29 July, 2021

The Longest Journey

Stephen Alter takes a step across what's just a line on the map

The Longest Journey
THE train journey from Amritsar to Lahore, a distance of roughly fifty kilometres, takes almost fifteen hours," writes Stephen Alter. What makes the journey from one city to the other so long—and also so compelling—is not simply the fact that they are divided by a border. Rather, the truth is that the land which separates the two cities is mined with history.

In August 1997, India was celebrating 50 years of independence. Alter, an American who was born and grew up in India, undertook a journey during that jubilee month across the border into Pakistan. This book is an account of that journey. It also doubles as a trip into the past and into reflections on the pull of the past for those who are migrants.

And yet, oddly enough, the more vivid parts of the book are not the passages that reflect on that past or its brutality but the ones that record a more banal order of pettiness. Like the customs officer at Wagah who holds up Alter in order to inflict upon him sexual innuendos about the women on the other side of the border compared to those in America.

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