“Partition nearly ruined my life” accountant Iftakar Khan explained to me at breakfast, during a field visit to our USAID malaria control project in Pakistan. For centuries Hindus and Muslims coexisted in India constantly fighting over land and religion. In 1947 the British who colonized India decided to permanently fix the problem. An English cartographer was charged with dividing India’s land into three sections. The center section remained India, a Hindu homeland, while the east and west sections birthed the Muslim nation of Pakistan.

Khan, a Muslim, and his widowed mother owned a large farm in northern India. Unaware partition was so imminent, Khan traveled to Lahore to collect a debt owed to his family. The deadbeat lacked sufficient money to pay his debt, but promised if Khan waited two weeks he’d scrounge together the money he owed. Meanwhile, the partition plan was set in motion. Muslims living in India fled from their homes to Pakistan hoping to finding a home abandoned there by Hindus fleeing to India.

With escalating violence, as thousands were slaughtered on “death” trains, the borders between the countries closed. Khan was trapped in Pakistan with no place to stay, no job, with just the money he was carrying. He was worried sick that Hindus would claim his farm, evict his mother, leaving her homeless or dead. For months communications with India were blocked. His only option was to find a laborer’s job with sufficient pay to rent a small room.

His eyes welled and a tear fell onto his cheek as he recalled the utter despair of 38 years before, not knowing his mother’s fate and grief at losing his home and everything he owned. My heart broke for him. Continuing, he recounted that nine months later, he was granted a passport. He immediately left for India. Arriving home, he wept with joy to discover his mother alive and well, protected by close Hindu neighbors. However, their farmland had been claimed by Hindu refugee families. Their emotional reunion was bittersweet as Khan, now a Pakistani citizen, had only a 90 day visa. With a heavy heart, he returned to Pakistan where he built a new life, married and raised three sons.

Our friendship grew over the four years of my assignment. However, Khan waited until my final week in Pakistan before he dared to invite me into his home, largely because he believed I would be uncomfortable in his humble quarters. It was a memorable evening of feasting and storytelling with his family, dampened only by the realization this would be the last such occasion we’d ever share.

Serendipitously, seven years later, my new job required a short trip to Pakistan. I conspired with another former USAID staff member to take me to Khan’s house for a surprise reunion. The look of disbelief on his face when he opened his door was priceless. I wanted him to know that I had not forgotten him and never would.

— Special to Meetinghouse


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