Daphia Bai, also known as Aisha, sat on a cot at her home in Mailsi, in the province of Punjab, Pakistan and stared at her phone hoping to reconnect with her family she lost over 70 years ago. As the video call connected to a phone in the Indian state of Rajasthan state, the 86-year-old slowly started to recognise her long lost family members. She could not help but tear up.
Her family was talking to her from the city of Bikaner’s Morkhana town, 266 kilometres away.
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Bai spoke in Seraiki, a language spoken in the Punjab province of Pakistan, and her family across the border spoke in Marwari, a Rajasthani language. Another person was also on the call to translate.
“I spent all my life crying, I offered money, ghee to people to help locate my family,” Bai was quoted as saying.
70 years apart
Despite spending over 70 years apart from her family, Bai remembered a few things – the names of her siblings and the description of the place where her family owned land, which according to her had many peacocks.
Bai’s search for her family was once again ignited after a Pakistani YouTuber Muhammad Alamgir in August 2019 shared a video of her, asking if anyone knew about the family of a 13-year-old who had got left behind when they moved to India in 1947.
The video was titled: “Searching for a lost family”.
Alamgir’s channel focuses on people in Pakistan telling tales of the partition.
Before the partition, Bai’s family would move freely between the city of Bikaner in the Indian state of Rajashtan and the area that is currently the province of Punjab in Pakistan, but following 1947, they had to choose to stay in Bikaner.
According to an Indian media report, in the confusion of moving, Bai was allegedly kidnapped, married off and eventually had seven children.
The partition in 1947 was the division of British India into two independent states, India and Pakistan. The partition displaced between 10–12 million people, with thousands leaving behind family members in each state.
Bai’s grandson Naseer Khan, who lives in Pakistan, was quoted as saying: “She would remember her siblings Alsu, Chothu and Mira; how Alsu had an injury in one eye and couldn’t see from it. She used to tell us about a place in India which had a lot of peacocks…. She used to talk about attending her uncle’s wedding in that town.”
Alamgir came to know about Bai’s story through his friend who knew Naseer.
The search begins in India
According to a report by the Indian Express, a news website, it was 34-year-old, Delhi-based Zaid Muhammad Khan, who first noticed Alamgir’s video. He had an interest in stories about the partition and decided to help Bai find her family.
Zaid shared Bai’s story on Facebook with people in Bikaner.
Reportedly, he also got publicly available revenue records for the people Bai had named — Alsu Ram, Chothu Ram, relatives Mesa Ram, Budla Ram, Gangu Ram, Moti Ram, and Mira Bai. However because these names were so common, he didn’t have much luck with public records.
Meanwhile, Zaid had contacted Bharat Singh, who runs a shop in Bikaner’s Morkhana area. Singh began looking for Meghwal families whose family members may have been lost during the partition.
In the second week of September, he came across a family in Morkhana whose elders used to talk about a sister who had got left behind. They had looked for her for years.
Reportedly, on September 13, Singh finally managed to connect a call to Pakistan. Twenty family members crowded around the phone of Khoju Ram, 30, a farmer, and the grandson of Chothu also known as Sheela Ram. “First they called, and then I made a WhatsApp video call to them,” Khoju was quoted as saying.
The families also exchanged photos.
The family of Mira Bai couldn’t be part of the phone call, since she lived 50 kilometres away. “We’ll go sometime soon and tell her about her sister,” Kalu said. He also added that they had lost touch with Mira.
After Bai found her family, Alamgir posted an update video on his YouTube channel.
Relieved that Bai was back in connect with her family, her nephew said that her search became more desperate as she grew older and after the death of her children. Only two of Bai’s children, daughters, remain.