Abu Dhabi: Siblings separated as kids across the India-Pakistan border and a dramatic reunion almost five decades later, you may think, is stuff Bollywood tearjerkers are made of.
But when T.P. Mammikutty, 75, and his sister Eyyathu, 85, both from Kerala, met their long-lost brother, Pakistani Hamza Sarkar, 76, after 48 long years, there were more tears and smiles than one would ever see on the silver screen.
Sarkar flew from Karachi while his brother and sister and some family members came from Kerala for the reunion in Abu Dhabi.
“I never thought I would see my brother and sister in this lifetime. I have waited for this moment for so long and now I don’t want to leave them and go back to Pakistan,” said Sarkar, sitting with elder son Rafeeq and his newfound family in a small villa in Baniyas, Abu Dhabi.
Now settled in Pakistan with his wife and eight children, Sarkar had gone missing from his home in Kerala in 1951 when he was 11 years old. “He was fond of travelling. One day our mother sent him out to graze the cattle. He never returned,” recalled Mammikutty.
As it turned out, Sarkar mingled with a group of people and travelled with them to Shoranur railway station in Kerala’s Palakkad District where he boarded a train to Kolkata, over 2,200km from his hometown. “From Kolkata I went to Bangladesh, which was then part of Pakistan. Later I went to Karachi,” said Sarkar in fluent Malayalam. (He changed his surname Marakar while taking citizenship in Pakistan.)
Sarkar said he had no difficulty finding his feet in Karachi.
“I never felt lonely. There was no problem finding a place to stay either. There were lots of houses left behind by Hindu families who had fled to India after partition. I did odd jobs for a living and managed to survive,” he said.
Fourth among the six children of T.P. Marakar and Ummathu from Malappuram district in Kerala, Sarkar made it home only once after leaving in 1951.
That was in 1968, almost 18 years after he left home.
“It was a treacherous journey. I risked my life and slipped through the borders near Rajasthan in India. I walked for three weeks and finally took a bus to Hyderabad. I wrote a letter to my mother and she sent me money for a train ticket to Kerala,” recalled Sarkar.
In the hope that he will stay for good, Sarkar’s family set up a grocery shop for him. But in less than nine months, he ventured out again - this time on the pretext of buying supplies for his shop.
“He had too many tricks up his sleeves even then,” Iyyathu teased her younger brother before breaking into tears. “That was the last we saw him. I still remember how my mother used to keep his picture under her pillow and would cry all night,” she recalled.
After 48 years, Sarkar’s family traced him in Karachi when his daughter Aasiya living in Pakistan and Mammikutty’s Abu Dhabi-based grandson Nadirshah, 23, connected on Facebook.
“We exchanged numbers and soon family members on either side of the border got talking over the phone,” said Nadirshah.
The reunion was made possible by Sarkar’s nephew Hameed who arranged for visas and tickets.
“My father Mohammad Kunji died without seeing his long-lost brother. I wanted to have a grand reunion of the other siblings at least once. There was no better place than Abu Dhabi as they could not have travelled to each other’s country due to visa hassles,” said Hameed.
The homecoming was not without its share of drama. An ‘identity test’ awaited Sarkar when he walked into Hameed’s house in Baniyas.
“We remember our brother had a distinctly shaped right ear. We took one look at it and there was no mistaking. The man was indeed our brother and not some stranger,” said Iyyathu playfully pulling Sarkar’s over-sized flat ear.
The siblings cherished every moment they spent together in the UAE capital before flying back to their countries this week with happy memories.
Before leaving, Sarkar said, “There are hundreds of Indian and Pakistani families living on both either sides of the border. There are no boundaries in our hearts. Hopefully the governments of India and Pakistan will consider our plight and give us easy access to our relatives.”
1951: Hamza Sarkar, then 11, leaves his home in Kerala and boards a train to Kolkata and later travels to Bangladesh, then part of Pakistan.
1968: Returns to Kerala from Karachi after sneaking into India across the border near Rajasthan but goes missing again after nine months
1970: Acquires Pakistani citizenship.
1973: Gets married in Pakistan
2015: Sarkar’s daughter Aasiya and Abu Dhabi-based nephew Nadirshah connect on Facebook and exchange numbers
2016: Sarkar flies to UAE capital for reunion after nephew Hameed arranges visas and tickets