Tue, Aug 14, 2007 - Page 5 News List

FEATURE: Twins' lives parallel development of India, Pakistan


Members of the Andhra Pradesh Special Police march during a rehearsal for the Independence Day Celebrations at Parade Grounds in Secunderabad, India, yesterday. India celebrates its 60th anniversary of independence tomorrow.


Twins Azhar Shervani and Zafar Hameed grew up separated by one of the world's most dangerous rivalries.

And this week, as India and Pakistan mark their 60th anniversaries, one will celebrate as he always does in India, the other across the border in Pakistan.

Born in India on Aug. 15, 1947 -- the day India became independent -- the pair were just shy of their second birthday when their mother gave Shervani to her brother and his wife, who didn't have children of their own. Such adoptions were not uncommon in South Asia at the time.

The Hameed family, like many other Muslims, soon moved to Pakistan, which had been split from Hindu-majority India at independence by the departing British.

There had been intense violence in the weeks before and after the split, known as partition, and between 200,000 to more than 1 million people are believed to have been killed in religious rioting and sectarian fighting.

While the situation had calmed considerably by the time the twins were separated, there was still sporadic violence and the Hameeds "lost everything they owned on their way to Pakistan when the train they sent all their belongings on got looted," Shervani said, sitting in the elegant living room of his sprawling home on the outskirts of New Delhi.

Still, people on either side of the border believed India and Pakistan would overcome the violence and a friendly relationship would develop, bolstered by a shared South Asian culture and the many families with relatives in the other country. Cross-border travel would be easy. No one gave much thought to passports or visas.

But a short war over disputed Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim Himalayan region divided between India and Pakistan, laid the foundation of what would become one of the world's deadliest and most enduring rivalries.

"Wars and hostility between Pakistan and India increased the gulf between the families that were separated," said Zafar Hameed in Lahore, the Pakistani city where he grew up and still lives.

Despite the tense relationship between India and Pakistan, the Shervanis and Hameeds were able to maintain their ties by using their money and influence to make semi-regular visits.

But the twins who were born amid the joy of freedom never saw each other more than once a year -- and missed some key moments in each other's lives.

In 1965, when India and Pakistan fought their second war over Kashmir, Shervani couldn't go to Lahore to see his twin and attend the wedding of his sister.

The border was again sealed during a 1971 war that led to the creation of Bangladesh, which had been known as East Pakistan. When Shervani married a year later, his twin could not attend.

Tensions have eased considerably since then with India and Pakistan engaged in a peace process that has lowered tensions dramatically.

"I remember a time when it was difficult to even send letters across," Shervani said. "Things are so much better now."

But getting a visa to visit the other country can still take weeks or months.

Despite the enmity between their countries, Shervani and Hameed remain close, speaking often and visiting each other at least once a year. Both are semi-retired businessman -- Shervani owns a few small hotels and restaurants; Hameed petrol stations.

Still, one difference seems destined to remain -- their national loyalties.

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