Article: Kya Dilli Kya Lahore, Kya Mumbai Kya Karachi…
by Faisal Latif (India)
I was travelling to Delhi one day, when I received a rather unexpected call from my friend in Pakistan. He invited me over to visit him, and that was certainly an offer I could not refuse! With no intentions of letting this opportunity pass, I went to Pakistan, enjoyed immensely, and despite the comfortable journey back, returned with a heavy heart.
Sudden desires to visit the country across the border are not often fulfilled, and certainly not without hurdles for common men like myself. It was a long struggle to get a Pakistani visa. Even after getting the visa, I was faced with the obvious dilemma about whether or not it was a wise idea to go ahead, since visiting Pakistan is a farfetched idea for the common folk in India, sometimes even frowned upon. Whenever Pakistan is discussed, in whatever context, most Indians are filled with sentiments of hatred and vengeance, as if they have personal scores to settle. Unsurprisingly, many discouraged me, advising me against going there. Some people voiced common misconceptions such as ‘your passport will lose its value’, ‘you will be denied a U.S visa, should you consider applying for one in the future’, ‘both the intelligence agencies will start keeping a watch on you’ and the like. But I was determined to go. I always had the curiosity of knowing more about the life of people on the other side of the border, and it is this curiosity which took me there, thanks to my relatives in Karachi who sent me all the documents required to get the visa. The moment I got the visa, I was very excited about my impending trip. What added to my excitement was the fact that I was going to cross the Wagah border to enter Pakistan, as I opted to travel in a bus instead of an airplane or train.
The emotions that are felt when the gate opens at the border and the bus passes through it cannot be expressed in words. After crossing the border, I was in Lahore within a couple of hours. When I first arrived in Lahore, places like Chandni Chowk, Delhi Gate, Ganga Ram Hospital and Shahdara made me feel as if I was still in Delhi. But there were many cultural differences as well – most of the men were wearing shalwar kameez, which I later learned, is the national dress of Pakistan; people were speaking Punjabi, which again took me back to Indian Punjab, but all the sign boards were written in Urdu, which set it apart from Indian Punjab.
Soon, I took a train to Karachi because I only had a visa for Karachi. This actually frustrated me because being a mountain lover, I was keen on seeing the Karakoram Range, and also wanted to explore other cities such as Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta. But on the brighter side, I got more time to explore Karachi, the largest and most populous city of Pakistan. As I arrived in Karachi, I was introduced to the amazing mehmzan nawazi (hospitality) for which Pakistan is popular. People were very warm and welcoming, and were curious to know about India, and especially Bollywood. My uncles took great care of me, while my cousins accompanied me to the different tourist attractions there like Mazar e Quaid – the mausoleum of Jinnah, and beautiful sea beaches. Before visiting Karachi, I had heard a lot about Karachi being similar to Mumbai and I found it to be true when I visited the sea bound areas and huge malls which reminded me of Mumbai. I spent a total of 22 days in Karachi and they passed in the blink of an eye. While I was set to return, my heart felt very heavy to leave my loved ones, because I knew I was not coming back anytime soon, and it could very well turn out to be my first and last visit to Pakistan. But with all the good memories I travelled back to Lahore from where I had to board a bus back to Delhi. I had one day with me before I had to take the bus, so I made the most of it by visiting some of the famous sites in Lahore like Minar e Pakistan, Tomb of Jahangir, Lahore Fort etc.
It was an experience of a lifetime, and after returning from the trip I realized that we need to keep the political differences between the two nations aside. We cannot afford to be swayed by political rhetoric. We are, often by the media and some political actors, brainwashed into believing that Pakistan is an enemy country, without any awareness of the historical background. We need to look beyond the political animosity. I make a very strong appeal for that. The tragedy of the political divide between the two countries is symbolical, and must go. That will never happen until the common people travel to Pakistan and meet the locals, or at least interact with Pakistanis through social media more often. It’s high time we stop spreading hatred, and truly start believing in the philosophy of vasudhaiva kutumbakam, which means the world is one family.
This article was edited by Madhulika Narasimhan (Delhi, India)
Faisal Latif is from Patna (Bihar). He is currently a student of Department of Travel & Tourism, Jamia Millia Islamia University (Delhi). He had also participated in the ride for peace cycle rally from Delhi to Wagah border.