CHAKWAL: Kalsoom Begum, a 30-something woman of Bangladeshi origin living in a remote village in Punjab, yearns to meet her parents from whom she was separated some 27 years ago.
As she sat down with Dawn , she had vague recollection of the circumstances that led to her being stranded on the border between India and Pakistan at Sialkot.
“My real name is Gulshan and I was born in the late 70s in a village in Bangladesh but I don't remember its name. My father's name was Khursheed, mother's name Ayesha and I had a younger sister called Manda,” she said as she spoke to Dawn in Munday village, 30km west of Chakwal city.
The memories of the separation of East and West Pakistan were still fresh in the minds of its residents, and there was a bar on nationals from visiting the other country.
Close relatives of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis settled in cities and villages of both countries had a hard time meeting each other.
In her case, her maternal (or paternal?) aunt was married in Karachi when the relations had gone sour. Not having met her for a long time, Gulshan's father planned to travel to Karachi with his daughter.
Gulshan does not remember the year or month when they set off, but she does know that they travelled through India to Pakistan with the help of agents who used to help smuggle people to either country.
When the father-daughter pair managed to reach the Sialkot border, they were stopped by Pakistani soldiers who asked them to go back or face dire consequences for illegally entering Pakistan.
“My father pleaded with the soldiers that it was necessary for him to go to Karachi,” she recounted. “The army men told him that the two of us could land in jail if we violated the order.”
From here on Gulshan has no idea about the communication between her father and the soldiers, because her father left her without telling her with a sepoy, Ghulam Shah, who hailed from Munday village of Chakwal.
“I don't know why my father left me with Ghulam Chacha, or how or why he disappeared,” she said. “I was some seven to eight-years-old at the time, so I don't know what transpired back then.”
On the other hand, even Ghulam Shah, now retired from the army, has hazy details to offer.
“We assisted Khursheed in boarding a boat at Chenab River so he could go back to India. No one was allowed to enter from India, especially those who were trying to enter through illegal means,” claimed Mr Shah.
“Even citizens of Bangladesh were barred from entering Pakistan after the 1971 war. When her father left her, my officers asked me to adopt the hapless girl. And I did that,” he said.
Mr Shah continues that he took the girl to his home in Munday village where he brought her up like his own daughter.
When asked why he did not drop Gulshan at any shelter home and why he and his officers did not take any appropriate step for sending the girl back to her native country, the ex-soldier replied as, “There were many such abandoned children and we could not drop them all at shelter homes. Besides, there was no proper procedure to send such abandoned children to their homes due to hostile relations.”
Mr Shah said that Gulshan was nearly eight years old at that time. Asked whether he tried to trace or contact her parents afterwards he replied: “No. When I was not aware about the whereabouts of Gulshan's father or her relatives in Karachi, how could I trace them?”
Gulshan has no complaints against her guardian rather she venerates him as her uncle. “Chacha Ghulam Shah brought me up and married me with his younger brother,” the woman said, and added: “I have three sons and a daughter.”
She says that back then no effort was made to locate her parents in Bangladesh or relatives in Karachi, but now “some people of my village told me that I could trace my parents with the help of media,” she said.
Fortunately, she has two pictures of herself, one taken recently and one years ago. “My prime desire is know my parents and other relatives. I appeal to the governments of Pakistan and Bangladesh to help me find out my parents,” Gulshan said with a heavy heart.