Pakhtuna says she is over 100-years old. The tales she narrates confirm both her longevity and also the miseries of those bygone years.Her father, Pakhtoon Khan belonged to North Waziristan (Pakistan). He was arrested by Maharaja Hari Singh's government in late 1920s and was undergoing incarceration when a son was born to the Dogra Maharaja."When Karan Singh was born (March 9, 1931), the Maharaja celebrated the arrival of an heir by distributing sweets and releasing prisoners."My father was also released and he came back to Waziristan to re-join his family."After some years, his nephew Mateen Khan from this village came to meet his uncle."My father decided to marry me to Mateen Khan and I was sent with my husband to Gotlibagh. This was before 1947.
"The country was divided and I was left on this side of the divide with my husband. My father, mother, brothers and sisters were left in Pakistan. I had no means to find out whether they were alive or dead", Pakhtuna told IANS in her home in this hamlet situated 35 Kilometres north of capital Srinagar in Ganderbal district.Pakhtuna speaks in chaste Pushtoo and broken Urdu.Akbar Khan, 52, her neighbour did most of the translation during her interaction with IANS.She has five sons and three daughters. Her husband also claims to be over 100 years old and is living with wife, children and grand children in this village.But, Pakhtuna says after partition she has never been a happy person."I have one desire and that is to visit my father's home and meet my sisters and brothers and their children" in Waziristan.
"My knees are shaking, but still they have the strength to carry me if someone could facilitate my journey", she said.Tears welled up in her eyes when she narrated how she had gone to the Kishenganga River two years back after arranging with her sisters to come to the other side of the River that forms the line of control (LoC) between Indian and Pakistan occupied parts of Kashmir."My children spoke to them on phone somehow and arranged that my younger sisters should come to Kishenganga River so that we could have a glimpse of each other. I went there with my sons and daughters as did my sisters on that fateful day," she recalled.
The roar of the River was too strong to carry our words across. "All of us broke down weeping and wailing on the two banks of the River," Paktuna said.As her sons tried to console here, she said "our tragedy is something the mighty currents of the river could not prevent from being noticed."Pakhtuna is skeptical about the confidence building measures or CBMs started by India and Pakistan for divided families by way of cross LoC travel or the Karvan-e-Aman bus service started in 2005 for members of divided families to meet each other.She begs for a passport which she has been told is necessary for her travel to Pakistan."I have been told that I cannot board the bus between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad because my divided family is not in 'Azad Kashmir'."Before I die, could somebody get me a passport? My husband and children have the money to pay for my travel to Pakistan and return home", she folded her hands begging for help.
Folding hands is highly unusual for Pakhtoon women those are brought up on lessons of family honour, revenge and hiding their tears.Farah Qayoom, a teacher in Kashmir University is doing her doctoral research on the Pakhtoon diaspora living in Kashmir.She told IANS, "I have been studying the community with focus on their cultural assimilation or otherwise.The Pakhtoon community has maintained its exclusivity despite being in Kashmir for over 180 years. They have erected social and cultural barriers despite sharing religion and dress preferences with the locals."A Pakhtoon boy may marry a local girl, but the Pakhtoons giving their daughters in wedlock to locals is unheard of," she said.In this backdrop, Paktuna waits for help to meet her sisters, brothers and their children. Will officials of the two nations, sharing a history but divided by poitics, come to her help?