As I travelled across the countryside in West Punjab, there were many familiar sights. Besides the almost unending fields overflowing with wheat that was ready for harvesting (It was around Baisakhi, the harvest festival of East Punjab. They might have a different name for it, but the wheat does not know much about that and ripens on both sides of the border at around the same time.), there were the Massey Ferguson and Ford tractors and John Deere combine harvestors. Among the first unfamiliar sights, were the FIAT tractors. Till that point of time, I had not even known that FIAT produced tractors as well!
The road signs and advertisements painted on the walls might have been similar to those in the Indian Punjab, except that the script used to write these was 'Shahmukhi' (that uses the same alphabet as the Urdu language) instead of 'Gurmukhi'.
Then there were the sights and sounds of a Punjab that I had only read about in books or heard about from my elders. There were children studying in a village school in a class that was being held under a tree, with the added benefit of cool breeze that became cool by virtue of having passed over the village pond. Now this is a scene that you might come across in East Punjab as well, except for the vital fact that each of the children used a phatti (wooden board) to write upon with a qalam (a pen fashioned out of the thick, dried stalks of tall wild grass). My parents tell me they used the same implements at school while they were very young and before these were replaced with notebooks and pencils, even in village schools, in the Indian part of Punjab.
There also was the mela (fair), that is present in East Punjab as well but not in the form that it has been preserved in West Punjab. I came across one that made me feel like I had walked into another era. It was beautiful!
Another aspect of life that remains relatively unchanged in rural West Punjab is the number of blood feuds originating from what might appear to be insignificant issues to the rest of the world, but can only be described as grave affront when looked at while keeping in view the Punjabi concept of anakh (self respect). From what I gather, the number has apparently come down over the years but still appears to be much higher in West Punjab than in East Punjab. The singer Amrit Sa'ab aptly sums up what was the situation, my elders tell me, even upto the 1970's in East Punjab and to a large extent even now in West Punjab, in his song titled Kabza.
The level of economic developement, I would say, is slightly lower than the rural areas of the Indian part of Punjab but is much higher than those in most other parts of India. There are piped cooking gas connections with meters installed for monthly billing. There also is the four-lane GT road that extends upto Peshawar, on both sides of which there are industrial units producing cotton thread and cloth from the excellent quality cotton that is grown in West Punjab. I came across some oil mills as well.
The people, especially in the countryside in West Punjab, felt even more like being my own kith and kin. There were the same nice and soft-spoken baabe (old men) wearing the same kind of kurta and chadra and with a parna around their heads and sweet and smiling little children eager to shake my hand or to ask for a gift, as in my own native village. I was either beta (son) or bhai (brother) or chachu (uncle or, more specifically, father's younger brother) to those I met. I wondered how this could be a foreign country. In fact, I have felt more like being on a foreign land and have been treated as an alien in India, except in the state of Punjab, even though India is supposed to be my own country.
The reasons are not far to seek. For just like my name is G******** Singh Sidhu, you might find some one called Abid Hussain Sidhu (or with some other Muslim first and middle names). This is because there are Muslim Jatts in West Punjab, akin to the Jatt Sikhs in East Punjab. We have a common ancestry. However, some of our forebears converted to Islam in the middle ages while others embraced Sikhism and yet others remained Hindus (whose descendants now mostly populate the Indian state of Haryana). In fact, people of almost all castes in Punjab , and not the Jatts alone, are likely to find people with the same last name on the other side of the border.
I met people who have relatives with the last name Sidhu, during the trip, but missed meeting any West Punjabi Sidhus. Well, may be next time, Insha-Allah!
May the Almighty bring peace and prosperity to all Punjabis, in whichever part of the world they reside!