Article: At Home in Pakistan – Experience of an Indian in Lahore
by Pranava Pakala (India)
My name is Pranava and I belong to Delhi. I visited Lahore in the second week of April this year. Me and my father were accompanying my mother who was visiting Pakistan on official duty. I had dreamt about visiting Pakistan since a long time. This was owing to two reasons – I was curious to learn more about Islam and about a country which was created on the basis of religion. My curiosity to learn about Pakistan, its people and its culture was further augmented when I read the works of authors like Fatima Bhutto and Mohsin Hamid. When I learnt that we would be visiting Lahore, I jumped in glee and excitement. I was finally nearing the accomplishment of my dream. When I shared this news with my peers and friends, almost all discouraged me from traveling to Pakistan. One of them told me that Lahore has dusty roads and untidy by-lanes and hence I should refrain from going there! How much ever I assured myself of the great time that awaited me, I was caught up with fear ever since I had heard of terrorist attacks in Lahore only a few weeks ago. Nevertheless, I went ahead and decided to keep all my apprehensions at bay.
What made my visit even more enthralling was the fact that I crossed the Wagah border to enter Pakistan. This will remain an experience to cherish forever. Visiting Pakistan is a far-fetched idea for common folks in India. Whenever ‘Pakistan’ is discussed, most Indians are filled with vitriol and vengeance, as if they have personal scores to settle. I was viewed with suspicion by most of my friends since I expressed a liking for Pakistan and Pakistanis, which to them was quite aberrant.
We flew to Amritsar on the morning of 7th April and crossed over to Lahore on the same day. We were made to wait for almost two hours on the Indian side as the customs officers was not present. Once we were through with all formal procedures, the ‘India-Pakistan Friendship bus’ dropped us a few steps away from the entry to the Wagah border. I couldn’t contain my euphoria when I saw that three feet wide patch of land between the two countries. It is referred to as ‘No-Man’s Land’, enclosed by two gates on either side. Right from the moment I entered Pakistan, I was witness to the incredible mehmaan-nawazi, (hospitality) bestowed on me by its people. We had someone waiting for us at the gate demarcating the border. The security officer at the gate checked my passport and facetiously and chuckled “yeh bachchi nahi jayegi” (This Kid will not go). I smiled and collected my passport.
We were then taken to the Pakistani Immigration department in an electric car. Most people had to walk but because my mother was part of the SAARC delegation, we were given this privilege. The immigration officers were affable and convivial to us. In fact, our passports were stamped on priority basis. The first thing I noticed in Pakistan was that men wore salwar-kameez. This initially seemed bizarre as I had never seen a man wearing this in India. I later realized that this was like the national dress of Pakistan.
As we drove in Lahore, the roads sure were dusty and there were trucks lined up with beautiful art work (for which Pakistan is renowned) but as we entered the city , I noticed that the city was located along a canal for which the water came from India. I saw people swimming, washing their clothes and utensils in the canal, like one witnesses in any other South Asian country. I now, felt at home. Lahore has beautiful, wide roads with flora on either side. We were put up at the Best Western Hotel on Fane road, right next to the High Court. This road is considered to be the Chandni Chowk of Lahore. I became the subject of much curiosity among locals as I moved around.
We spent most of our time at the University of the Punjab, roaming inside the campus. The campus is a beautiful one with lot of greenery. It has strict security procedures and is guarded by razed wires on all the four sides. From what I could gather from my time in Pakistan was particularly an influence of western culture in some pockets of the country.
We were taken to The Lake City (which is a lavish residential township in the heart of Lahore) where there was a colony zoo with lions. This seemed grotesque as I had never heard about lions being kept in a residential area. I was also told that the country’s Premier had two lions in his palace. I assume this is the ‘Dubai Effect’ on Pakistan. This is exactly why I think Pakistanis are a class apart!
We went to the Main Boulevard and MM Alam Road in Lahore which is a happening part of the town where you have cafes, restaurants, shops, etc. There is apparently only one restaurant in the whole of Lahore, on MM Alam road where one could find vegetarian food. It’s called Bombay Chowpatty. We headed there. The owner was genuinely happy when he learnt that we were from India and he treated us very well. I loved being at MM Alam road which is very classy. It transports you to Europe immediately. The layout is very western.
After MM Alam, we went to Liberty which is the biggest market in Lahore. It reminded me a lot of Connaught Place (CP) in Delhi as Liberty’s layout was circular just like CP. It is well laid out and comparatively less crowded. We went there to pick up lawn fabrics which are very popular in India. There were these huge three storey buildings stocking lawn fabrics of different varieties and brands. One could shop to their heart’s content here.
I heard a lot of people say that Lahore and Delhi are similar just like how Karachi and Bombay are. The roads in Lahore made me think otherwise. To be fair, I had a preconceived notion about the roads being congested but I was astounded to see that Lahore had so many underpasses to ease traffic, unlike Delhi. My opinions underwent a huge transition. This was not the Lahore I had imagined prior to my visit.
We visited Anarkali bazaar which is a wholesale market in the old city. As the legend goes, Anarkali was the woman who was buried alive here for falling in love with Emperor Jahangir on the orders of his father, Emperor Akbar. This is said to be one of the oldest surviving markets of Asia. This was more like a wholesale market.
We visited my mother’s ex-colleague’s house. His daughter was the same age as me. We both got talking and we discussed general things like school, friends, hobbies, etc. The first question she asked me was, “Islam ke baare mein kuchh jaante ho?” (Do you know anything about Islam?) She then, started explaining about Islam, its ideas and practices. She expressed genuine inquisitiveness about Hinduism. She asked me various questions our holy book our practices, rituals etc. I told her about the Bhagwad Gita. She then, asked me how often I visited a temple. I told her that I didn’t savour the idea of going to a temple but often accompanied when my parents paid a visit there. She giggled. What I observed during my time in Lahore was that people are genuinely curious to learn about other faiths and exhibit and acceptance of diversity.
We went to visit Minar-e-Pakistan and the Badshahi Mosque the next day. These monuments are splendid but need to be maintained well with efforts from both the government and people. I was astonished to see the Badshahi mosque. The sheer size of it is startling. The beautiful Mughal architecture reminded me of Jama Masjid in Delhi. It stretched infinitely on either side.
My mother addressed a session at CNA, Lahore of which federal ministers, ex-Army Officers, professors, journalists were a part. It was a question and answer session. Though my mother handled critical questions with much ease, I could sense that the atmosphere of discussion among representatives of both countries was quite vigorous and nationalistic.
The general atmosphere was hostile during the session. They thought as if she was the government’s representative and she was meant to be grilled. They raised topics like ghar-wapsi, nuke-wars, etc. I was completely baffled as I saw my mother handle critical questions with such ease. It isn’t exactly easy to deal with ex- Army men who are generally suspicious and to ensure that either side are not offended.
My time in Pakistan was wonderful because I realized that the people in Delhi and Lahore are very similar. The amount of respect, love and admiration one is shown is unconditional. The hospitality is unparalleled and I realized that this country is far from how it is projected to us in India. I was shown only love and nothing else.
This article was edited by Dr. Nidhi Shendurnikar Tere (Vadodara, India)
Pranava Pakala is a student of grade 12 in New Delhi. She has been a keen reader of non fictional works about South Asia and the Middle East. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org