When Uncle Prem Naat Mehra finally made it across the border

Published: November 5, 2016

we fail to understand the association our grandparents or even parents had with their friends or relatives in India. PHOTO: TWITTER

There sat a man, terminally ill, writing a letter. It was a combination of intuition and denial which compelled him to write a letter to a man who was declared dead. Yet he sat there, holding onto his last wish which gave him hope that may not have any fruit to bear.

Using a yellow directory, he wondered to himself if it would reach Afzal Cheema, his Muslim friend in Pakistan with whom he had enjoyed his childhood in the green fields of Lahore. Like a story of novels or thematic compilations, the journey of this friendship took a turn we secretly hope and half know of. Yet the actual wonder is how it is not just a story, but an oral history account of a friendship that survived distance beyond borders – of religions and countries.

This letter that Prem Naat Mehra wrote in his new abode in India bore his deepest hopes and wishes to connect with Afzal Cheema, but he had written to almost every Afzal in the yellow directory that lay by his side. The last name in the directory was his final effort, in spite of hearing from one recipient that the Afzal Cheema he was looking for had passed away.

As fate would have it, when the last letter reached the actual recipient after countless attempts, two individuals, separated by invisible borders, relived a life that had been lost in the annals of history.

Mr Mehra was an ex-Indian Air Force officer who found it difficult to come to Pakistan, but luckily there came a period of improved terms between Pakistan and India, and Prem Naat Mehra was allowed to come to Lahore. A cancer patient who carried the scars of old age could not be dissuaded from travelling to his birthplace. Such occurrences make us realise how relations today cannot compare to those developed in close knit communities where neighbours and friends were nothing short of family; and sometimes even closer than blood relations. Two friends were reunited when Mr Mehra finally reached his city of birth with his wife.

Afzal Cheema’s daughter-in-law went to receive them at the border. She had never seen the couple and they did not recognise her either. As she waited for her guests at Wahga, she noticed a couple crossing the border. They stood distinguished from the rest of the passengers due to the speed with which they strode towards the Pakistani side. Their zeal and curiosity was unmatched. Although the Mehras had never met Mr Cheema’s family, the hosts were showered with love and blessings as if they had lived together all along.

When Mr Mehra went to look for his house in old Lahore, it became clear to him that the structure of the city had changed tremendously. He almost gave up until he came across a street which resembled the image his memory was forcing him to locate. The same way a painting is deconstructed in the eyes of its creator, allowing him to reminisce over his sketch and smile at his craft, this man who had grown up in that neighbourhood immediately recognised his abode which hosted scents of his childhood. Luckily, the existing owner was cooperative. He not only welcomed the visiting party but also told Mr Mehra and his wife that it was still their house as they were the actual owners. Prem Naat Mehra was, however, simply happy at being able to recall all memories associated with each corner of the house and could not have asked for more.

He relived his childhood memories by running across the entire house. His medical condition of being a cancer patient did not dampen his excitement as he jumped over bunnis, leaving his wife and hosts astonished.

It is interesting how men demarcate boundaries on lands but it is also men who can break them with the strength of love and friendship, with relations that they cherish and memories they cannot forget. The last letter that made its way through enabled two families to connect, creating valuable memories that are now repeated through generations – not as a partition story but one that triumphed due to the purity of love and friendship that wove that last letter into two destinies.

Recent tensions between Pakistan and India bring forth discussions of relationships which the citizens of both countries, even if state interests are different. As the second or third generation to the partition of 1947, we fail to understand the association our grandparents or even parents had with their friends or relatives in India. We were never allowed to view India as a neighbouring country with a shared history. This story was one account among thousands of other voices that echoed tirelessly or were bound down by tedious paper work.

It is perhaps time we realise that state actors may have different policies and agendas, but it is not apt to conclude that the sentiments of citizens of both countries will fall under that umbrella. No proper forum was created by the governments of either country to allow interaction between people, breeding misunderstanding, particularly for the generations that cannot relate with those who lived in British India. No matter what the situation might be at state level, stories like these breathe hope each day, testifying to relations extending beyond borders and restrictions.

Mehr Javed

Mehr Javed

The author is a graduate from LUMS; takes pleasure in making short videos of Pakistan and collecting oral history accounts. She tweets @javed_mehr

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Rashid Ahmedkutty

    The reason is that…..India never believed or believes in 2-Nation Theory, but Pakistan does…….and most Pakistanis need to come clear on TNT…..at least I hope you write a blog on it as well.Recommend

  • hp kumar

    Why the hell would new generation Indians will interact with people who openly support likes of Hafiz saeed an Osama.This generation of India is highly irreligious and have different aspiration.We dont connect with you simple.Pl forget India for a while.You dont interact with us emotionally.Come for cooperation through diplomatic channel .We r all for it.Recommend

  • Rohan

    Sorry Pakistanis you’re creation is faulty and you’re state breeds jihadis,if they attack you we have no sympathy Recommend

  • VSingh

    Very well written and my all praises for Mehr, a bright daughter of Pakistan, god bless her!Recommend

  • Ehsan Habib

    My sympathies with the old couple.Really, to us we belong with Middle East not India. Perhaps China too can be accommodated for that matter. By race we are more Afghans then Indians.
    Again best wishes for him. May he cope well with his illness. Recommend

  • Ahmadi

    This then is the complexity of Pakistan..search for an identity.having separated from India how can you be middle east longing for an Arab connection or china for that matter with a mongoloid gene..mixed up identities.Recommend

  • jodh singh

    It should be nath and not naat.Recommend

  • Mujahid Hussain.

    Ms Mehar,are you crazy to meet indians? they hate all of us. Mr hp kumar is right. pakistan is full of terrorest people, and India is a free from terrorest organisations Angels lives in INDIA.Recommend

  • Ketan

    V well said Bro. I wish to cross border as a conqurer not as a guest. Pakistan is land of Hindus Mislims have no business with it. Recommend

  • Sid

    We have / had people like Bal Thackerey who even though never got opportunity to terrorize India had spoken of violent dealings with Pakistan. So has many far right Hindus in our country. Does it mean that the common citizen of India approve of their statement simply because they have no power to stand up against such dangerously violent goons ? People like Hafiz are present in both side of border, though there is various degree in their intensity and will. But given equal opportunity both the groups have capability to unleash the hell on other. Shutting off with each other is only going to make such elements in India and Pakistan more stronger and society much weaker by virtue of perpetual fear induced in them by these people. It is only when we interact we find similarity, we start questioning the rationale behind these hatred, and maybe someday we may even question and understand or probably fix the problems created by partition. Being like human with each other is not a compromise of strength, it is in fact the true spirit of strength. It is easy to thump chest and point fingers and brush aside your problems on others.

    Before you question my alegience I am a proud Indian, and because I know it wont be sufficient to suffice u, so let me also add I am born Hindu, and if it is still not good enough then let me say I am a mumbaiite who lost someone dear in mumbai attack. I do hate people like Hafeez and all those who shield them, but do not hate common Pakistanis. And I won’t.


  • Sid

    This thought what you just presented is one of the strong nail on the India-Pakistan relationship coffin. Best wishes to future generation that they get successful in unplucking this nail out.Recommend

  • Sid

    Hate the Jihadis, not the common men. We need to stop the blanket blaming for the sins of few.Recommend

  • sarvar

    correct you are from middle east :) another wanna be Arab ashamed of his Hindu ancestory .Recommend

  • Ghulam Lone

    This partition generation is actually the generation that would have most likely brought peace between us. Cross border ties decrease with each passing generation, and the millennial generation has no particular affection for India aside from Bollywood artistes.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    What is Naat? Nath means protector. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nath. Namaz was popularized by Gorakhnath/Mahavtar Babaji even im Mideast. You should have taken him to https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tilla_JogianRecommend

  • Ghulam Lone

    New Indians are highly irreligious? Odd statement to make since India in 2014 elected its most outwardly Hindu government in history!

    But the feeling is mutual – we want nothing to do with people who are in denial that they’ve committed grievous crimes in Kashmir. The only thing of yours we like is Bollywood, so please, don’t pretend that we are begging to be your friend!Recommend

  • Ghulam Lone

    When you brutalize Kashmiris, we will still sympathize with you if they attack your civilians.

    Maybe it’s a sign that we are more civilized than you, since you boast that you don’t care when jihadis kill poor and innocent people who have absolutely no control over any policy relating to jihadis.

    If you’re representative of the average Indian, then even Gandhi himself would be ashamed to call himself an Indian.Recommend

  • Wajahat Shafi

    better ,u get admission into Times now and rattle a bottle there, vacancy empty now, u can replace Arnab goswami,Recommend

  • bmniac

    Quite amusing and irrelevant. Check your DNA and you will know!Recommend

  • Jor El

    I may not agree with the point that “This generation of India is highly irreligious and have different aspiration” but i agree wholeheartedly with “We dont connect with you” … For far too long, India has put an emotional factor in its relations with Pakistan … Slowly, we are moving to a phase whereby Pakistan is just another neighbour for us, like most of us think anyway …Recommend

  • Rohan

    You brutalise balochis and muhajirs and mind you as per un,pok is worse off than iok Recommend

  • hp kumar

    I have one muslim colleague in inlingua class.He debated how afjal was not a terrorist at the time when jnu controversy was in full swing.He remain unconvinced till the end of debate .It gave me an opportunity to come to certain conclusions.I m not going to discuss with you difference b/w bal thackrey and hafiz saeed.However I stand with what I said .Recommend

  • hp kumar

    He is not elected coz he is a hindu.Congress looted India under the garb of secularism.He was an obvious alternative and he is doing great.As for muslims of India,they must confirm to Indian culture and uniform civil code.We see that they r bringing culture of arabs and barbarians here in india.We dont like it.Whats the logic of forcing girls to wear burqa and abaya in india when we r blessed with great Indian civilization.That forces even secular moderate hindus to see muslims with suspicion as if they r working for vested interest.Recommend

  • Purna Tripathy

    no, you should claim to be of saudi arabian origin. do not say afghani, they have no money. if at all you are looking for a fore-father look for a rich one.Recommend