Beggar at Ghazi Chowk


India-a-aa, India!

12 Apr 2010

Below is an excerpt from an interesting Op-Ed piece in the NYT, titled A Particularly Punjabi Quarrel:

“During my childhood in Indian Punjab, Pakistani Punjab was omnipresent. The reception from Pakistan TV out of Lahore was superior, and we consumed a daily diet of Pakistani serials, ghazals and news reports. We naturally chose to disregard the routine anti-India propaganda of PTV. Any visitor to our otherwise-nondescript town was always taken to the border to witness the “Beating the Retreat” ceremony. A colonial legacy, it signaled an end to the day’s hostilities as the khaki-clad men of the Indian border security force and Pakistani rangers in olive-green Pathan suits stiff-marched the length of the checkpost, dramatically eyeballed one another, flung the gates open, and, unsmiling, shook hands. A joint show by the two enemies, it provided a chance to gawk at the Pakistanis on the other side and see that they looked just like us.”

Manreet Sodhi Someshwar’s words reminded me of the time I crossed the border. It takes a while, and unfortunately we did on board a bus and not on foot, but it was still interesting. My teacher said “You’ve just lost a half hour of your life”, that of course was referring to the time difference and not to the time we’d spent in customs and border control. That was much longer.

On the way back though. I distinctly remember calling my parents from Atari, the Indian side of the border between Amrtisar and Lahore, from a Pakistani Jazz (very popular-cultured network) phone, which would not get any signals at Wagah (the Pakistani side of the border). Talk about security.

My host family’s driver was showing us around Delhi. Taking us to cheap bazaars all over. But everywhere we went, I would make sure to say I was Pakistani, because I would get such an overwhelming response. I remember the driver telling us something along the lines of “if a person from every country is standing in a line, and an Indian had to choose one of them to embrace, he would go hug a Pakistani”.

There’s an obvious love between Indians and Pakistanis. I remember chanting “India-a-aa India” when Pakistan was losing miserably at Qadhafi Stadium, Lahore (This chant led by a bunch of Sikhs in the middle of the stand and then cheered on by all the Pakistani fans around them). Some feel this has changed since the Mumbai attacks, but I can’t say first hand, my last visit to India was ’06. As of now, Sikh pilgrims, an important bond that held both sides of the Punjab together over the Radcliffe Award, are no longer granted visas to go anywhere, they can only visit cities specified in the visa, as reported here. The same thing applied when I went to India a few years ago. Even if the people want governmental tensions to leave them, efforts like this will still be there to stare us in our faces when we try to forget about the conflict. The conflict strengthens and reimposes itself on South Asians.