Article: Crossroads – From G.T. Road to G.T. Road
by Shayan Khan (Pakistan)
I remember the first time I went to the Wagha Border. It was in 8th grade when the guards on both sides marched and saluted for a huge round of applause as we waved to the neighbours on the other side, maybe a three minutes walk away.
Back at 13, I was most passionate about traveling and adding the number of countries on ‘The List’. I remember asking the Indian guard in uniform if I can stamp my feet a few times so I could go home and tell my mom I went to India today? He kept a straight face to my ludicrous request and just nodded. I remember staring and even holding onto the golden brown sand. I was this close to India.
Since I have a typical Lahori background with no great grand fathers from Lucknow or Chandi Chowk I thought this was as close as I could get. Back in the day, I had dreamt of London and resonated it with English classics of L. M. Montgomery and L. M. Alcott and I would think of Paris and it’s larger than life architecture and aristocracy, mapping it out in my head with a vague schema of what these places would feel like. However, when it came to India I could never really decide what that experience would be despite watching endless Bollywood movies. First of all, it was so big. And it was similar. But also a bit different. Hence, I concluded India was a place that could only be experienced and not just be boxed like all other countries. It seemed to have more depth to it. Or maybe more of it that I could decipher because I shared a language, lots of customs and social issues.
As there was a lot more of what I could understand, there was a much greater desire to visit the land. And one day, out of no where, in 2008, a friend from college came up with a brochure and asked me if I would like to apply for the Third International Youth Peace Festival being held at Chandigarh. I filled in the form, almost sure I would not get the visa but against all odd got it. And that’s when it hit me. I was no longer going to wave across Wagha, I will be crossing it.
I remember jumping and skipping through the road that connected the two countries a few miles apart. Two offices and stamps later, there stood one of the kindest, most gracefully dressed woman I have ever met holding carnation-flower necklaces to greet me with. She hugged me. And I will never forget that hug. It was the same hug that my father gave me seven days later when I returned to Lahore. This was it. This was India. This was warmth. And this was courage.
The welcome I received at her school in Amristar was one I will never forget in a lifetime. The kids and their songs and the teeka and the pooja – to cut it short, let’s just be filmi and say I got to see first hand what Amitabh Bachan says in Veer Zaara ‘Humare Yahan Mehman Bhagwan Hota Hai aur Tum toh Pakistan se ayi ho’.
This was followed by a five hour ride to Chandigarh where all of us clapped and sang to the evergreen subcontinent music. The programme organized by Pramod Sharma Jee of Yuvsatta was one of the first in South Asia to bring together the youth of South Asia for a dialogue. There were performances and debates and a day trip around the mesmerizing and versatile Rock Garden.
We all knew we were going to make friends but the depth of the friendship we were able to achieve in a matter of four days is something I still am not able to explain to myself. There was an instant connection, not because of the language or the shared love for theatre and Bollywood but an inexplicable heart to heart connect which as dramatic as it sounds made all of us shed a few tears as we parted ways.
Thank you for giving me those memories. Thank you for that welcome. No one can beat your hospitality. But we like to compete you know, and unlike cricket, here we might actually beat you to it. I really hope we do some day. 🙂
Shayan Khan is a researcher and lecturer of consumer behaviour, marketing and strategy with a love for food, travel and books. She is a member of the Lahore chapter of Aaghaz-e-Dosti and also an alumni of Global Youth Peace Festival, Yuvsatta. Shayan lives in Lahore, Pakistan.