A journalist returns to Pakistan more than 60 years after her family fled to India

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Aaron Schachter: I'm Aaron Schachter and this is "The World", a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH in Boston. For our next story we're going back to Pakistan. I say "back" because that's sort of what The World's Sonia Narang is doing. She's visiting her family's ancestral home for the first time. She's in Pakistan on a fellowship with the East-West Center.

Sonia Narang: I'm the first in my family to return to Pakistan since they left after the partition in 1947 and it's a pretty big moment for me and my entire extended family. A lot of my grandfather's family wanted to go back to Pakistan after 1947 and no one could return. And here I am on a journalism trip learning about my roots.

Schachter: Is it that they weren't allowed to return or were they afraid or what?

Narang: So after they moved to India they settled in Delhi and for the longest time they just didn't go back because after the partition it was tricky to go back if you were Hindu to a Muslim-majority country.

Schachter: Now, when you say partition you mean when Pakistan and India become two separate countries in 1947? Muslims went north in Pakistan and Hindus, for the most part, went south to India.

Narang: There was a lot of migration from both sides. In fact I met a young journalist about an hour ago who said her family came from India and she always wanted to go back and she settled in Lahore, her family came here after that partition, and she herself has not been back to where her ancestors are from.

Schachter: Now, as you say, you're in Lahore right now, but you spent some time in Islamabad fairly close to where your maternal grandparents were from. Your grandfather, from what I understand, co-owned an electric supply company. And I take it you met up with some people from their villages who remembered them and their company?

Narang: Yes, that's right. So when I landed in Islamabad I made a point to look for people that were from those villages. And one of the towns is Attock and it's not far from Islamabad, so I found someone who had a friend from that town and we called him and found out that my grandfather's electric company that he left behind in 1947 continued to operate and then closed in the 70s. It was pretty interesting to find out more about these towns that I had heard a lot about growing up as a kid in Los Angeles.

Schachter: Your dad is actually from Lahore where you are now. What did he tell you about it as you were growing up?

Narang: So my dad, he lived in Lahore with his six brothers and sisters and he was the youngest of seven. So his memories basically came from his older siblings and he remembers a street that was full of trees and a leafy green neighborhood with nice homes and it's an area of Lahore that is quite famous called Model Town. So my first day in Lahore I made a point to go to that area and I had this impression of these tree-lined streets and I didn't know what to expect and I get there and it's exactly how my father and his brothers and sisters had described it to me all these years. It's this beautiful neighborhood, a suburb of Lahore full of a lot of greenery and twelve manicured gardens. That was the last my parent's family lived before they left.

Schachter: Is it kind of emotional for you visiting this place for the first time that you heard about for so many years?

Narang: Yes, it is. And, in fact, I felt incredibly emotional when I got off the plane in Islamabad just a few days ago. I walked down the staircase on to the tarmac and I got goosebumps because I knew that I was literally two hours drive away from where my ancestors for generations came from and to be not just in Pakistan, but to actually be a couple of hours away from where my entire family on both my mom and dad's side originated was quite moving. I'm sort of bringing back these stories for my family because they haven't been able to come here and through my stories they're going to kind of get a sense of the place that they left behind.

Schachter: The World's Sonia Narang. You can see images from her trip in Pakistan on Instagram, @sonianarang. Sonia, thank you.

Narang: Thank you, Aaron.