Too many Partition stories are about the defeat of human ties by the power and whimsy of an invisible line drawn on a map. The story of Sikka Khan and Sadiq Khan, two brothers separated in 1947, is no different. In the chaos unleashed by Partition, Sikka and the boys’ mother were left on this side of Punjab; Sadiq and their father in the new nation of Pakistan. It wasn’t geography that forced them apart, but history. In these years, Sikka’s mother, crazed by the grief of losing her family, took her own life. He was brought up by his grandparents in Phulewal village, which still remembers with pride that it had protected all its Muslim families during the insanity of Partition. The boy’s letters to his brother, sent to a wrong address, remained unanswered.
Finding the right address took 74 years — and the magic of the internet. It’s hard to remember today, when it has been so completely hijacked by hate and partisanship, but the worldwide web was once envisioned as a space where borders would become irrelevant. And so, when a YouTuber in Pakistan, whose stories on Partition have a substantial following on either side of Punjab, heard of the brothers’ tale, he used his platform to broadcast Sadiq’s appeal: He was sure his brother was alive. Could someone help them meet? The internet obliged, and the brothers first met — on a screen, over a video call. It took two more years, and several negotiations with the bureaucracy of nation-states, for them to finally see each other. Earlier this week, the two brothers met and embraced — even if for an achingly short time — at Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib.
The journey of their respective nations — in many ways siblings too — appears to take them further and further away from togetherness. But even if realpolitik does not agree, India and Pakistan can do better. They must make an exception for Sikka and Sadiq and allow them to visit each other. For once, let brotherhood triumph over the intoxication of nationalism.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on January 15, 2022 under the title ‘Brotherhood’.