Childhood memories flooded 90-year-old Reena Chhibber Varma's mind and she became overjoyed and emotional as she visited her home in Pakistan, which she had to leave 75 years ago at the time of the Partition.
Pune-based Varma's long-cherished dream of visiting her ancestral home in Rawalpindi materialised when Pakistan granted her a three-month visa and she arrived in Lahore on July 16 via the Wagah-Attari border.
On reaching Prem Nawas Mahalla on Wednesday, the residents in the neighbourhood gave her a rousing welcome. Drums were played and flower petals were showered on her. Varma could not control herself and kept dancing.
Varma, who left for India when she was only 15, went to every room on the second floor of her ancestral home and refreshed her memories. She sang while standing on the balcony and cried remembering her childhood.
Varma said that she did not feel she was from another country, the Pakistani media on Thursday quoted her as saying.
“The people living on both sides of the border love each other very much and we should remain as one,” she said.
She kept looking at the door and wall of the house including her bedroom, yard and sitting room for a long time. She talked about her life back in those days.
She told neighbours that she used to stand on the balcony and hum when she was little.
She sang the same 75-year-old tune to reminisce about her childhood and cried. She said that the memories of the house were palpable to her.
Varma has vivid memories of the day she and her family left their house.
Her family was among the millions whose lives were thrown into turmoil by the Partition of India into two states in 1947.
“When someone got married, all the children of the street, including me, used to run and there was happiness everywhere," The Express Tribune newspaper quoted her as saying.
"Now, once again, the heart wishes to remove the hatred between Pakistan and India and start living together again," she said.
She urged both countries to ease their visa regimes to enable people to meet frequently, the Dawn newspaper reported.
“I would urge the new generation to work together and make things easy,” she said, adding that humanity was above everything and all religions taught humanity.
“Everyone was sad at that time when we left. Neighbours were considered members of the household and we would visit everyone's house,” she said, adding that those were very good days.
Varma said that all the people of her age have died.
The grandchildren of their old neighbours now live in the house where she and her family lived.
"But the wall has not been changed even today," she said.
“Friends and food here are still fresh in my mind. Even today, the smell of these streets brings back old memories. I did not even imagine that I would ever come back here in life. Our culture is one. We are the same people. We all want to meet each other. A local person found me and sponsored a visa after which I reached Rawalpindi through the Wagah border,” she said.
She said the only thing which made her sad was that no one from her family of eight was alive to share her joy.
“I am very happy to see that the house stood intact; even the fireplace is still in functioning condition,” she said, adding that, “during holidays in winters we used to burn wood for heating”.
“We plan to visit Murree in the coming days – I remember we used to go there every summer,” she said.
Since her brother was in the British Army, the family moved to Pune after 1947 where he was posted, but the family did not take any property in a claim against the Rawalpindi house.
“My mother always wanted to have this house, and she maintained that if we take any other house, our right to this house would be lost,” she said, adding that, “things have changed but the love and affection showered by the people of Pakistan will remain in my heart forever”.
At one point, Varma burst into laughter over being unable to climb a staircase without support, saying she had once tackled it “like a bird” countless times a day.
"I love Pakistan dearly and want to visit Pakistan again and again,” she said.
Videos of her visit were posted online and some netizens called it an Indo-Pak dream come true.
One Twitter user was impressed by Varma’s message of peace and thinks if acted upon, it would be the path to success for both neighbours.
(With PTI inputs)