built with an air of devil-may-care. You can place him anywhere in Majha or Doaba regions of Indian Punjab. He is dressed smartly, with the suaveness of a city-bred.
It is only when he insists on forming a queue outside the jodaghar (the room in Gurudwara where shoes and slippers are kept) that his innate Britishness comes to the fore. Dhori is a first-generation Brit who has come to Kartarpur with the senior Dhori—the latter wheelchair-bound—with a group of other Sikhs like him who speak Cockney and carry it over even while struggling in Punjabi.
But while their Punjabi is rusty, their emotion is not. With vigorous nods the group of 40-somethings agree that this was the most exciting and the most emotional moments of their collective lives. Sitting on the wheelchair, the senior Dhori is too choked up to even nod.
If you are sitting in one of the numerous drawing rooms in big or Mufassil India, you can be pardoned for thinking that Kartarpur is a security issue if you indulge yourselves in the circus that the Indian news-channels lay out every evening.
Amidst a plethora of often comical but at times outrageous scenarios related to Kartarpur Corridor discussed by hyperventilating sons of Bharat Mata in the studio, the human story always gets lost. With more than a little nudge by the friendly intelligence guys who they hobnob with, these anchors and journalists put up the most cynical charade that can be imagined. And it has its audience.
A friend of mine showed me a remark that a son of Bharat Mata from cow-belt left in the comment section of a social-media handle of a popular English newspaper where he insisted that Sikh must “find a new holy place” because this one lies in Pakistan and that negotiating with Pakistan, even for such an important issue, was something that was beyond the dignity of a son of Bharat Mata like him.
Fortunately, the world is a little bigger than the cow-belt. And where it really matters, this gesture of opening the corridor has struck a chord. As I was walking towards the Golden Temple from Amritsar Railway station a night before I was to cross the border at Attari, my attention was caught by banners that thanked Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Navjot Singh Sidhu for making this “miracle” happen. Clearly, Punjab was having none of whatever those hyperventilating anchors were saying from the newsroom.
In Kartarpur, Dhori and his friends were oblivious of the circus that the news-channels in India were laying out every evening in the run-up to the inauguration of Kartarpur Corridor. Lucky guys.
I mentioned the several cynical reasons experts in India were attributing this opening of the corridor to and they looked disgusted. In fact, this correspondent spoke to over a dozen Sikh Yatis who had come for the opening of Kartarpur Corridor and not once did any of them mention the word “Khalistan.”
Back in Indian Punjab, the situation was no different. Many of the yatris crossing the border (not the corridor) to participate in the ceremonies both in Kartarpur as well as Nankana Sahib (Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s birthplace, also in Pakistan), heaped lavish praises on both Prime Minister Khan and Sidhu.
Most of them were simple people who didn’t indulge much in politics and were just happy that a dream of 72 years was finally getting realised. A few astute ones were more articulate. A couple in their 50s from Nabha said that while this step might have singed Sidhu in national politics where Hindutva is ruling the roost, he is now a hero for Punjab for the foreseeable future.
They also said that Imran Khan has endeared himself to even those from Indian Punjab who had borne the brunt of Partition and were lukewarm towards Pakistan if not outright hostile. He also linked the recent very vocal opposition of the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir in Indian Punjab to Sikhs’ own experience of state repression.
In Pakistan, the jubilations in the run-up to the inauguration of the corridor were infectious. The functionaries at the Gurudwara in Kartarpur could still hardly believe what was transpiring in front of their eyes. After all, just 10 months ago the place around the Gurudwara was but a paddy field.
Many yatris who had previously visited the Gurudwara reminisced how the paddy field was perpetually water-logged and it was difficult to stop tadpoles and insects from swarming the inside of the Gurudwara.
From that to a swanky-shining complex of white marble and vitrified tiles spread across tens of acres in just 10 months flat is nothing less than a miracle. While those who were visiting for the first time—from all across the world where Sikh diaspora is strong including Canada, UK, USA, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and New Zealand—were marvelling at the swankiness of the infrastructure put in place, others who visited more frequently scarcely believed what was standing in front of them.
But why Kartarpur? It is important to understand its history to fully realise what Kartarpur means for Sikhs. Baba Guru Nanak Dev Ji—whose 550th anniversary is being celebrated this week—was born in what is now called Nankana Sahib and where Gurudwara Janam Asthan now stands.
This place is around 70 kilometres south-west of Lahore. In the then undivided Punjab, the Guru settled briefly on the left-side of River Ravi at what is now called Dera Baba Nanak. This place is said to be of spiritual importance for the Guru as he settled here following his first of the four Udasis (pilgrimage tour).
After settling down there for some years, he crossed the Ravi and started living where Kartarpur Gurudwara now stands. It is here that the Guru’s mortal remains were then buried and it is here that he appointed the second guru, Guru Angad Singh Ji as his successor. The place also has the pages of the original Guru Granth Sahib. Needless to say, the importance of this place in the Sikh religion cannot be sufficiently stated.
And it appears that it is this spirit that moved Prime Minister Khan to say yes to the corridor. When Imran Khan—a suave figure no doubt—got to learn about the importance of this place just four kilometres from the Indo-Pak Border, he is supposed to have drawn a parallel with the importance of Madina Munawarra for the Muslims.
Khan mentioned this again and again in the run-up to the inauguration. “If Muslims were stopped four kilometres short of Madina, and could only see Masjid e Nabawi from a distance of our kilometres weather-permitting, the agony through which Muslims would have to pass will be unbearable. How then can I deny Sikhs the same rights?” he added in good measure.