Article: Lahore-Nagpur-Delhi… A Pakistani’s Sojourn in India
by Saadia Mazhar (Pakistan)
Despite the common air of mistrust and hatred, it was my long-cherished dream to visit and meet people across the border, in India. I wanted to know what people in India eat, wear, how they lead their lives and what makes them happy. My wish was to explore cultural similarities between India and Pakistan. As a Pakistani, I wasn’t really sure if this dream of mine would ever be realized. It was an impossibility, the mere discussion of which was considered as unpatriotic back in my country. “Will I become less of a Pakistani patriot if I express my desire to see India?”, “Will people listen to me and change their views about India?” I kept wondering.
I was too lethargic to get a passport. I thought I would apply whenever an opportunity knocks my door. During April-May 2016, things worked out in my favour as I received my passport and got an Indian visa stamped on it. I was lucky to have support from my family who appreciated my decision to visit India.
My family appreciated my decision to go and supported me whole-heartedly. I was elated as this visit was a dream come true. As I crossed the Wagah border, I was still in disbelief that I had reached India. It was an extremely emotional moment for me.
The impression that I had of India is that Indians hate Pakistan. I was worried that I might be arrested and put into prison despite being a law abiding person. Upon reaching India, all these fears fell flat when I saw that the BSF (Border Security Force) and Indian Police were so cooperative and supportive of us. I was travelling with 11 other delegates who were from different cities of Pakistan. This was June 2016 and I was in India representing the Pakistani delegation at Model United Nations (MUN) by the Aman ki Asha Council in Nagpur. On crossing the border, we were greeted by a friend, who helped us reach Haveli Restaurant in Ludhiana. We reached Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin Station at 2.30 in the morning, after which we boarded India’s best train, the Rajdhani Express at 5.50 in order to reach Nagpur.
On our way to Nagpur, we met a Maharashtrian family aboard the train. When they learnt that we were from Pakistan, initially I sensed that they were a bit uncomfortable. Gradually, however, they inquired about “Do women in Pakistan work after marriage?”, “Do women acquire higher education in Pakistan?” etc. Upon listening to our affirmative responses, their perceptions about Pakistan underwent a little transformation. When we reached Nagpur, they bid goodbye to us in a friendly way.
Upon reaching Nagpur, we were greeted very warmly by the organizers. They looked excited to have us. We were given a standing ovation and traditional Indian welcome. It was quite a surprise to be applauded by students in the city. While we were at MUN Nagpur, we successfully drafted Aman Ki Asha 2.0 Resolution, after discussing several key areas such as the problem of terrorism and its resolution, effective mechanisms to promote peace, which we plan to share with governments on both sides. We enjoyed traditional Indian food like Upma, Saambar, Daal Makhni, Paneer Tikka etc. My roommate was a Tamilian and introduced us to her parents. Those who interacted with us did have skeptical views about Pakistan, but as we bonded, their opinions changed for the good. Our visa was city specific and we were permitted to visit only Nagpur and Delhi. Despite this, I was ecstatic.
From Attari to Nagpur and from Nagpur to Delhi, the Founding Director of Aman ki Asha MUN, Devang Shah, accompanied us to make sure that we didn’t face any problems. He ensured that we were put up at the right place and he also involved his friends in Delhi to help us through our visit. I was bowled over by his humility. We had four days at hand to explore Delhi and we made sure we lived this experience to the fullest. We didn’t miss to visit a single place of tourist interest in the city. We enjoyed the food at ‘Connaught Place’ in Delhi. The place is so similar to our Mall Road in Lahore. I found the vegetarian food to be pretty delicious, something that we don’t commonly find in Pakistan. We watched a movie, went shopping and enjoyed a ride in the Metro train. It was very efficient and fast. Most of us were able to quickly remember the routes. We felt as if it was a familiar place. People use metros to travel to different destinations and it looks like a convenient mode of transport as it saves their time, energy and cost. We relished the very famous ‘Gol Gappay’ at Chandni Chowk market and ‘Kala Khatta’ at Karol Bagh market. We experimented with Punjabi and Western cuisine too. We tasted Haldiram’s well-known ‘thali’ food. Everything was worth it. The time spent in Delhi was indeed memorable, especially the visits to Qutub Minar, Humayun’s Tomb, Lotus Temple, India Gate and Connaught Place. By the end of the day, we were tired, but kept on moving.
Initially what I knew and believed about India was what the media had showed to me. But the day I made friends with Indians on Facebook and then got this opportunity to meet them in person, I fell in love with the country and its people. Doesn’t mean I am not a Pakistani patriot. I feel both governments should ease the visa process to let people travel freely. As also, financial transactions should be made viable. The image that media on both sides has created of each country needs to be carefully and critically scrutinized by people. People in India and Pakistan need to question hard-wired misconceptions about the ‘other’, having their roots in decades of animosity. They should talk and get a taste of culture on the other side. We can’t afford more wars. We can’t lose our precious soldiers. We can’t nuke each other by atomic bombs we both possess. In the end, humanity loses and hate succeeds. If my stereotypes about India can change after this visit, why can’t it be the same with all Pakistanis?
I did encounter trouble while using ATMs (Automated Teller Machine). With only one foreign card working, I had to borrow cash in the end to save myself from a budget deficit. The conversion costs were also high. I had also heard about a deadlock between both governments regarding terms and conditions of travelling and financial transactions and I believe some steps to ease restrictions need to be urgently taken. This will facilitate people to people interaction.
India is so similar to Pakistan. It is diverse in language, food and culture, just like we are. Our roads, trains, infrastructure is also alike. Our markets and shopping areas look and feel the same. People say … “Jinnay Lahore nhe vekhya ow jamya nae” (one who hasn’t seen Lahore hasn’t been born), should remember, “Jinnay Dilli na vekhya onay kuj na vekhya” (one who hasn’t seen Delhi, hasn’t seen anything)”. Delhi and Lahore are so similar. The only difference was between uniforms of Pakistan Army and BSF, Lahore Traffic Police and Indian Traffic Police and Pakistani and Indian Police. The accent of Delhi walas matches with Urdu speaking families living in Karachi.
Visiting India was like being at home because I didn’t realize even for a second that I’m not in Pakistan but in India. However, the boards were in Devnagri script. In Pakistan, we use that Nastalikh font. The colors were same. The signals were same. The auto rickshaw designs were similar. The buses too looked familiar. And if you go to old Delhi, you’ll find Nastalikh font written on sign boards. After Delhi and Nagpur, I’d like to go to Goa, Mumbai and Bangalore. I want to learn about the software technology that is being developed and used in India. Pakistanis and Indians should visit each other more often. This will help alter perceptions and break stereotypes. With people’s power and their unity, governments will be forced to find peaceful resolution to outstanding disputes. My message to people on both sides is to break the already existing barriers, come out and question assumptions made on biased pre-suppositions. This will bring Indians and Pakistanis closer. For positive change, spearheaded by people, is the only hope that we in India and Pakistan can look forward to.
This article has been edited by Dr. Nidhi Shendurnikar Tere (Vadodara, India)
Saadia Mazhar has an MBA in Human Resource Management from the University of Lahore. She works as a Business Development Manager at IManagers, Lahore. She is also a freelancer who blogs on social issues. She aims to positively transform popular international perception about Pakistan.