Does it really make any sense to think that our borders are permanent, firm and forever? To some they do and it fuels many things including pride, hate and profit for some too. Yet they are regularly transgressed and border crossing is really a matter of when, how and how much it costs.

However, it's difficult for the official or formal institutions to accept this and admit it publicly even if they know. And it has massive political implications. An uncrossable border is considered a complete symbol of sovereignty. Just watch some videos on Youtube of the Indo-Pak border guards changing and you will get a fine idea of how stamping national sovereignty can reach stumping heights.

The cook and the border

This is a story of the mid 60s when life across the borders was a little less hectic. My maternal grandmother had hired a cook for domestic duties and he was doing very well. I remember his name -Gabriel- and he was from Cumilla. He was quite well known in the cooking world of that time and restaurants wanted to hire him but he was taking a break so he preferred the low pressure duties of a domestic cook. It was going very well.

Eid rolled in and he didn't seek any leave as he was Christian so it was a big relief for my Nani's family. However, after the Eid, Gabriel asked for and got a break to go home. He bid everyone good-bye and was gone. He didn't return and it disappointed the family a lot. It was not about losing a cook but a trusted person.

When the next Eid rolled in, Gabriel suddenly emerged. He literally broke down and wept in front of my Nani for not returning on time. And he told his story of why he was unable to do so.

Gabriel was such a well known cook that his fame spread beyond the borders. It so happened that his home was near an Indian border outpost or something and one night a bunch of soldiers raided his home and abducted him. It appears that a senior brass was visiting the zone and a dinner had been thrown but the Indian cook was not well rated so through the regular grapevine they had heard of Gabriel and the rest is history.

Gabriel was a big hit and congratulated by all and he went on to cook for all for almost a month. Messages were sent to his home that he was fine and after a month after he was giving many rewards and pats on the back he was led back home by a bunch of reluctant Indian sepoys very sad to see him go.

He was so embarrassed that he couldn't keep Nani's words that he didn't return to Dhaka. Finally he mustered up enough courage to come and apologize. He was forgiven and he stayed the Eid week and left as he had got a highly paid job. He kept in touch and in the mid-70s, got an offer in the Middle East and we never met afterwards. But the message he left about border "security" needs was clear.

The phantom football player in Agartala

One of my uncles who lived in Cumilla was a great soccer player and not into much else. However, he never tried his luck in Dhaka leagues and that surprised me. I asked him once why he didn't want to play in Dhaka clubs.

He said that the competition was far less in the Agartala area and he was on a regular hiring basis. The pay was good, they treated him well and the hospitality was marvelous. Later when he retired his team management even helped him set up a business in the town. And this is the clincher. Not many in Agartala knew he was an East Pakistani and those who knew didn't care.

Calling the cattle home and the lingerie to the room

I was visiting Rangpur as a journalist and on professional duty when I was asked if I was keen to watch a "border business transaction". It was in the 90s. The goods were cattle. The traders with the help of the border guards informed the other side and an hour later the cattle started to rush in, in the dark. No hassle, no fuss, only good meat for beef hungry BD people.

The situation has changed a bit under the Modi era but even now open border trade is common but more expensive and less discussed. Digital communication has opened up many opportunities but nothing heartened me more than to learn that there are online lingerie shops in Bangladesh doing huge business. I asked where most orders came from; I learnt it was not Dhaka but the bordering districts of North Bengal. No secret where it's going next.

And we are not even discussing drugs.

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