New friendships in the neighbourhood: Experience of an Indian in Pakistan
By Chintan Girish Modi
I learnt of Aaghaz-e-Dosti a few months ago, and I have been following your work with great interest. It is a simple and powerful initiative to build friendships between Indians and Pakistanis. Your efforts to encourage such constructive cross-border interaction are indeed worthy of appreciation. I like the way Mission Bhartiyam in Delhi is collaborating with The Catalyst in Islamabad to organize simultaneous events in India and Pakistan, and to facilitate interactions of locals with Indians travelling to Pakistan, and Pakistanis travelling to India.
Thanks for involving me in your work by introducing me to Aliya Harir of The Catalyst during my recent visit to Islamabad. I enjoyed spending time with Aliya and her friends Tauqeer, Imrana, Saba, Anum and Natasha from Quaid-e-Azam University. They took me to the Lok Virsa National Institute of Folk and Traditional Heritage, and later for a sumptuous meal at Habibi, where we were joined by Saba’s husband Zulqurnain.
Unfortunately, Lok Virsa was shut that day, but we got enough time to look around at the handicrafts stalls set up by crafts persons hailing from the different provinces of Pakistan. I particularly enjoyed looking at blue pottery from Hala, and bed covers as well as wall hangings from Tharparkar. I did not buy any pottery, fearing that it might break due to rough handling of baggage at the airport. However, I did pick up a few colourful bed covers.
One of the guys at the Tharparkar stall was curious about where I had come from. When I told him that I live in Mumbai but that my mother is from Rajasthan, which lies on the other side of the Thar desert, he was quite delighted. He got one of his mates to bring me a cup of tea. After I paid for my purchases, he offered me a wall hanging as a gift, and another person at the stall gifted me an embroidered pouch studded with mirrors. It was a touching gesture. I told him, “Aap itni khushi say day rahay haen, galay milnaa tau bantaa hae!” (Translation: “You are giving this with so much joy, let me give you a hug!”
I was so engrossed in looking at all the handicrafts that I lost track of the minutes slipping by. However, Aliya and her friends were quite patient and generous with their time. After the meal at Habibi and a round of photographs for keepsake, they bid me goodbye, and left me with a lovely flower vase and a postcard that said, “Thank you, Chintan! Hope to see you in Pakistan again. With Love, Team Catalyst.” I hope for the same.
Chintan Girish Modi is an independent educator, writer and researcher based in Mumbai. He was in Pakistan for the Children’s Literature Festival Lahore 2013, and also made a short trip to Islamabad during his stay.