5:10pm

It was 10 minutes past five at the Sachal Hall at Ibrahim Hyderi. Sakina anxiously waited for her husband’s arrival. She will see his face today after a long 22 years.

Hussain Walarhi Mallah left on a 10-day fishing journey after the monsoon season, only to be captured by Indian authorities for crossing into Indian waters. When he didn’t return home, Sakina thought his ship had capsised at sea due to the incessant rains that year.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do. Then, I received a letter from him, which said that he was in an Indian jail in the state of Gujarat. When I first read it, I was relieved. At least I knew he is alive.”

Sakina with her two granddaughters. —Basil Andrews
Sakina with her two granddaughters. —Basil Andrews
5:20pm

Sakina kept looking to her left down the corridor, as members of the Pakistan Fisher Folk Forum made arrangements for the fishermen’s arrival. She told me:

“We would correspond with each other on a monthly basis. I would ask him how he was doing. He would reply, he wasn’t being fed well but he was okay. I would write to him to have faith and patience.”

5:35pm

Hussain was expected to arrive at 6pm in the hall. As Sakina sat on the floor, I noticed that had she begun to sway impatiently, waiting for her husband's arrival. The creases on her forehead and the first tufts of white hair appeared to be a telling sign of her wait.

The couple had stayed in touch through letters. Sakina, of course, wished that she could speak to Hussain face-to-face for once, but there was no way to do that, and travelling to India was out of the question.

I asked her if she had any of his letters with her. That's when she reached for a pocket stitched inside her qameez, opened a plastic bag and took out a three-folded paper which she had gotten coated in plastic, to preserve it.

The front side of one of the letters written by Hussain to Sakina. —Basil Andrews
The front side of one of the letters written by Hussain to Sakina. —Basil Andrews
The back side of one of the letters written by Hussain to Sakina. —Basil Andrews
The back side of one of the letters written by Hussain to Sakina. —Basil Andrews

Did she ever lose hope of seeing him again, I ask her. She responded:

“Yes! When a representative from our area visited India, he came back with news that the jail has been broken down. My heart broke and I lost all hope. Fortunately, a letter from him arrived shortly. It gave me the will to carry on. He is alive.”

What kept you believing in his return, I asked.

“My faith in Allah and the support I received from my community, especially from the women who have been or are going through the same ordeal.”

5:50pm

Hussain’ arrival was just around the corner. Sakina got up and walked up to the other women, who had rose petals in plates and garlands of roses in hand. One of them started to fold an Ajrak into a shawl. For a moment, it felt like they were receiving a baraat (the ceremonious arrival of a groom at a wedding).

It warmed my heart to see Sakina ecstatic. She turned to me and said, “I’ve never danced in my life but if a drum started playing right now, I would.”

6:00pm

The van carrying the two fishermen arrived. Cameramen from different news networks got ready to film the reunion as Hussain climbed the stairs. Rose petals were thrown on him and the Ajrak was placed around his shoulders.

As newsmen jumped in to interview Hussain, Sakina took a step to the side. She was overwhelmed with joy but always patient.

Sakina in an emotional moment on her husband's arrival. —Basil Andrews
Sakina in an emotional moment on her husband's arrival. —Basil Andrews

I looked at Sakina as she smiled with teary eyes. I asked her what she would do after her husband finally returned home.

“We will pray to Allah and thank Him for his safe return. After that we will celebrate with friends and family.”

Hussain as he arrives at Sachal Hall. —Basil Andrews
Hussain as he arrives at Sachal Hall. —Basil Andrews
Sakina finally reunites with her husband, Hussain after 22 years. —Basil Andrews
Sakina finally reunites with her husband, Hussain after 22 years. —Basil Andrews

Sakina’s story is one of many others, where fishermen have crossed into the territorial waters on the Indian and Pakistani side. Fishermen along the coastal belt of the Arabian Sea have been fishing in these waters for centuries. But only since 1947, and due to the antagonistic nature of Indo-Pak relations, have these fishermen begun to be punished for crossing boundaries that don't really exist, ending up in 'enemy' jails for years, on both side.

The idealist in me wishes we treated the sea like it treats us – with unabandoned generosity for everyone alike and irrespective of territorial boundaries.

As our Independence, I hope we move an inch closer to that thought.

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