I am writing this from Lahore, where I have been for the last few days.
To most Indians, sounds a little strange, right!
We (my wife, Ipsita, and me) are two of about 2000 Indians who have descended on
Pakistan for the one-day cricket matches on the 21st and the 24th of March 2004.
I am going to mention some of my experiences so far, from boarding the Delhi-Lahore bus at Ambedkar terminal, Delhi on Saturday, the 20th of March.
Before boarding the bus at Delhi
At the Ambedkar terminal, people start queuing up from
3.30 AM onwards.
We are there as well. The passengers are a mix of
Indians, Pakistanis and others; twenty odd cricket fans (mostly from
Delhi, a few from Panipat and the two of us from Hyderabad), a woman from Karachi with four kids, a man returning from Jaipur after getting the 'Jaipur foot' fitted on his brother, a mother-daughter combo from Islamabad, a Dutch lady traveling from India to Pakistan, two armed security escorts inside the bus and a liaison officer from Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation.
The people from Pakistan say their good-byes to
relatives who have gathered outside the iron gates of the terminus, as
the bus starts off at 6 AM IST.
Two Police vans, one in the front of the bus, the
other in the rear, blaring their horns and clearing all traffic for the
bus to pass off uninterrupted.
The bus has three halts on the way in the Indian
territory, for breakfast, tea and lunch respectively and these afford
a good opportunity for the passengers to mix together and
there is a pervading spirit of bonhomie, which grows with time and the
At Kartarpur, the last halt, there is a signboard,
showing an Indian and a Pakistani hugging each other in the backdrop of
the Lahore bus, with Delhi written on one side and Lahore on the
other, and saying "Dil ka darwaza khol ke aana, par wapis jakar humein bhool
na jana" (While coming, open the doors of your heart, but don't forget
us when you get back)
Around 1400 hrs, we are nearing Attari, and suddenly
mobile phone signals start getting blocked. There are a lot of
Indians crossing over by foot from Amritsar, mostly for the cricket match,
and a few entrepreneurs have put up a well stocked shop selling
India t-shirts, Indian flags and banners. Prices are moderate, and you
can be wearing the Indian shirt with No. 10 and Tendulkar written on
it for 200 (Indian) Rupees.
At the Customs in Attari (India), amidst a lot of confusion and a sea
of Coolies (dressed in all blues), our passports are collected, we fill
in our forms and in about two hours, we are checked out. Pakistan is
clearly visible a few meters in front, but we have to wait for our luggage to be loaded back on to the bus (which
necessarily is done by the Coolies, they don't allow you to carry your own luggage). After a few photos with the Indian flag in front of the bus, and a cold coffee, we are back in the bus for a journey of a few meters
of physical distance but a (mentally) perceived distance of many
After all, to any rational Indian, this is Pakistan !
The huge gates, manned by a six-and-half-foot BSF (Border security force) jawan with INDIA
written prominently on top, are opened, and as the bus rolls in, there is a huge applause from the passengers. For many on board, its a very emotional moment. I am one of those. Being on the others side of the Wagah border meant I am nearing the place where my parents were born (Lahore), where they learnt to walk and take their first steps, where all
our family used to stay and a lot lot more.
The bus stops at Wagah, and we are in front of the Pakistan customs office. Systems at the border are relatively more
streamlined than at Attari, and the queue moves relatively faster. Formalities done, we have to get our luggage checked, and amidst confusion there too, we get this done and head towards the PTDC cafe, for a complementary tea.
My mobile phone starts working again. Surprisingly, it is the Airtel Punjab (India) network that is the strongest, so I make calls to my parents in India, from Pakistan, on an Indian network.
The manager of the cafe has taken control of the operations to meet this sudden spurt of Indians, and is endeavoring to
increase the turnaround time of the cheese sandwiches. A framed photo of Md Ali Jinnah adorns the wall, and so do a few posters of Visit Pakistan.
We get back to the bus in about 15 minutes, and the first thing we see thereafter, is another entrepreneur, selling Pakistan cricket team t-shirts, caps and Pakistan flags.
The landscape turns to green, and boys in Pathani suits are seen playing cricket.
There are hundreds of people who stop in their track (on the roads, in the shops, from houses) to catch a glimpse of the bus. I wave incessantly and most people wave back, with a huge smile as a bonus, and that makes my day.
At a railway level crossing on the outskirts of Lahore, the escort in front walks up to the cabin, gets the aspect of the
signal changed to red from yellow in about a minute, the gates open and the bus passes through. A goods train is seen waiting a few meters down.
This i thought was amazing ! A train stopped to let a bus pass by.
We head into Lahore in about half an hour, and the roads are dominated by the Daewoo city buses, a few double deckers, the Mehran Suzuki cars (the exact equivalent of India's Maruti 800), the three wheelers (called Rickshaws), Tongas, Chaand gaadi (a six seater vehicle), and dozens of motorbikes.
We cross Atchison college (where, the Liaison officer informs me helpfully, Imran Khan studied), the Pearl Continental
Hotel (where the cricket teams are put up) and a number of buildings from the British era.
In some time, we are at Falleti's hotel, another hotel from the British times, and the bus' final destination.
As we get down, there are people from the (local Urdu) press clicking photographs. They ask us (who are in Lahore for the cricket match) to pose with the Indian flag, which we happily do.
I am put up with a friend, who I made friends with on the Internet and as he takes us home (after driving us through the Mall
Road, the High Court, the Post Master general's office, the Secretariat), he calls up his neighbors and relatives to come over to his place to meet his guests from India.
At home, There are scores of people who want to meet us, and talk to us, and express the fact they are extremely happy at our being here.
He takes us to a friends place, where I mention that my parents were from Lahore. His friend had come from Saharanpur, way back in 1947. The gentleman is thrilled to bits on seeing Indians, and he takes off the watch he is wearing and puts it on my wrist. He takes off the pen in his pocket and gives it to Ipsita.
We are overwhelmed.
I manage to track my father's place, where he was born and my mother's place as well. Its a very special moment for me. And a realization of an artificial divide amongst two people who lived together, ate together, worked together and played together.
On the 21st, we are at the Gaddafi stadium. I am in my Indian-team blue T-shirt. Outside the stadium, there are a large number of Pakistani fans as well. We wave and smile at each other. Many many people come up to us, ask us about ourselves and exchange pleasantries.
The Police gets us inside the stadium through a special queue, but inside its all common enclosures. There's a college
girl who is wearing a t-shirt saying 'Nothing feels better than kicking Indian arse'.
Ipsita walks up to her and says in a soft voice that we have come from this far to meet you, and this is what you tell us.
The girl turns extremely apologetic. She also gets her friends with her. In some time, we are all good friends. We pose with our flags.
Inside, there is a lot of fun in the crowd going on.... thousands of flags, banners etc. Mexican waves going around the stadium, taking 18 seconds to come back to us. Flags of USA, Bahrain and the UK are visible as well. Sikhs in tricolor turbans. A man with a Ronaldo t-shirt. A guy in Pakistani greens gets us two glasses of Pepsi. An elderly gentleman offers us paan.
The cricket has begun, but the crowd is keen on doing its own thing.
Indian ads are all over the stadium. When the screen on the ground shows the Information Minister of Pakistan, the crowd
gets into shouts of 'LOTA LOTA' (meaning double sided and turncoat).
They do the same for every politician who is shown on the screen.
Slogans get invented. Most common slogan is "Match tusi le lo, Aishwarya saanu de do" (take the match, give us Aishwarya).
When the screen shows Sunil Shetty and Mandira Bedi, the crowd cheers like mad.
There is this Pakistani guy who everyone calls BABA, dressed in all green, waving the flag, who goes everywhere the
Pakistan team plays. He too is cheered. He is in the Imran Khan enclosure, adjacent to where we are in the Javed Miandad enclosure.
Good shots are cheered for both sides, and as Pakistan flattered to deceive, the crowd is disappointed, but genuinely
happy for us. People walk up to us and say 'congratulations' and well played. A guy walks up to me and offers his Pakistan flag in exchange for my Indian one. We do so and pose for a photo. Similarly, another guy takes my
Indian cap, and says he would want to keep it as a souvenir.
I give my address and cards to so many people. A few of them take our autographs as well. Unimaginable !
I lost my flag and my cap, but won a lot of love and affection. It feels just out of the world.
And the day after that has been going around Lahore: the Badshahi mosque, the Minar-e-pakistan, the Ravi river, Mall
Road, Govt College Lahore, the Punjab University, Kim's gun and Kim's bookshop. Next day, and we shop around Anarkali (my wife buys lawn cloth salwar suits) and see Lahore Railway station. I also manage a second visit to Nisbet Road (where my mother was born) and Dev Samaj Road (where my father took his first steps). At night, we (all our recently acquired friends, and it totals up to around 20) head for the Food Street on Gawal Mandi, in a kind of a farewell dinner. Although finding vegetarian food wasn't very easy, people's willingness to do just about anything for their 'Mehmaan' made it a song.
Everywhere, people have felt very happy to meet someone from India. They have gone out of their way to extend hospitality. And people talk about a lot of things, including contentious things like Kashmir. However, all talk is in a friendly tenor, and the overwhelming opinion is that Kashmir aside, WE must increase people-to-people interaction, free restrictions on Visas, allow trade, allow communication.
These steps should be taken urgently, and people are really happy that things are looking up. Almost
everyone has some relative in India or acquaintance, and India is very much on the top of people's agenda. Indian soap operas are extremely popular, and shape a number of perceptions about India.
We went to a dinner at an acquaintance of our friend's (who we are staying with), and almost the entire lane was eager to
meet us, say Aslaam Walaiyekum, shake hands and extend hospitality.
And this has been everywhere. And i really mean EVERYWHERE.
An overwhelming, out-of-this-world experience, with tonnes of affection and love.
To all Indians, I would recommend coming over to Pakistan, meeting people, talking to them, interacting and getting to know this
place better. We carry a lot of myths about Pakistan as Indians, and it is only when we interact more, talk more at the people level that we can have a brighter, less bitter, and friendly future. My Visa prohibited me from going out of Lahore, but I hope there will be a time when I can experience the other cities and historical sites as well, maybe also cycle down the Karakoram highway some day. But fortunately, I have managed to see Lahore, and as they say in Lahore, I have been born (Jine Lahore nahin takeya, o jameya nahin).
Being up-front about the fact that you are Indian, and also being courteous, makes you experience a sea of affection and hospitality, an experience that would forever be unforgettable.
I hope to be back soon.
With best regards
+91 98494 98813