My Journey Home: West Punjab — Part 1 of 3

I grew up being told that Pakistanis were evil — no exceptions, and with prejudiced stereotypes that Muslims were unclean. I now realize that I was being indoctrinated in the patriotism of hate. - DR TARUNJIT SINGH BUTALIA

The Mighty Indus River at Attock Khurd: Emotionally Punjab ends at Indus River! Some of the greatest ancient civilizations in the world were cultivated in the Indus river valley. The Indus River (locally called Sindhu) is one of the longest rivers in Asia (about 2,000 miles long), originating in the Tibetan Plateau and ending near Karachi as it merges into the Arabian Sea. It is one of the few rivers in the world that has a tidal wave…Visited the British era Attock Khurd railway station built 1884 and saw the steel bridge with train from Peshawar crossing over it – same as 135 years ago! The treat was to come at lunch! Jahandad Khan and I sat by the river bank eating lunch on the land where our ancestors fought with each other in early 1800s. This time the competition was over sagg, maaki di roti, and lassi! This would have to be the most memorable visit of the trip. – Text / Photo: Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia
Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia | EXPERIENCE |

Imagine the joy of visiting the shrine of Baba Farid in Pakpattan — where your ancestors served Baba Farid more than 750 years ago, imagine the ecstatic feeling of stepping foot on the land of Siri Guru Nanak Sahib — where he was born and passed away, imagine visiting the Gurdwara in Lahore’s Chuna Mandi — where Siri Guru Ram Das Sahib was born, imagine praying at the Gurdwara — where Siri Guru Arjan Sahib was martyred, imagine the goosebumps when visiting Gurdwara Shaheed Singh Singhnian near Lahore railway station — where Sikh mothers were garlanded by Mir Mannu with the decapitated bodies of their own children.

Imagine walking the Lahore Fort — where your ancestors served about 200 years ago in the army of the Lion of Punjab, imagine discovering your maternal ancestral home late at night in Lahore — to see your maternal grandfather’s name outside the house waiting for someone to come reclaim its identity, imagine visiting Aitchison College in Lahore — where your grandfather and father studied, and imagine the circle of life that leads to your ancestral home through which your paternal grandparents walked out in 1947 never to return and you kiss the door walking back inside as a way to honor the promise of goodness of humanity.

The list goes on — but you get the point. It was a roller coaster of sad, poignant, and moments of hope and loving kindness.

I was born in October 1965 in East Punjab when my father and several of my uncles who were in the Indian armed forces were at war with Pakistan. I grew up being told that Pakistanis were evil — no exceptions, and with prejudiced stereotypes that Muslims were unclean. I now realize that I was being indoctrinated in the patriotism of hate. Patriotism of hate is love of your country based on hate of another country — in this case Pakistan. The Islamaphobic comments by family and friends were casual — usually said with humor to rub it in. I traced most of these prejudiced feelings to the bloody 1947 partition of Punjab by the British Empire, which drew an arbitrary line through the heart of Punjab dividing people who had lived together for thousands of years.

These were my thoughts as I landed at Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore. The taxi driver who picked me up asked if this was my first visit to Lahore. As soon as I said yes he quipped, “Jinae Lahore ni vaikhya o jamia nahi” [He who has not seen Lahore has yet to be born]. At that moment I knew I had been re-born!

Shrine of Baba Farid in Pakpattan – Photo: Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia

The hospitality of Pakistanis was overwhelming. Restaurants would not take money, Uber drivers refusing fare, Sardarji said with love and affection, the trolley guy at the airport shouting — give way to Sardarji — in Panjabi. The list goes on and on. The one I remember most fondly is that I was chatting with a Mualvi while both of us were eating dessert at the famous Yusaf Faluda shop in Gawalmandi of Lahore. When I got up to pay, the halwai informed me that the Maulvi Sahib I was talking with had already paid my bill and left. I was being drowned in hospitality and kindness — nowhere else in the world have I experienced such respect. If it were up to my hosts, they would have lifted me up on their shoulders!

Dr Tarunjit’s entry at his Facebook page in April 2019:

This post will help you understand why I chose “My Journey Home” as the title of this series of posts! See below.

Butala Sardar Jhanda Singh: This had to be the most emotional part of my journey. Located near Gujranwala, this is our family ancestral home. My ancestors lived here for many generations (during rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his ancestors and successors). They owned 42 jagirs (42 means batali in Punjabi hence my family name and name of this village are the same Butala or Butalia). My grandparents stepped out in 1947 through these very doors never to return. I return here to complete the circle of life after 72 years. I even met an old gentleman who remembers my grandfather! His photo is below. The three havelis (mansions), one Baradari (12 door open guest house), one Samadh (memorial grave) of an ancestor, and a pond built by our family have survived the vagaries of weather and time. The hatred of the partition must turn into compassion for those on the other side. This is where our hope and future of humanity lies – and not in the patriotism of hate!

Ancestral home near Gujranwala – Photo: Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia

I was expecting to see women in burqas but was surprised to see that most women were not covered head to toe in burqa, unlike what much of the western media portrays about women in Pakistan. Some women covered their head in public with a chunni or scarf but faces were not covered. I met many women on my trip and found them to be inquisitive, balanced, and very perceptive.

Some of my most interesting conversations were with ordinary people such as Uber driver, restaurant cook, guard, waiter, and best of all “Bacha” — the mighty old Pathan outside my hotel who polished my shoes, all people making a living to raise a family with dignity. I did not meet one person, not one, who bad mouthed the country of my birth. Instead I heard a sense of appreciation that India had progressed significantly and they hoped Pakistan would also do the same.

But in my conversations, I heard something deeper. I heard the common person talking about how Pakistan had learned valuable lessons from its experiment with Islamic fundamentalism and that religious nationalism is not the way for their country. I reflected on their comments and it sent shivers down my spine as I thought of the bigotry that Trump and Modi are weaving in the oldest and largest democracies of the world. Both nations have lessons to learn from Pakistan’s date with religious nationalism.

Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia with the man who remembered his grandfather who left Pakistan in 1947 – Photo: Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia

Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia is a US-based interfaith activist and scholar with deep roots in East and West Punjab in South Asia. He currently serves as Executive Director of Religions for Peace USA and is a Board Trustee of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions as well as Sikh Council for Interfaith Relations.

Tarunjit visited his family ancestral home near Gujranwala in 2019, seventy-two years after his grandparents left in 1947, never to return. His ancestors lived there for many generations, including during rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. They owned 42 jagirs (42 means batali in Punjabi hence my family name and name of this village are the same Butala or Butalia). The article first appeared here.



Experience pin drop silence at Pakistan gurdwaras (Asia Samachar, 9 April 2020)

Nankana Sahib in the eyes of a Pakistan blogger (Asia Samachar, 31 May 2020)


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