Reuniting Indian, Pakistani Families

A family reunited
A Pakistani man kisses his mother after her return from India (Photo: Arif All/AFP-Getty Images).

Airports, by nature, are places of bedlam, replete with emotional scenes as families and friends gather to greet or bid goodbye to their loved ones. Even by those standards, Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport is witness to an extraordinary number of visitors and many touching, tearful moments on Friday, Jan. 2, 2004.

Everyone is on the lookout for that white and green spot in the sky that will soon translate into a familiar airline symbol. The moment is, after all, historic: In a few moments, a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight from Karachi will whistle through Mumbai’s airspace and land on a waiting runway. It will be the first PIA flight from Karachi to Mumbai in two years. Pakistan and India closed their airspace to each other on Jan. 1, 2002, after an attack on India’s Parliament.

Faiza Memon has no problems passing though the immigration desk or clearing the customs’ check. Yet, her heart continues to thud violently. Faiza, a Pakistani citizen, cannot believe her long wait has borne fruit. She is finally in India and soon to be married to the man she has been engaged to for the past seven years.

No wonder, this soon-to-be-bride—one of the 150 passengers on the historic Karachi-Mumbai PIA flight—cannot stop smiling. “This is the best day of my life. I cannot believe I am here,” she says repeatedly. After her marriage, Faiza will live with her husband and her in-laws in India.

“It has been a long wait for both our families,” says a relieved Abdul Ghaffar Merchant, father of Faiza’s fiancée, Asif.

Faiza and her first cousin became engaged when she visited her family in Mumbai in 1996. “We decided their marriage would take place in three years’ time in 1999,” says Merchant. “But the relations between the two countries went from bad to worse and we had a problem getting the visas. We had no choice but to wait for the relationship between India and Pakistan to improve first.”

“At last, after seven long years, there has been a reunion of the family,” says Faiza’s mother, Jamila Dosani. “We are thankful to the governments of India and Pakistan who have decided to give up their enmity toward each other and reopen the air links between the two countries.”

Though Faiza’s fiancée is not there at the airport, she is welcomed by more then 40 family members and friends who will be part of her baaraat (wedding procession). As soon as their Pakistani guests arrive, the delighted baaraatis from India exchange greetings with them and distribute sweets. Faiza, on her part, cannot contain her joy about her impending Jan. 18 nuptials. “I hope I will have a good future in India,” she says.

Parwez Ahmed Khan, PIA’s manager in India, also is there to receive the first batch of visitors from Pakistan. “We are starting our operations from India in full swing and we are getting many inquiries about our flight schedules. We plan to begin with two flights a week to and from Mumbai and Karachi,” says Khan, who remained in India as PIA’s only employee during the last year.

Mohammad Salim Supariwala is at the airport to greet his sister. “I especially want to thank A.B. Vajpayee for his peace initiatives with Pakistan. He is a visionary. May Allah give him a healthy life so he can be our prime minister for a long time,” he says.

Supariwala’s sister, Ayesha Wahid, was married to a Pakistani in Karachi in 1986. She was last expected to visit her family in Buldhana in 1999. “But the Kargil war happened. Then our Parliament was attacked. We had to postpone all our family functions because she could not come here,” says Supariwala.

Ayesha, who is visiting her homeland after five years, adds, “I had been to Is-lamabad twice to try and get a visa. But it did not happen both times because of the strained relations between the two countries at the time. The last five years have been traumatic for me because I have had to forcibly stay away from my brother and my family. I am very happy that things are better now and I have been able to come here to see them.”

One woman flew over from Kolkata to receive her daughter, her Pakistani son-in-law, and their daughter. “My granddaughter was born in 2000 and this is the first time I will be seeing her face to face and holding her in my arms,” she says. “My daughter got married to a Pakistani citizen because she was destined to do so. I only hope that peace continues to prevail between the two countries. It is only then that my daughter will be able to visit me.”

Asked what he thought of his daughter or female relatives marrying Pakistani citizens, Supariwala says, “If the relationship between the two countries continues to improve, why not? The people of both the countries want peace. They have nothing against each other.”