The other day I received a call on my mobile phone. It was an unknown number from the US. I took the call, wondering who it might be. However, hearing no one on the line for a while, I disconnected it, thinking it was probably one of those phishing calls that banks often warn against.
After a while, I received another call from a different international number. I found myself getting a tad anxious when the caller identified himself as Mohamad Akram. Why would an unknown person with that name be calling me from a foreign land, and how would our nation view this matter? Those were my thoughts as I enquired — disapprovingly — of the reason for the call, ready to disconnect at a moment’s notice.
After a short pause, the caller raised his voice and enquired thrice, ‘Tussi Sabharwal ho, ji?’ ‘Yes,’ I responded, ‘and who are you?’ ‘Main Eminabad, Pakistan, da Mohamad Akram.’
Now, the mere mention of Pakistan was enough to put me on high alert. However, Eminabad — being my birthplace — piqued my curiosity, so I asked for the reason for the call. Akram started listing names of many family elders, asking me to confirm their relation with me, and then, enquired about my age. He said he had been trying to get a contact number for one of my family members for several years, and that it was with great difficulty that he had found mine.
He explained that his father, Abdul Rehman, had overseen the construction of our haveli there. Akbar reminisced how, whenever he accompanied his father to the haveli, my father and his elder brother used to offer him sweets, which he still recalled with great affection to this day, at the age of 80. ‘I was hoping,’ he continued, ‘that after all these years, someone of your family may come back to visit Eminabad, with Sikh worshippers paying obeisance at Bhai Lalo Di Khooi and Rori Sahib gurdwaras.
Now fully engaged, I enquired about Akram’s own life. He told me that he had retired from Pakistan railways some 20 years back, and had since settled in New Jersey, as his sons had emigrated there.
I asked him if he might be able to send me a photograph of my family haveli, which he enthusiastically assured that he would have done through one of his relatives still living there. However, he warned me that its beauty had been regrettably diminished by the many shops that had sprouted in front of it.
When we had bid our goodbyes, the call left me with bittersweet feelings. What was it that had me so emotionally excited after a call from a complete stranger, so much so that I had requested for a photograph of my familial home in a country against which many in our own spout animosity all the time? Could the bonds of humanity transcend those of man-made boundaries, I wondered sadly.
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