Kya Dilli, Kya Lahore: An Indian’s Experience of Pakistan
by Madhavi Bansal
Whenever we think of foreign travel, one thing which makes foreign ‘foreign’ is the cultural difference. While travelling to a foreign land we expect to see different lifestyles, cultural practices, norms, clothing, food habits and values. Whether one would like to call it my fortune or misfortune, my first foreign trip was to a country that was similar to mine, in November 2015, when I visited Pakistan to present a paper at a conference. It felt like visiting a second home.
As I am a peace activist, I had already been able to shed a lot of the stereotypes that people in India hold about Pakistan. Despite the excitement of being able to visit neighbors, I was unable to shake off that little anxiety I felt while crossing the Wagha border. I harboured anxiety about visiting an Islamic country which is known as the epicentre of terrorism, where bomb blasts are a routine and women are rarely seen outside the burqa. What I experienced, on the other hand, couldn’t have been more contradicting. During my six day stay, I did not realize I was in another country. Lahore filled me with a homely feeling, the same that I experience in Delhi.
We crossed the Wagha border on foot and I found the immigration process to be smoother than the visa process. We met people who applauded the courage of two Indian women travelling to Pakistan all by themselves and also those who couldn’t stop discouraging us. Our hosts picked us up from the border and showed us around Lahore before leaving us at the UMT (University of Management and Technology) guest house. The rest of the evening was spent enjoying Dholki (a pre-wedding ceremony common in South Asian weddings) at a friend’s place and humming Punjabi folk songs. Next three days, we attended a conference, whose overarching theme was inclusive education. The moderator introduced us to the audience with a quote by Gandhi after which Devika Mittal and I presented our paper titled Attempting Inclusive Elementary Education in India: How Far Have We Come With RTE (Right to Education)? Presenting a paper on inclusive education in Pakistan will always be a special experience for me because the university where we spoke definitely practised what they preached: it had excellent facilities for visually challenged students; ranging from audio guides to Braille. Students were excited to meet and talk to us. We were floored by the display of graciousness by our hosts who left no stone unturned in making us feel comfortable. Their hospitable gesture was evident when they ensured that food for us was cooked separately considering the fact that we are vegetarians.
I also encountered people who are inspired by progressive policies of the Indian government. This enabled me to learn about that facet of Pakistanis which we as Indians rarely know. There are people in Pakistan who do not blame India for everything that is wrong with their country, but are willing to learn from good aspects of Indian society and governance. This strengthened my belief in the peace process. The fact is that not all Pakistanis hate Indians and India could do well to lead by example.
One major irritant of course was the constant watch being kept on us (which is normal in the case of Indians traveling to Pakistan and vice versa) and restrictions imposed on moving out of the campus. We roamed about the city once the conference ended. A visit to Punjab University exposed me to another side of Pakistan and I ended up questioning many things such as separate canteens for men and women, separate lifts and curtailment on mixing up of opposite genders. At the same time, during an evening visit to the National College of Arts, I got to witness a more liberal side of Pakistan with men and women hanging out together, practicing theatre, working on a piece of art or spending relaxed time together in a group.
I have met many Indians who had the opportunity to visit Pakistan and on their return they gushed about the great hospitality accorded to them. For me, Pakistan was a lot like India, and this extends to the oxymoronic, complicated juxtaposition back home where parochial thinking, great hospitality, respect and stereotypes all co-exist. One early morning, I experienced a sexually lewd comment inside Babri Masjid. But what resonated within me for a long time was the fact that I was dressed like a Lahori that day, and I know I was assumed to be one when the comment was made. I believe that a person’s true nature can be judged from how he/she treats his/her own fellow citizens—that morning, they treated me as they would treat a Lahori early morning at Babri Masjid, and that treatment was not of great hospitality. Experiences like this only reinforce the fact that Pakistan is not too far apart from the cultural juxtaposition of our own country, and in ways more than one, Pakistan reminded me of home.
The trip has ended but the memories will be cherished. I hadn’t even come back to India and I was already hoping to visit Pakistan again. My trip ended in complete Bollywood style–breakfast in Lahore, lunch in Amritsar, next breakfast in Delhi and the breakfast after that in Bangalore. From bhai chalenge aap to bhayia chalo to Anna, electronic city, the ride from Delhi to Lahore was a roller coaster!
This article was edited by Dr. Nidhi Shendurnikar Tere, Baroda Co-ordinator of Aaghaz-e-Dosti.
Madhavi Bansal is currently pursuing M.A. Public Policy and Governance from Azim Premji University in Bangalore. She is a peace enthusiast, who when not dancing, would be travelling.
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.
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