An Indian in Pakistan

Published: July 20, 2014
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The fresh, youthful breezes blowing across India and Pakistan may usher new possibilities. PHOTO: FILE

The Hindus realize that the Muslims, Christians and other minorities are an integral part of their country. PHOTO: FILE The fresh, youthful breezes blowing across India and Pakistan may usher new possibilities. PHOTO: FILE

A simple white shalwar kameez, a pair of traditional Peshawari shoes and a black jacket. The packed hall of about 900 people exploded into thunderous cheers and a standing ovation. Young boys and girls jumped up with excitement, thumped their tables and filled the air with whistles. The welcome befitted a rock star.

The man in white moved to the stage and commenced speaking. He spoke clearly, simply and in elegant Urdu; every member of the audience could understand him. His thoughts were crystal clear; he stood for a multi- cultural and secular framework, believed in a corruption free society, condemned the attacks on minorities and their places of worship, and had faith in the young and rapid economic development. Each proclamation drew acclaim from the audience.

Clearly the speaker was the darling of the youth of Pakistan.

Seeing the stunned disbelief on my face, a Pakistani manager remarked,

“For us, he is your Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli and Amitabh Bachchan, all rolled into one!”

True.

Mr Imran Khan, the former captain of the Pakistan cricket team and now an important leader of the opposition, was generating mass adulation, bordering on hysteria. He represented hope and peace.

Raj Gujar, a young student, asked,

“Why should we vote for you next time, when we Hindus are facing problems? Our temples are being attacked in Larkana.”

Imran responded,

“The attacks should be condemned.”

I was taken aback that a youngster would dare to ask such a sensitive question publicly; I was even more surprised to see that Imran respond with a straight bat.

With his rugged, Pukhtun features, brilliant declamation skills and shining sincerity, Imran could have cemented a place in the movies; but he bravely chose a road not taken, secularism and modernity.

A few nights earlier, my father had asked me,

“Are you sure you will be safe in Pakistan?”

He had lost a lot during partition; his parents, his home in Tandlianwala, his farms and his future. He had arrived as a penniless refugee in August 1947 in new India. He and my mother slept the first night on a street in Amritsar, using some bricks as pillows. In the ensuing decades, he came to terms with a new life, but the pain of losing his parents remained. The fact that I was part of a Harvard Business School delegation on a Pakistan study visit assuaged his concerns about my excursion.

The mistrust and hurt of partition has become ingrained amongst Indians and Pakistanis. Over the years, radical elements have fanned these doubts into fears in both countries.

I was in the crowded 200 year old Anarkali bazaar, shopping for Peshawari chapals for my father who had spent his childhood and youth in Lahore, the Paris of the East, when I was taken aback by a middle-aged lady who boldly and bluntly inquired,

“Is it true that Muslims in India are persecuted?”

The lady had realised that I was Indian, as I struggled to put together some local currency to pay the shopkeeper. So I asked her,

“Madam, I could be the only Hindu and Indian in this ancient, beautiful market of about 15,000 Pakistani Muslims. Yet I shop here, alone without fear. So how can about 177 million Muslims in India be frightened? Remember, we have as many Muslims in India as there are in Pakistan.”

I could not help adding,

“Look at many of the nationally admired idols in India – actors Dilip Kumar (Yusuf Khan), Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Nargis Dutt, Madhubala (Mumtaz Jehan) and Waheeda Rehman amongst others. We have had three Muslim presidents Zakir Hussain, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed and Abdul Kalam, and one of the richest Indians, Azim Premji, is a Muslim.”

The lady, after taking it all in, summarised,

“So perhaps the media and politicians exaggerate issues.”

The shopkeeper refused to accept money for the shoes after hearing my passionate response. Osman, the hawker selling ‘Kharbujas’ (sweet melons) on a handcart near the Wagah Border would not accept any money from me either when he realised that I would carry the fruit all the way to Mumbai in India.

Now, I had expected to visit a country where people would be reticent and introverted in dealing with Indians. I presumed that security levels would be high and could be literally tailed as a group of Indians. I presumed that some parts of the country would be as dirty as many parts of India. But to my surprise, I found that every person I met was very warm and friendly.

People were immensely hospitable. Pakistanis are, without any doubt, the most hospitable people in the world. The hotel doorman was extra polite and wanted to know where I in India I was from. A tea vendor in the street found that I had no local money and gifted me a few cups of tea. Shaikh, the Serena Hotel doorman gave me some Pakistani coins from his pocket as mementos, but refused to accept US dollars in exchange for them. With a broad smile, he says,

“Enjoy our coins and remember us.”

I was delighted to visit the Samadhi and Gurudwara of Emperor Ranjit Singh who ruled the undivided Punjab in the immediate proximity of Lahore Fort. I also spent two wonderful hours at the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, seeking solace and admiring the architecture.

Every stone, every pebble in Lahore holds a secret. It conceals centuries of history in it; from the Mongols, the Mughals, the Sikhs and the British to present. Lahore is not just a petite town; it is an open book of history.

The spring festival had adorned Lahore with bright yellow and pink flowers at every corner. Lahore, after all these centuries, resembles a beautiful girl in bridal finery. It is clean and tidy. The gurgling canal runs through the centre of Mall Road, providing twinkling chimes throughout the day. Tradition merges elegantly with modernity and the ruins of Emperor Akbar’s Lahore Fort blends with contemporary villas and hotels.

Islamabad is a steel, cement and glass modern city. Its five star hotels have world class amenities and services. The 367 kilometres M2 Motorway from Lahore to Islamabad covers the distance in five hours, crossing the highest pillared-bridge in Asia at the Khewra Salt Range.

Pakistan also boasts incredibly low prices of consumer products. A good leather jacket costs only $300 at Hub whereas in Dubai, it would cost $500 to $600. The prices of food products, clothes and footwear are about 30% cheaper than in India. The fine range of fabrics, embroidered clothes and hand-crafted shoes are impressive. So, you splurge beyond the budget. No wonder visitors from India return home with bloated suitcases and empty wallets!

Despite all the differences that plague the countries, Bollywood films and songs are immensely popular in Pakistan. Movies, music and cricket can bond these two distant neighbours and eradicate all differences. The moment a Pakistani delegate, shopkeeper or hotel staff realised I was an Indian, I would be transformed into a special guest and they would put their best foot forward. New friends like Nabeel, Syed, Rahail, Nofil, all young students, pampered us with Punjabi lassis, pickles and melodious songs at Monal, a restaurant on a mountain near Islamabad. The city seemed like a twinkling fairyland from the top of the mountain.

I was intrigued by the high interest of common Pakistani citizens in the elections scheduled in May.  Ahmad, a general manager of a foods company in Islamabad asked,

“So what will happen in the elections in India? Will Modi be your new PM?”

This was the most common question asked of me during the visit. At various times, about a dozen people asked me who I thought would win the elections and become prime minister of India. Each time I replied unequivocally that Modi would lead the next Indian government, and each time there would be pin drop silence. When I asked Ahmad about his concerns regarding Modi, he replied,

“Well, the Gujarat riots and his RSS background.”

I explained to Ahmad that India is a secular country and whosoever manages the nation will have to administer it in a fair and impartial manner. If any government were to persecute Muslims or Christians, the first protests would emanate from the Hindus themselves. The Hindus realise that the Muslims, Christians and other minorities are an integral part of the country. In new India, our goals are development and growth, not religious dominance or strife. Like simple, common people across the world, simple, common Indians too seek rapid improvements in their lives.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), affiliated to Modi’s party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has basic Hindu leanings. Now, Hindus do constitute about 85% of India’s population and have organisations to express their religious and social aspirations. This is natural. In every country in the world, there are organisations which embody the feelings of local citizens; for example, the Muslim League in undivided India before partition and in Pakistan now. I also mentioned that no charge of rioting had ever been proved against Modi, despite painstaking legal reviews. Despite my passionate explications, there were reservations in Ahmed’s eyes. He would have loved to believe me, but could not.

One other factor that increased my admiration for the country was the well organised and friendly customs and immigration officials at the Wagah border. Two pretty, comely Punjabi girls stood at the immigration counter who warmly welcomed me to their country. This was my first exposure to Pakistan. Within a few seconds, they had stamped my passport and I was at the customs counter who waved me on speedily as well. In a total of about eight minutes I was through with the formalities of entering Pakistan. Even while returning to India, it took me three minutes to clear customs and immigration. Their system of processing arrivals was impressively fast.

Upon my return to India, I presented my father with a simple bottle of water from his home town. The look on his face was priceless. Seeing his delight, I thought to myself that here are two neighbours who are united by centuries of culture and tradition but are divided by a rottenly managed partition and mountains of misunderstandings.

During a lecture, Suzanne Houby, a speaker at our symposium in Islamabad, said,

“In my most painful and toughest moments in climbing Mount Everest, I told myself, one step at a time.”

She would know. She was the first Muslim Arab girl to whack Mount Everest in May 2011.

India and Pakistan can also wallop the mountain of misunderstandings, one step at a time. The fresh, youthful breezes blowing across both the countries may usher in new possibilities for each other.

Rajendra K. Aneja

Rajendra K. Aneja

The author visited Pakistan as part of the Harvard Business School Pakistan Study delegation in the first week of April. He has worked for Unilever in Asia, Latin America and Africa. A Sir Dorabji Tata Scholar, he has authored a book, “Agenda for a New India”.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Feroz

    Glad that you enjoyed yourself. Cheers !Recommend

  • Bharat

    Well not sure if this will be experience of every Indian tourist ! I would also love to visit your beautiful country. If the problem of mistrust is solved , then Pakistan tourism industry would get flooded by people of subcontinent.Recommend

  • Moiz Omar

    Glad you had a pleasant stay in Pakistan. :).Recommend

  • نائلہ

    Lol when I read exploded in the second sentence, I got so worried!

    And truly every single indian I have met in life has been a very nice individual, which makes it difficult for me to put into perspective the views of Indians on ET. Thanks for the blog and do visit our country again :)

    PS. I was wondering why you would publish this on a Pakistani blog site, but then I remembered there are more Indians than us Pakistanis on ET :L Recommend

  • Prashant

    Being hospitable is a sub continental trait especially in the North and the North west of the subcontinent. There never was any surprise that Pakistanis would be hospitable to their Guests but is it allright to be a Guest in a place where in you should have been the Host.

    Not taking money from you when you shop shows the love and affection but the same people giving the status of a rockstar to Hafiz Saeed shows what…. I will leave it to your imagination.Recommend

  • rao amjad ali

    My Lahori family and friends join me in thanking you for gracing our city and your kind words will go a long way in reminding us that at the end of the long and tiring day as it has been, we are one people. Since your father’s umbilical chord is buried here in Pakistan, it is not difficult to fathom the rush of emotions he might experience about pretty much all things Pakistani.

    Indeed, once we have “walloped the mountain”, which by the way many of us feel we will, we hope that many more Indians will visit Lahore and enjoy the Pakistani hospitality.Recommend

  • Emran

    Thanx Sir, You made my day.Recommend

  • Malveros

    I hope you enjoyed your trip to Pakistan and took away good memories because memories are all what we are left with.Recommend

  • Zulfiqar Ali

    Glad you enjoyed your stay in our country… Also, thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. Hopefully relations will get better b/w India and Pakistan and your parents will be able to visit the ‘Land of Pure.’Recommend

  • optamist pathan

    Where are the trolls who think Pakistan is most biased and dangerous country in the world? Pakistanis are normal friendly people stuck in very abnormal situation. Pakistan went through so much since 9/11 but still we survived and will keep on striving for the sake of our children. Recommend

  • Anonymous

    Amazingly written…touching….Indian.Recommend

  • Arzoo

    Thank you Mr. Aneja for a beautiful and heart-warming write-up. I was dreading to read it fearing the recount of some ugly incidents, as we surely do not have a dearth of narrow-minded souls in Pakistan. But, as you found out, the great majority of Pakistanis are pure hearted, loving, humanitarian, and beautiful people, and as you said, “the most hospitable people in the world.” And, I have no doubt that this is the case across the border in India too.Recommend

  • Ali Raza

    What a refreshing piece, really enjoyed reading about your visit to Pakistan Rajendra, I dream of a day when people from both sides will travel without visas and checks like in Europe.Recommend

  • Zara

    Brilliantly written piece which brings back memories of my trips to Pakistan.
    I have many hindu and sikh friends here in the UK and I bond better with them than my non desi friends. We share a history, blood ties, food, music and the same rich culture. We share more than divides us.
    It saddens me therefore when I see the sometimes vitriolic words exchanged between Indians and Pakistanis on social media sites.. At the end of the day its politics that flames these deep seated prejudices. People at the end of the day always connect on a human level in the real world. We need to encourage more interaction between our two people .Recommend

  • Me

    Great article. Thank you for your kind words sir.Recommend

  • Mohammad Syed Husain

    Punjab Pakistan definitely welcomes any Indian, particularly Punjabi speaking, coming across the eastern border especially by land. The Sikhs are welcomed in Pakistan when they come for their religious observances and the government functionaries go out of their way to ease any hurdles in their travel and stay. I don’t think the common man holds any grudge from the partition era and Pakistanis are definitely better informed and more interested in Indian affairs than the Indians are.

    However, the common man in India is not so impartial, and allied to Government thinking, categories this country (Pakistan) as a rogue nation and blames it for terrorism perpetrated on Indian soil. They are also misinformed/under informed about anything to do with Pakistan.

    There may be some truth in the terrorism aspect though.Recommend

  • Sujit Yadav

    wow..srsly loved it. Thaanks for sharing. I love to hear about Pakistan.Recommend

  • Ali

    Thanks for writing the truth about Pakistan. It is true that the common man in Pakistan does not hold a grudge towards the common man of India. That too, is a misunderstanding many have. Glad you enjoyed your visit ^_^Recommend

  • DG

    We all look forward to that day by brother. I am ure the same is with all my brothers and sisters in Pakistan and Bangladesh. It is time we all acknowledge our shared history, culture, food and struggleRecommend

  • Talha Rizvi

    @ Prashant: Compared with what Pakistanis in India go through this was a positive experience. By the way the same logic of host and guest could be used by millions of refugees from India in Pakistan. As regards To Hafiz saeed tall words coming from those who glorify Bal Thackeray and Modi. We atleast didn’t make him our PM.

    @ optimist pathan: They are only here when some thing bad happens in case any thing positive is published they try their best to spread as much negativity as possible.Recommend

  • Napier Mole

    Lovely, heart warming article. I have visited India a number of times and have seen the same affection and lack of any animosity as the headlines would, otherwise, suggest.Recommend

  • Aseem

    when we are the same people then why did we separate? something was drastically wrong somewhere.Recommend

  • Bharat1

    Nothing like first hand info,its good you visited our neighbouring country.
    I would visit someday too. I am happy that you had a great time.Recommend

  • Prashant

    ” I remembered there are more Indians than us Pakistanis on ET :L”

    There are more Indians on this planet than any other countrymen except the Chinese and very few in the world of International terrorism.

    We are in massive numbers commenting on the world affairs including our immediate neighborhood which I think is pretty fine compared to using your energy doing something destructive. Call it a hobby if you like, we will not shy away from giving a piece of our mind to those we agree with and also those with whom we do not agree.Recommend

  • Prashant

    I have no doubt regarding the reception you would be getting going to the beautiful country of Pakistan. It would indeed be an amazing reception by the common man but your opinion of Pakistan which might have changed by then after the reception you get in Pakistan will be back to what an average Indian has in a very short period of time due to the acts committed by some Pakistanis and other Pakistanis being deaf to the concerns raised by India.Recommend

  • Prashant

    “It saddens me therefore when I see the sometimes vitriolic words exchanged between Indians and Pakistanis on social media sites.”

    How would more interaction among the people help? Would it reduce the terror activities emanating from across the border or would it help Indians live in the same denials that Pakistan finds itself in which makes Pakistanis believe that everything in the world is a conspiracy.

    Yes you are right, the politics of terrorism has to change else no amount of interaction will help as an Indian being nice to Pakistani and vice versa is simply being humble to others which cannot be construed as the people not having a bad opinion of the other person or the country.Recommend

  • Prashant

    “Where are the trolls who think Pakistan is most biased and dangerous country in the world? Pakistanis are normal friendly people stuck in very abnormal situation. ”

    People do not think, they have evidence which cannot be refuted even by Pakistan.

    “Pakistan went through so much since 9/11 but still we survived and will keep on striving for the sake of our children.”

    Let us hope we are not only going to give a better life to our children but the circumstances in the subcontinent would be such that they do not have to grow up with animosity for each other.Recommend

  • Saad

    There is a lot more to Pakistan than Hafiz Saeed.Recommend

  • نائلہ

    Did I stop you? No.Recommend

  • نائلہ

    “They are only here when some thing bad happens in case any thing positive is published they try their best to spread as much negativity as possible”- Tell me about it!!Recommend

  • vasan

    Tough : Neither Bal thackeray and Modi talks about annihilation of Pakistan or flying Indian flag in Lahore (Gazwa e lahore)_. Neither have organized a dozen gun trotting madmen to kill at anyone and everyone in Lahore or Karachi. So your comparison is pathetic.Recommend

  • vasan

    Not some but lots of truth about terrorism. Havent u lost 40K people due to madmen in Pakistan. Havent pakis organized mumbai mayhem ?Recommend

  • Khan

    Haha…. “Prashant” the second coming of Bal Thackeray…:) Take it easy my friend.Recommend

  • Khan

    and you may wanna drink some cold water too….!!Recommend

  • نائلہ

    Pakistan DID NOT organise the Mumbai attacks. The same men that killed 40 000 Pakistanis killed Indians.Recommend

  • Prashant

    I am sure there is but the soothing Moon in the night will not be remembered if you expose someone to the scorching Sun day in and day out.Recommend

  • antanu

    A good blog against stereotypical image of Pakistan made by our media. Recommend

  • abhi

    Nice blog!Recommend

  • Queen

    Wasn’t it Bal Thackeray’s and Modi’s RSS that dug up pitches so that Pakistani cricket team couldn’t play in India? Wasn’t it Bal Thackeray’s RSS which gate crashed Pakistani singers’ press conference in Delhi threatening them not to organize concert in India? Is it not Modi’s RSS which has promoted the concept of ‘Akhand Bharat’ and ‘Hindutva’? Is it not the RSS which has always talked about ‘Killing Pakistanis’ and ‘Eliminating Pakistan’ from the map?

    I wonder……Recommend

  • Gratgy

    Would it have mattered?No.Recommend

  • vasan

    Pl tell me whether RSS , Bal Thackeray etc have done anything damaging in Pakistan. What they did in India is our business.Recommend

  • vasan

    Pl tell me who organized mumbai attacks. Your National Security Advisor was sacked for admitting Kasab’s nationality as Pakistan. Do u know where your army has hijacked Kasab’s family.Recommend

  • Prashant

    Finally someone sensible.Recommend

  • نائلہ

    Ever heard of the Taliban? Do you think they are Pakistan’s well-wishers?

    Kasab’s identity was apparently Pakistani, and…..? Does that prove Pakistan organised the attacks?Recommend

  • OLG

    don’t spoil the spirit of article by spilling over here assumed facts, that are biased tooRecommend

  • CutishBeauty

    Loads of Thanks for writing GOOD things about Pakitan.Recommend

  • p r sahrma

    we create an image be it a person or the country based on the information ( which may be incomplete or partial) available at our end easily particularly if it is not coming from different ( impartial ) sources. We have access to the history books taught to us , domestic news papers , TVs, peer groups and we tend to believe the same as true which have a liking in our sub conscious mind. Our behaviour is a reflection of our minds and the attitude embedded to it. When something contrary to our belief is said / posted it hurts us and we explore arguments to justify our stand. The comments posted in ET too are/ can not be the exceptions. however we do come to know something which we do disagree publicly but do agree or compel us to think in a different perspective with the logic / rationale/ factual experience.

    I strongly believe that common men on both side of the borders are sensible & hospitable unless they get themselves influenced by the misinformation ( by the vested interest and also sometimes by those who innocently and firmly believe it to be true) continuously and start believing it which may reflect in their behavior.Recommend

  • نائلہ

    It’s a rarity. Recommend

  • harry

    My Pakistani friends always complain the cost of living in Pakistan is much higher than in India..Recommend

  • Pakka Indian

    Indians, accustomed to freedom of expression, love using their articulation power to comment and discuss and repudiate — few Pakistanis appreciate the power of rational discussion and ideas, given their holier-than-thou and self-righteous attitude — unlike most caged Pakistanis who are brainwashed from the cradle to the grave against Hindus, Sikhs, etc. and India.
    Thanks to the magic of the Internet, one can easily transcend boundaries and communicate with ease in a distant land. Thus, many Pakistani trolls, literally, invade Indian websites, leaving behind a colourful prosaic mixture of invectives, vulgar language and totally absurd comments. Sorry to say, you lack nation builders. We would love you guys, but you have to break out of your stone-age mindset.Recommend

  • piyu2cool

    Naive thinking. Common man in India has suffered at the hands of terrorists. Do you read the news? There was this incident called Mumbai massacre. My cousin was almost killed in that attack. So naturally Indians want the people who are responsible for violence to be punished. Recommend

  • madhu

    this is true- pakistan is a great country- so also is india- yes you have to ask why they separated- if 177 million muslims can live happily in india what was the necessity to separate and fight so many wars??? why?Recommend

  • Pankaj Singh

    26th August 2008, A son of an Indian Ex-Servicemen working in the British Company is subjected to Racism, Discrimination and Bullying by the Indian ,the son of ex-servicemen tolerates, tolerates till he slips into depression and then the son of ex-servicemen retaliates and make the racist indian shiver in the British Company. What did the Indians think, They will wipe of their own Indian, They did wipe him off but not before the demonstration to the Britishers and rest of the Nations that Indians . Led by the Rutht Purnima Ghag from Maharastra, The Indian women and I want to Question Anuj Bidve’s Father, how dare your maharastrians kill Indians on the British soil how dare you question britian for Killing your son.I also want to question Nirbhaya’s Mother, if she is a Mother and she knows meaning of what it means to lose a Child whom you have raised.

    No Britishers was racist towards Indians, No Pakistani , No Muslim, Britishers ensured Indians are looked after very well, but Indian Heinous Purnima Ghag wanted Entertinment and Death of Their own Indian, Is that Indian or Maharastrian Culture. The end result was Purnima Ghag’s associate were shivering like cowards in the British Company.Recommend

  • SatInd

    This is one of the stupidest arguments I came across. If a father reprimands his own son, its internal affair. If he does it to neighboring son, its external affair. What your people do to you is internal to Pakistan (the world empathizes although). If your people attack a neighboring state, you cannot and should not shirk away from the collective responsibility. For once you accept the responsibility and he how world’s view changes towards your country.

    Btw, the article was excellent and shows most pakistanis don’t carry any hatred towards India. The problem is at the state level.Recommend

  • L.

    Wow then you must not read much comments, correct? “Your people”?! The Taliban are not our people. Those who kill us are NOT one of us. Now you would be the stupid one to force an unwanted “son” on a “father”.

    Let me remind you Einstein, Taliban does NOT equal Pakistan. Thus there is no need for Pak to “accept” something it isn’t involved in. We can offer condolences, but to apologise would mean that we have committed the crime- which we haven’t.

    Glad it dawned upon your people that most of us have better things to do than wasting our time hating on India. Recommend

  • vijay

    Yes it does U created Taliban…. n support kashmir jihad..Recommend

  • Bahauddin

    Reading this article as a Bangladeshi feels good. I hope India will always with Pakistan.The hashtag #IndiawithPakistan has taken off in a matter of hours, despite the long history of antagonism between the two countries. You presence in our group of new community site will tell the world that India will be with Pakistan in next Future. I hope you will use https://www.mycomuniti.com/group/india-with-pakistan to support us and tell the world about the community.Recommend

  • joseph

    No, you supported, funded and trained the Taliban (terrorists). You can’t train a mad rabid dog and expect it to only bite your neighbour. Sooner or later it will attack the owner. That’s exactly what’s happening in Pakistan. You’re govt and army are responsible for it.Recommend