Brothers in Arms: Bharat and Pakistan
In Malaut, a small town in south Punjab, a carpenter names his sons after the two nations created in 1947
They do their homework together. Fight often. But bury their differences with a hug. Meet Bharat and Pakistan.
At Gurmeet Singh’s small 2.5 marla home, Bharat and Pakistan are brothers. The carpenter in his early-40s has named his sons after the two nations created in 1947. “I abhor hatred,” he said sitting at his house in Malout in Muktsar district, about 70 km from the India-Pakistan border.
Malout is a town that lies on the road to Fazilika, which in Mughal times was part of the Badhshahi Sadak to Pakpattan. According to Abu Fazl’s Ain-e-Akbari, Mughal Emperor Akbar took this road when he togther with his family, undertook a pilgrimage to the dargah of Baba Farid, mentor to both the Sufi Chishti saint Nizam-ud-din Aulya of Delhi and the founder of Sikh faith, Guru Nanak.
Gurmeet Singh was born after Partition when the massacres of 1947 had subsided and India was building a new identity. But he has vivid memories of anti-Sikh violence that spread hatred and fear through the cities and countryside in 1984. He says, he was barely 10 when his family migrated from Haryana’s Hansi district to Malout in search of better a better life.
“I was very young, but I remember hearing about the violence following Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Hansi was peaceful. But the talk of violence all around left an indelible mark on me. Anger does not exist in my body. Forgiveness does,” said Gurmeet. His earnings are meagre he adds, barely enough to feed his three children, including daughter, Gagandeep, the eldest.
“I decided that I should do something to spread love and forgiveness among people, nations and neighbourhoods. So, I named my elder son Bharat and the younger, Pakistan,” he explains.
Nothing gives him more pleasure and immense joy than to hear 11-year-old Bharat say, “Pakistan is my brother.” Pakistan is 10-years-old while Gagandeep is 14.
But naming his younger son, Pakistan, evoked derision and shock among neighbours and friends, Gurmeet said.
“People used to berate me. They used to say that Pakistanis would kidnap him and many other ridiculous things. But we, including my wife Lakhwinder, didn’t yield to pressure. Overtime, people understood the idea behind my children’s names and now they have no problem calling my younger son, Pakistan.”
But while neighbours and well-wishers eventually rallied round Gurmeet, the administration was not as generous. He said, he faced problems when time came to admit his youngest to school, “The prinicipal and the teachers were horrified by just reading his name on the application form. I tried my best to convince them. But they insisted on change in name. In the end, we had no option but to rename Pakistan, Karandeep.”
At his home and in his neighbourhood, however, Karandeep continues to called by his original name. His classmates too call him, Pakistan. The name has stuck. Administrative writ has no say here.
“The soul cannot be at peace if the mind is full of hate towards things, people or nations. It is as simple as that. I may be illiterate and poor, but I believe in the power of love towards all. This is what I have learned from Guru Nanak,” Gurmeet said looking at the family gathered around him.
Unfazed by what people may think of him or his approach to life, Gurmeet, who describes himself as a “daily wage labourer”, has opened a small carpentry shop on the road to Dabwali. With no money to spare for a proper hoarding, he has, instead, stretched a fabric banner over the workshop door – the blue lettering in Gurmukhi reads: “Bharat Pakistan Woodworker”.
“People look at it and smile. A few weeks ago a policeman came asking me to remove the banner. When I explained the idea behind the banner, he too smiled and has not returned since,” Gurmeet laughs.
Asked how he felt being called ‘Pakistan’, Gurmeet’s youngest son, wearing a fetching pink turban, said it was a unique name, “ I am a deshbhakt (patriot) like Bhagat Singh, Udham Singh, Kartar Singh Sarabha, Chandra Shekhar Azad and so many others.” Butting in, the way joisting brothers do, Bharat cheerfully added, “Pakistan is my younger brother. He is a friend.”
Gurmeet’s wife Lakhwinder has backed her husband throughout. “I have learnt a lot about life from him. The thought behind the names we gave our sons is all about forgiveness,” she explained.
“Hatred should have no place in our hearts. The people of the two countries do not want war,” Gurmeet said, adding, “As a carpenter I can join two pieces of wood with gum or by driving a nail through them, but...”