Category Archives: Articles

Photo Blog: Toba Tek Singh, a city and district in Pakistan named after Baba Tek Singh

by Umair Ahmad (Pakistan)

Toba Tek Singh is a city and district in punjab province of Pakistan. The place gets its identity from a saint named Baba Tek Singh who was known for his kindness and generosity. It is believed that he used to serve water from a garha (pot) to the thirsty travellers, irrespective of their identity.

The original spot where he is believed to have sat and served the thirsty travelers is situated near the railway station.

Here are some photos that capture the present of this historical place.

The Railway Station of Toba Tek Singh – Toba Tek Singh is an important train junction.

The Municipal Committee of Toba Tek Singh

Toba Tek Singh has many higher education institutes – Photo of Toba Tek Singh Campus of University of Agriculture, Faislabad. Agriculture remains to be an important occupation of residents of Toba Tek Singh.

Out and Around Toba Tek Singh of Today (Photos from Gojra City, Toba Tek Singh district)

Toba Tek Singh is also a popular place because it has featured in stories of popular authors. Among the most famous stories of legendary storyteller Saadat Hasan Manto is “Toba Tek Singh”, a story set in the time of partition. It revolves around a so-called “madman” named Bishen Singh who hailed from Toba Tek Singh.

Anything to add to this story? Share in comments.

Write a photo blog for your city and send to aaghazedosti@gmail.com


Umair Ahmad is from Toba Tek Singh. He is a peace activist and advocate. He is the Toba Tek Singh Co-ordinator of Aaghaz-e-Dosti.

Aaghaz-e-Dosti appeals to the Governments of India and Pakistan to Stop Ceasefire Violations

Aaghaz-e-Dosti appeals to the Governments of India, Pakistan to stop ceasefire violations and restore Peace across LoC

Photo Source: IB Times

We, at Aaghaz-e-Dosti are common people, mostly youth, of India and Pakistan, who are concerned about recent unfortunate developments across LoC wherein incidents of ceasefire violations have been widely reported on both sides. This exchange of fire has claimed lives of armed forces personnel and even of civilians on both sides. We are deeply disturbed by reports that border villages have been affected with such cross-border fire where even houses have been damaged. 

On the Indian side, it is said that over 1000 people have been evacuated from border villages to provide them with safe living areas, and approximately 87 schools have been shut including 51 in Nowshera sector and 36 in Manjakote and Doongi zone. With the shut down of schools, approximately 4600 students are affected.  It is said that firing from long range mortars and automatic weapons are still continuing. 

On the Pakistan side, it is said that unprovoked firing from India has resulted in the loss of civilian lives and injury to few others. It is said that the Indian side violated ceasefire in sectors mainly in Karela, Kotkotterra, Sabzkot, Baroh, Tandar, Khanjar. 

We need to understand that an entire population living in the vicinity of LoC is tramautised by such violations that can start at any point in time.

We appeal to the governments and security forces of both sides to find measures to stop these violations, to restore peace and to respect ceasefire agreement of 2003. 

We also firmly believe that beheading and mutiliation of soldiers must be stopped, and strict instructions to security forces by governments must be given against such acts.

Civilian population on both sides of the LoC desire and deserve peace, while their lives depend on the peaceful relations between the two nations. 

We believe that governments on both sides are capable of taking effective and positive measures in this regard. We remember that various effective, people friendly measures such as ceasefire agreement, dosti bus service, samjhauta express train service, cross LoC trade routes opening etc have been taken in the past by governments of both sides, and there are so many things that still remain that need to be done in the larger interest of the people, especially for those who are directly affected by such violations.    

We have all the faith in our governments and we believe that their concerned officials may have been working on restoring the peace. Yet, through this appeal, we would like to convey our request and the desire of millions of people, especially the young whose future needs to be respected and safeguarded, to strengthen the strife for peace across borders.

 Issued by

Aaghaz-e-Dosti Team

From One Home to Another… A Pakistani’s Experience of India

by Syed Zeeshan Ali Shah 

I was on cloud nine when I learnt that I had been selected for the Global Youth Peace Festival (GYPF) to be held in Chandigarh, India from September 28 to October 2, 2015. I was quite thrilled to be representing my country Pakistan at GYPF and working for peace between India and Pakistan. When I applied for a visa it was quite late, and I felt like I may not be able to visit India. As I waited anxiously, I still didn’t lose hope. My bags were packed, I was all set and my moral was high. While few of my friends congratulated me on my selection in GYPF, there were some who reacted strangely. I was asked questions like how and why I was visiting India, was it safe to visit etc. A few days later, we received the news about our visa application being accepted and here we were … all set to travel to India. When I visited the Indian Embassy in Islamabad with my friends Raj and Irfan, I was quite impressed with their cooperative behaviour. During our journey to India, we were joined by other friends from Lahore and Karachi. Upon reaching the Wagah border, we underwent the process of immigration and crossed the border on foot.

As I put my foot on Indian land, I felt as if I had just arrived at my home from another home (Pakistan). Upon our arrival, we were received by some GYPF members and then we travelled to Chandigarh along with them. Not for one moment, I had a feeling that I was in a different country. Only the names of people and the food we ate seemed a bit different. I had already started craving for non-vegetarian food. As we reached Chandigarh to be a part of GYPF, we were welcome with Dhol (traditional Indian musical instrument, typically used in weddings to welcome guests) and Bhangra (traditional dance form of the state of Punjab in India). GYPF gave us the opportunity to meet people from different countries. The event saw the presence of participants from about 30 countries. Over the years, GYPF has made its mark as an annual gathering of young people from all over the world who want to contribute positively to peace building. On the third day of GYPF, we went and visited a few villages around Chandigarh. What I observed that life there is much similar to the villages in Pakistan. During my stay in India, I made many Indian friends and found them to be very supportive.

From Chandigarh, we travelled to Delhi and it was quite an amazing journey. In Delhi, we stayed at Rajghat and visited many places such as Chandni Chowk and India Gate. We also enjoyed the unique services of Metro rail and Green buses. This was also an opportunity for me to meet and interact with many members from AED’s India team. I was fortunate to meet Devika, Madhuri and Ali, all of whom have inspired me to think differently and work for peace. I am equally grateful to Pramod ji, his family and the team of Yuvsatta which managed this program. Through our participation in the program, we have been able to convey to the world the message of peace supported by each and every Pakistani and also show the humane side of Pakistan to the world.

After Delhi, we went to Amritsar and crossed the Wagah border on foot to reach Pakistan. This trip to India will be etched forever in my memory and my heart.  

This article has been edited by Dr. Nidhi Shendurnikar Tere from Baroda (Gujarat, India)


Syed Zeeshan Ali Shah is from Chitral. He is doing software engineering from COMSATS, Islamabad. He is a member of Islamabad Chapter of Aaghaz-e- Dosti, an Indo-Pak Friendship Initiative.

70mm War Drama evokes Nostalgia: Movie Review of Kya Dilli Kya Lahore

by Dr. Nidhi Shendurnikar Tere (India)

Directed by: Vijay Raaz

Starring: Vijay Raaj, Manu Rishi, Raj Zutshi & Vishwajeet Pradhan

A 2014 Release

The conflict between India and Pakistan has been the subject of many a popular movies in Hindi cinema (Bollywood). Mainstream movie discourse in both India and Pakistan rests on building upon a hatred of the ‘other’ so as to glorify patriotism and a sense of national superiority. Very few movies have dwelled upon the humane side of this cross-border conflict raging since 1947. It is for this reason that Kya Dilli Kya Lahore (What is Dilli, What is Lahore) presented by renowned Indian lyricist and writer Gulzar and directed by Vijay Raaj comes across as breath of fresh air.

How easy it is to picture camaraderie between a Pakistani solider and a cook in the Indian army? Impossible in the immediate war dominated scenario of 1948 following the partition of the Indian sub-continent into India and Pakistan? The movie builds upon a conversation that these two individuals have with each other while they are fighting for their own country. Samarth Pratap Shastri (Manu Rishi) is a cook in the Indian army, left to guard an army check-post all alone at the height of war. From the other side, you have Rehmat Ali (Vijay Raaj), a young, newly inducted soldier in Pakistan’s army sent by a senior to get hold of a confidential security document from the Indian camp. Hesitant as he is, Rehmat proceeds towards the Indian side, only to encounter Samarth holding on his guard from an isolated check-post in a difficult terrain. What follows thereafter are conversations that are not only funny but also heart wrenchingly emotional.

As Rehmat and Samarth talk, they very predictably blame each other for the mess that India’s partition brought along. Murders of innocents, mayhem, destruction and servering of relationships that had survived peacefully through centuries. We learn that Rehmat belonged to Delhi before being forced to shift to Lahore after the partition and Samarth had his roots in Lahore before he moved to Delhi. The mass movement of Hindus to northern and central parts of India while that of Muslims to what was now Pakistan resulted in many people leaving their homes, cities and their near and dear ones far away, to never be able to return. Both Rehmat and Samarth begin their relationship with distrust, a sentiment that is commonly acknowledged by many Indians and Pakistanis. In the beginning as they talk to each other with the knowledge of ‘otherness’ and ‘hostility’, a wall of antagonism separates them (it is only after some time in the film that they finally face each other, before that continuing to converse through a barrier of distrust in typical Punjabi dialect).

The most poignant scene of the film comes when Rehmat gets emotional as he shares his love for Delhi, the narrow by lanes of Chandani Chowk and Samarth is reminded of the Anarkali Bazaar in Lahore where he once lived with his family and Muslim neighbours. To both of them Delhi and Lahore were once home and the displacement caused by the partition has affected them immensely. Both cannot come to terms with the fact that they had to leave their beloved city and friends to settle for a new life across the border. It is a fact that prior to the partition, Delhi was home to several Muslims and Lahore was inhabited by Hindus. The loss of one’s home is evident from the teary eyed faces of both Rehmat and Samarth. Something that most people who experienced the partition can relate to.

As the film progresses, the unthinkable becomes a reality. An Indian and a Pakistani start to recognize the human inside the ‘other’, leading hatred and animosity into oblivion. At one point, Samarth even makes ‘aloo paratha’ (a sub-continental food item) for Rehmat and as both of them share their lives over a meal, borders become insignificant. A gradual realization creeps in among the two that this conflict is a creation of political one-upmanship and self serving leaders who care the least for the sufferings of people on both sides. Rehmat and Samarth become friends who realize and fear that they will be labelled as ‘traitors’ for the last that one expects from a soldier is friendship with the ‘enemy’ whom he is supposed to annihilate. They sense that their nationalism will be questioned and their loyalties doubted. In fact, both of them are repeatedly cornered by their senior officials for being ‘refugees’ from whom loyalty cannot be expected as their heart beats for the ‘other’ side.

The film is filled with heart touching moments of the friendship that develops between two people who though on opposite sides of the border, begin to realize the special bond through which they are connected to each other. Rehmat starts referring to Samarth as ‘bhaijaan’ (brother) and in the same way Samarth also acknowledges the special place that Rehmat has made in his life in a very short time.

One can view this movie from a soldier’s perspective. While the duty of a soldier is to essentially guard the borders of his country from the enemy, he/she is at the end a common person who pines for his family, who wants to lead a normal and peaceful life. War and conflict have a damaging impact on a soldier’s psyche and the movie lets the audience come face to face with the humane side of a soldier. Rehmat and Samarth become friends in a very short period of time under extremely trying circumstances. Yet in the end, they come out with flying colours as they prove to be worthy friends divided by the border, but united by hearts that don’t succumb to human-made divisions. The climax scene is a reinforcement of their unspoken yet deep, pure friendship and love for each other. Kya Dilli Kya Lahore signifies the spirit of this friendship where there is more in common that can bring people together as opposed to keeping them apart. Because once upon a time, the cities of Dilli (Delhi) and Lahore were a symbol of sub-continental unity. Today, even as they belong to different countries, they remain very much similar in character, spirit and love for the one who is on the other side of the border.

This review was previously published on the author’s blog www.68pagesofmylife.blogspot.com


Dr. Nidhi Shendurnikar Tere has a PhD in Political Science from The M.S.University of Baroda, Gujarat and presently works as an independent researcher and writer based out of Ahmedabad. She is the Baroda Co-ordinator of Aaghaz-e-Dosti. 

Article: Holi and Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent

by Ravi Nitesh

Holi, a festival of colours has lots of stories around its origin but at the same time, the very nature of this festival has a philosophical note attached to it and that is ‘losing one’s identity’. Colours applied in Holi are from a vast range of colours and speaks of the importance of diversity; applying these colours involve ‘colouring everyone’ and doing so, it denotes equality and equal identity. In the color smeared face, the identity, the divisiveness of it, is also lost.

The Indian subcontinent, as a diverse space and with a history of its ‘cultural absorbency’ has brought Holi in different contexts and it is its beauty that despite being called as a Hindu festival by many, it has history tracings among Muslims as well where the context of Holi was specially brought. With its beauty of diversity, our society has brought many beautiful examples of cultural harmony and intermingling. Holi is one such festival that spreads and celebrates universal brotherhood.

In the stories of Holi, it is attached with the ‘Bhakt Prahlad’ story as a festival of victory of Good over Evil and then in another one with Krishna-Radha, it becomes a festival of love. Mughals in India, as we know, adopted many traditions and started many new. Holi was one festival, tradition that was beautifully adopted by Mughal Emperors and Sufi saints.

In the reign of Emperor Jahangir, Holi is called Holi as ‘Eid-e-Gulabi’ or ‘Aab-e-Pashi’ and he even played it with his queen. The Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri talks about this Holi festival.

Holi and Mughal Emperor Jahangir

In the reign of Jahangir, it is also called Holi as ‘Eid-e-Gulabi’ or ‘Aab-e-Pashi’ and he even played it with his queen. In Tuzuk e Jahangir, he has written about Holi festival.  

‘Hori Khelungi, Keh Bismillah’ was a poem by Bulleshah, a 16th century poet. He has written in this poem about his desire to loose himself in God. Syed Abdullah Shah Qadri or Bulleshah lived in 17th century in places like Multan and Kasur that falls in present day Pakistan. Bulleshah was a humanist and philosopher and has written poetry on many subjects including social issues. His poetry have been sung by renowned singers of modern time including Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Abida Parveen, Wadali Brothers and others. In his Holi poem, he expressed ‘nam nabi ki ratn chadhi. Boond pari allah alaah’

Holi and Bahadur Shah Zafar

Verses of Bahadur Shah Zafar (Last Mughal emperor of India) has been adopted very commonly by people. It says ‘Kyo mo pe rang ki maaari pichkari, Dekho kunwar ji doongi main gaari’ (Why you sprayed color on me, Now my prince, I will swear you). It is told that during his reign, special arrangements were made to celebrate holi and groups of people singing Holi songs and making jokes were allowed. On this day, making fun even on the cost of princess of princesses and it was not a punishable act that time. Spray of colorful and scented yellow flowers and sprayed through syringes of wood and metals.   

Amir Khusro’s love with ‘Aaj rang hai’ is known to many people when he sung this song for his peer Auliya. Khusro was a 13th century poet, Sufi musician and scholar and spiritual disciple of Nizamuddin Auliya. Khusro is known as ‘Father of Indian Qawali’ and also has the credit for the invention of musical instruments like Sitar and Tabla.  Khusro expressed in another verse ‘Kheloongo holi, Khawaja ji aaye’.    

The Nawabs of Lucknow celebrated Holi as a festival of everyone. Wajid Ali Shah, the last nawab of Awadh has written ‘More kanha jo aaye palat ke, Abki holi mai khelungi dat ke’. Wajid Ali Shah also distributed sweets and thandai (a special Holi drink) to everyone in their kingdom.

Even ‘Holi khelein Asaf ud daula Wazir’ is one of the famous lines of renowned poet Meer and has talked about Nawab Asaf ud daula of Lucknow. Meer writes further ‘kumkum jo maarte bharkar gulal, jiske lagta aan kar phir mehendi laal’.  Asaf-ud-Daula was nawab of Awadh in 18th century and is known as the architect general of Lucknow. He shifted the capital of Awadh from Faizabad to Lucknow and built famous structures like Bara Imaambara and Rumi Darwaza. One of his very famous work includes construction of  Asafi Imambara as a charity project in 1784 to generate employment after a famine. It included more than 20,000 people in construction of a structure that was neither a mosque nor mausoleum. It was also told that to protect dignity of noble and upper class (as they were also affected in famine), common citizens were employed to construct building in daytime and noble and upper class people were employed to demolish the structure on every fourth night. They all received payments for their work. There is still a famous saying ‘Jisko na dein maula, usko dein Asaf-ud-Daula’ means one who does not receive from Lord, will receive from Asaf-ud-Daula.  

Abida Parveen, renowned Pakistani Sufi Singer, beautifully sung verses of the Sufi poet Shah Niaz where the poet says ‘Holi ho rahi hai Ahmed jiya ke dwaar, Hazart ali ka rang bano hai Hasaan Hussain Khilar’ (Holi is happening at beloved Ahmed’s door, Color has become Hazrat Ali and Hasan and Hussain are playing.’

It is also said that even today’s old Lucknow chowk area witness the ‘Holi Baraat’ jointly by Hindus and Muslims that runs along Muslim dominant areas and receive showers of flowers and colours.

Holi was not just restricted to Nawabs and Emperors, it also went to writings of many poets. Even freedom fighter and poet Hasrat Mohani writes ‘Mohe chhed karat nandlal, Liye khade abeer gulal’. 

Even Nawabs of Bengal like Murshid Quli Khan Alivardi, Siraj-ud-Daula and Mir Jafar celebrated holi as well. The shrine of Haji Waris Ali Shah in Deva Sharif observe Holi even in today’s India.

If we say that this is the society we hail from, we desire and we contribute for, what can be more beautiful than this!

Photo Sources:

Holi Celebration

https://static2.tripoto.com/media/transfer/img/OgData/1488286898_b88f07b28b2fdb410d0b48b11130fe7c.jpg

Holi and Jahangir

http://delhikaravan.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/holijehangir.jpg

 Holi and Bahadur Zafar

https://counterview1.files.wordpress.com/2017/03/holi-shahanshah-bahadurshah-zafar-ki.png?w=396&h=501


Ravi Nitesh is from Delhi. He is the founder of Mission Bhartiyam and Aaghaz-e-Dosti. He tweets at @ravinitesh

The Most Respected, the “Lok Nayak” JP supported Indo-Pak Peace and Disarmament

by Ravi Nitesh (India)

jp

Source: Internet

The world is moving towards globalization, liberalization and with each passing day it claims itself to be becoming more civilized. On the other hand, the same world is regularly developing more and more tools of destruction, arms and ammunition and even atom and nuclear bombs. The situation of India and Pakistan is no different and these countries proudly claim themselves of being nuclear powers. Both have conducted nuclear tests in past and though unannounced, but the capability of being nuclear armed is more for the reason of dominating each other, instead of any greater public welfare. 

Pakistan and India constitutes a major part in South Asian politics and also have influence over geo strategic decisions of other countries due to the reasons like geographic locations, rising GDPs and good markets. Unfortunately, both countries, despite being neighbor countries, fought with each other in atleast three major wars and several border skirmishes. Billions of dollars have been spent on these fights. Both countries also spend billions of dollars on their nuclear facilities. On the other hand, both constitutes large numbers of underprivileged children, high index of hunger and malnutrition, unavailability of water and healthcare and many other such similar challenges. 

When we look at the political leaders of these countries, we find that most of them take the shelter of nationalism to support developing arms and ammunition to face threat from each other. Most of them try to infuse Indo-Pak rivalry with nationalism. However, the most renowned and respected Nationalist leader, the man who is claimed and respected by all political strands,  Jayprakash Narayan advocated for peace and nuclear disarmament.

Jayaprakash Narayan or JP is among the most famous names in the history of Indian politics. In Indian politics, he is known as ‘Loknayak’, (Peoples’ Leader) who led socio- political movements and became successful with what is known as ‘JP Movement’ in politics. But in his vision, he was much more than a man who formed the first non congress government in India without taking any position in government. He was a strong advocate of peace, non violence and nuclear disarmament, and known for his companionship with Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, the great Pashto leader, popularly remembered in India as “Frontier Gandhi”.

JP is known to people for his efforts to fight for democracy during the emergency period imposed by Indira Gandhi and the subsequent formation of the first non-congress government in India. But his contribution to society and nation was much larger and far ahead than being just the leading voice during emergency.

JP was a visionary and had great faith in the ideas of Gandhi. He was born in the year 1902. JP spent his time with leaders like Gandhi and Vinoba and was much influenced in the ideology of non-violence. He advocated for disarmament and talked about disarmament at international level with unilateral disarmament in India. He went ahead with such a vision that why do we need atom bombs or even army? Why is it necessary to fight and to be violent when decisions and solutions can happen with negotiation and dialogue? He envisioned that army should be trained and equipped with non violent tools. On India and Pakistan, he never stood for war and always advocated for peace. He even organized peace marches. 

JP was involved in peacebuilding and accepted membership of three member presidium of world peace army. He appealed for India Pakistan Peace and formed ‘India Pakistan Friendship Association’ in 1962. He also advocated peaceful resolution of India with China. Later he was also elected as one of the five member presidium by Commonwealth of Citizens. 

JP shared a great bond with Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan of Pakistan which continued even after partition. They worked together for peace between and in their own countries. Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan and JP together formed ‘Insani Biradari’ that worked for peace and communal harmony.

JP was a great visionary even in other fields. Way back in 1930’s, JP without terming it as ‘sustainable development’ shared a similar idea that the we all belong to one community of human and live on this earth. We must utilize the resources of our earth in the manner that it would remain available for future generations. He said that these natural resources are non-renewable and have limited capacity to serve. 

Though JP could not live more to make his idea sustain, but his ideas and vision of peace and non-violence is still relevant and is of very much importance in terms of present situation in South Asian Politics. Our conflicts are rising and we are over-exploiting our natural resources. It is imperative that we bring back JP by implementing his vision, his ideas. Like during the emergency, JP, the People’s Leader, shall come to the rescue of the grieving India and South Asia.


Ravi NiteshRavi Nitesh is from Delhi. He is the founder of Mission Bhartiyam (India) and founder member of Aaghaz-e-Dosti. He tweets at @ravinitesh

Celebrating Chaliha Sahib with Hindu Friends in Pakistan

by Zabeehullah Memon

jhule-laal-idol-khairpur

In all religions, people celebrate their respective festivals with glorious faith and happiness. The celebration of any religious festival shows devotion to one’s religion/faith. Festivals keep religions alive.

Chaliha Sahib is a unique festival which is celebrated by Hindu community in Sindh province of Pakistan. This festival is celebrated in the remembrance of Laal Sain/Jhule Laal. During this festival, people of the Sindhi Hindu community fast for forty days to observe penance. They pray in their holy temples by doing Aarti and by singing Bhajans or spiritual songs. On the fortieth day, they take Barano of Laal Sain from temple and go to the river for the immersion of the idol while expressing their happiness by dancing and singing Bhajans. They then also pray on the bank of the river.

Chaliha sahib jo melo is one of the longest and most awaited festivals among the Sindhi community. The origin of this festival, which sees devotees fasting for days on end, originated in Sindh (now in Pakistan).

jhule-laal-idol-immersion-in-river-khairpurBefore this festival had started, my Hindu friend invited me to join in the festival celebration. He had narrated to me the history of this festival. The story behind this festival had compelled me to go with him. I enjoyed a lot with them, though I have celebrated different festivals with them but this was first time in my life that I celebrated Chaliha Sahib Festival. They showed a lot of respect and love for me. In this great festival, I was not accompanied by any of my Muslim friend but there were many Muslims in the celebration of this festival.  I felt very comfortable with my Hindu Friends. They celebrated their pious festival in a peaceful manner. They were friendly with me. In these festival days, they regularly go to temple and pray to God  (Jhule Laal/Laal Sain) by singing Bhajans and Aarti.

I believe festivals such as these, which bring together people from the Hindu and Muslim communities can help build peace, end communal violence and promote interfaith harmony. This demonstration of love, togetherness and brotherhood is the way to remove hatred between Hindus and Muslims, bridge the gap between the two communities.


zabeeh-memonZabeehullah Memon is from District Khairpur, Sindh (Pakistan). He is working as a district coordinator at Progressive Youth Forum, Khairpur.

“Things Changed When I Wore My Pakistani Jersey”: Experience of a Pakistani in India

by Talha Asif Dar (Pakistan)

talha-dar-1-001

I have travelled to some countries and being a social person, I have Pakistani friends studying or working in many countries. What has been common amongst many of my friends is that either they have an Indian housemate, or their best friend is an Indian.

Therefore, I already felt that Indians were similar to us, and had a desire to visit India. One of my biggest dreams was to visit the Taj Mahal, and Amritsar, from where my grandparents had migrated. Amritsar is just 50 kms away from my home in Pakistan but it was difficult for me to go there due to visa issues. All the foreign travelers coming from Europe and the US whom I met in Pakistan used to cross the border into India with ease, but I was unable to do the same despite being so close geographically. It was a true example of “So near yet so far”.

Even though I had already met a number of Indians while travelling around the world, and many of them became my friends, I was still a little worried about how ordinary Indians would react during my visit to India when they realize I was from Pakistan. All of my friends and relatives were worried for me. All my friends to whom I extended an invitation to join me said, “Marna hai? Sari zindagi Indian jail main guzarni hai? Tu pagal hai, hum pagal nahi hein” (Do you think I want to get myself killed? Do you want to spend the rest of your life in an Indian prison? You must be mad, we aren’t).

I hadn’t imagined that what was waiting for me was the friendliest visit I had ever experienced. I started getting an idea of the same even before landing in India. I use a website called ‘couchsurfing’ to find hosts in the cities I travel to. You can meet or stay at someone’s home for free with the help of this website. This community is all over the world, and its purpose is cultural exchange and to help people who are travelling on a budget to find a homestay.

Usually, it is a bit difficult to find a host for a South Asian or a Middle Eastern guy. One may have to send requests to dozens of people to find a host. However, I was surprised that just after posting a public post about my impending trip and before sending requests to individuals, I started receiving a bunch of invitations from Delhi, Kolkata and Chandigarh. There were so many people who were interested in meeting or hosting me.

This was just the beginning. I was already late and had missed Pakistan and Bangladesh’s match. It was Pakistan vs. India the following day and I received a call from FedEx that my passport had reached Lahore. I picked up my passport, came back home to pack my bag in 15 minutes and headed straight to Wagah border which is just a 20-minute drive from my home.

As I crossed the border in the afternoon, it was already time for the flag ceremony a lot of spectators had gathered for it. It felt different being in a new country. However, there was no difference in terms of culture: similar people, the same language and same surroundings. As I reached the immigration counter, I was pleasantly surprised to see the immigration officer listening to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s qawwalis. While he was entering the details of my documents in the system, we kept talking to each other in Punjabi. He told me that almost every Indian Punjabi guy is a fan of Pakistani stage dramas and many Indian women like to watch Pakistani dramas on Zindagi channel.

Then I went to customs and as soon as they got to know that I had come for the T20 World Cup, they started discussing cricket with me. Being a talkative person myself, the discussion on cricket continued for the next 30 minutes. My next destination was Amritsar railway station. When the rickshaw riders learned that I was from Pakistan and that my grandparents had migrated from the same city in 1947, they offered me a free ride to show me around the famous places of Amritsar.

Talha Dar travel to indiaLater while I was looking to buy a train ticket for Delhi, I bumped into two Sikh brothers who were looking for the same. They asked me if I was from Delhi. When I told them I was from Pakistan, they initially didn’t believe me. But then they invited me to join their family. Their parents were also very happy to meet me and within a few minutes they started treating me like I was a part of their family. The entire family looked after me until they got off the train near Delhi, making space for me and my luggage in the crowded train, sharing food and lots of stories with me. By the time that eight hour train ride ended, I had made many other friends as well.

So, this was my first half day in India and I already knew that the next couple of weeks would be a lot of fun. I met hundreds of people during the next fortnight and experienced a lot but I would share some of the stories as sharing all of them would need an entire book.

As I could not make it to Kolkata for the Pakistan vs. India men’s match, I decided to go for Pakistan vs. India women’s match at Feroz Shah Kotla stadium in Delhi. My faint hearted mother, who gets worried even when I go from Lahore to Islamabad, had pleaded that when in India, I shouldn’t walk around wearing Pakistan’s jersey. Being the obedient son that I am, I followed what she said and wore another tee over my Pakistani jersey. As I was looking for the entrance gate, I met an Indian fan Arifuddin Ahmed and we started talking to each other. When he asked me which city I was from, I told him Lahore and was again met with disbelief. When he did decide to believe that I was indeed in fact from Pakistan, we became friends.

talha-dar-2I reached my stand and as I sat on my seat, I realized that I was the only Pakistani fan between thousands of Indian fans. After a few minutes, I removed the tee I was wearing over my Pakistani jersey and brought out my Pakistani flag from the bag. The guy sitting next to me, who had all his attention at the match, noticed after a couple of minutes that I was wearing a Pakistani jersey. He asked me if I was from Pakistan and when he learned that I was from Lahore, was happy and welcomed me, asking some questions about Lahore with a lot of curiosity.

Then more and more people started to realize that there was a Pakistani between them and happily greeted me. When India’s innings finished, I started walking around and a few people started to talk and take pictures with me and Pakistan’s flag. Soon, there were hundreds of people around me, taking pictures with me. The most surprising thing was they were borrowing the Pakistani flag from me to take pictures with it. Pakistan won on the match and many people congratulated me.

talha-dar-2-001

Lahore Dry Fruits Store in Delhi

Delhi and Lahore have so much in common, they are truly two sister cities. Lahore has Shahi Qila while Delhi has Lal Qila; Lahore has Badshahi Masjid and Delhi has Jama Masjid; Lahore has Delhi Gate while Delhi has Lahore Gate; Lahore has Jahangir’s tomb while Delhi has Humayun’s tomb; Lahore has Shalimar Gardens and Delhi has Qutb Minar. Old Lahore and Old Delhi look so similar. The language and food are also quite similar and if one walks the streets, one will notice during street fights that even the abuses are the same!

talha-dar-3After a couple of days, I went to Chandigarh to watch Pakistani men play New Zealand. I met a Pakistani guy there and we decided to see Mohali and Chandigarh together. We took a shared rickshaw to go from Mohali’s Sikh museum to Chandigarh’s rock garden. The driver didn’t have change and we were short of Rs. 10. When we were unable to find any other solution, I offered him 20 Pakistani rupees. First he thought that I was an Indian and was just joking, asking me what he would do with Pakistani currency. I asked him he could go to the currency exchange and get Indian notes. I was taken aback by his response when I showed him Pakistani currency and told him that I was from Pakistan and that I came here to watch cricket. These were his words, “I won’t get this note exchanged. I will show this to my children. I will keep this with me all my life as this has come from Pakistan.” We had to change the rickshaw before entering Chandigarh premises as diesel rickshaws are not allowed there. He stopped a new rickshaw and bargained for us with the driver, telling them that we were his brothers.

I had gained enough confidence now that I had started to walk around in Pakistan’s jersey. I went to Pakistani and Bangladeshi women’s match after a few days in Delhi. As I was looking for an auto rickshaw after the match, two auto drivers started quarrelling with each other for the rider like it happens in Pakistan. As I was wearing Pakistan’s jersey, a senior policeman came out from a departing police bus thinking that there was some trouble. He approached me and asked if everything was alright. As I told him everything was fine, he told one of the drivers to take me to the place I wanted to go to, and took down his vehicle’s registration number, to make sure that I didn’t face any problem due to my jersey. I thanked him to which he replied that I was not just his country’s guest, I was like his younger brother.

Talha Dar with Richa from KolkataI met so many other people in Delhi and Kolkata through couchsurfing, who showed me around, invited me to their homes for dinner, and introduced me to their families and friends. I made such good friends in Kolkata, who looked after me and then gave some gifts including traditional foods from Bengal for my family. I really wanted to watch a match at Eden Gardens, so my couchsurfer friend Richa said she would try to get me a ticket for Bangladesh and New Zealand’s match. She mentioned in her social circle that she was looking for a ticket for her Pakistani guest and within 30 minutes a friend of hers offered a ticket as a gift.

img-20160329-wa0002-001Sharad, another friend I made through couchsurfing in Kolkata, invited me to his home for breakfast and dinner every day. As his grandparents had migrated from Sialkot, his parents could speak Punjabi and it felt like home at his place. Each time they prepared almost a dozen dishes, especially from Bengal.

I was also able to meet some Indian friends I had made in Australia. They left their commitments and came to meet me, showing me around and taking me to dinners. Those were such happy moments, those people whom I had first met in Australia were meeting me now in India but what was common was that both times, I was the one who was travelling so they hosted me graciously.

I came back to Lahore on the 15th day which was also the last day of my visa. I made so many lifelong friends and memories during this trip. I would love to visit India again to meet my friends and see more of India.

With all this, I realized that ordinary people of Pakistan and India are eager to get to know each other, and feel very happy when they meet someone who has come from across the border. We can eliminate so many misunderstandings if only people to people contact can be increased.

This article has been edited by Madhulika Narasimhan (Delhi, India)


Talha Asif Dar has done MBA from Bahria University, Islamabad. After doing a 9 to 6 job for a couple of years, he decided to quit that and start travelling. He is a crazy sports fan and travels the world to attend sports events, and starts backpacking once the event ends. Talha does freelance work to support himself and his travelling. One of his biggest wishes is to see peace between Pakistan and India.

Sindh Culture Day Special: An Introduction to Sindh, Sindhi Culture

Sindh Culture Day (Ekta Day) is celebrated every year on the first Sunday of December across Sindh (Pakistan) to highlight the centuries old, rich cultural heritage of the province, especially it’s traditional topi (cap) and ajrak.

Today on Sindh Culture Day, we introduce you to Sindh and Sindhi Culture. 

The word “Sindh” is derived from its life stream, the river Indus, known to the people by the name of “Sindhu”. The roots of Sindhi culture and civilization are believed to trace back to one of the world’s oldest civilization, the Indus Valley Civilization. 

1. Ajrak

The word Ajrak is derived from an Arabic word “azrak” which means ‘blue’. Ajrak is a block-printed cloth with deep crimson red and indigo blue background, bearing symmetrical patterns with interspersed unprinted sparkling white motifs, mostly stars. Source

Ajrak is an important Sindhi cultural symbol. The Ajrak is traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization (one of the earliest world civilizations) as archaeological remains of a male, priest-like statue wore a shawl resembling Ajrak symbolism has been found.

The ajrak is an integral part of Sindhi culture and traditional. They are presented as Ajrak are presented a mark of respect and hospitality to guests and people of high esteem.

2. Sindhi Topi

The Sindhi Cap or Sindhi Topi is a circular/cylindrical except for a portion cut out in the front to expose the forehead. Intricate geometrical designs are embroidered on the hat, and very often small pieces of mirror are sewed into it also. In Sindhi culture, the Sindhi cap is often given as a gift or as a sign of respect, along with the ajrak. Source

3. Sindhi Biryani

The Sindhi Biryani is one of the famous dishes of Pakistan. It is among the most famous and loved Biryanis. The Sindhi Biryani uses over twenty spices and is one of the most flavorful biryanis.

4. Sindhi Language

Sindhi is an Indo-Aryan language. The vocabulary of Sindhi comprises of words from Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian and Prakrit.

Sindhi is one of the oldest languages of the sub-continent, with a rich and extensive folklore and literature. It is one of the major languages of Pakistan, spoken mainly in the province of Sindh. It is the third most spoken language in Pakistan. 

Sindhi is now written in Arabic Naskh Script, formally adopted by the British in 1853. Sindhi is also written in Devanagari script in some parts in India. Before the adoption of the present script, Sindhi was written in a number of different but cognate scripts derived from Devanagari. Read more at http://www.sindhishaan.com/article/language/lang_04_04.html

5. Sindh is the land of Communal Harmony

Sindh is the land of great Sufi saints that included Abduallh Shah Gahzi (R.A), Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai (R.A), Jhule Lal or Lal Shahbaz Qalandar or Lal Sai and Sachal Sarmast who preached about peace and communal harmony.

The Sindhi Culture is an integration of Hinduism and Islam. It is regarded to be more of a Sufi culture. This can be noted in their folklore, songs, poetry, lifestyle, customs and traditions.

Here we list some more interesting articles and information source from India and Pakistan to help you explore more about Sindhi Culture: 

  1. Jhulelal or Zinda Pir: Of river saints, fish and flows of the Indus   http://scroll.in/article/801677/jhulelal-or-zinda-pir-of-river-saints-fish-and-flows-of-the-indus

  2. Jhulelal.com – Online Sindhi Community http://www.jhulelal.com/index.html

  3. Sindhi Shaan http://www.sindhishaan.com/article/language/lang_04_04.html 

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We invite articles, poems, cross-border travel experiences, friendship stories for our blog or Indo-Pak peace resource hub. Send your submissions at aaghazedosti@gmail.com

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  1. We publish analytical articles and opinions on peace and Indo-Pak issues. However, we do not publish one-sided and biased narratives.
  2. We do not re-publish articles. If your article has been previously published elsewhere, kindly inform us.
  3. If you do not receive an email from us in 3 days about your submission, kindly feel free to send your article for publication elsewhere. 
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