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.
“Things Changed When I Wore My Pakistani Jersey”: Experience of a Pakistani in India
by Talha Asif Dar (Pakistan)
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.
Later 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.
I 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.
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!
After 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.
I 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.
Sharad, 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.