India at Last

Taj Mahal high

Taj Mahal high

At the beginning of this year the revival of cricketing ties between India and Pakistan gave me an opportunity to visit India at long last. Travelling restrictions had always ruined my plans to visit India but this time around the visa process went smoothly thanks to my friends and some contacts in the Indian embassy and I ended up with a visa to Amritsar, Delhi and Agra. Having grown up on a steady diet of Pakistan Studies propaganda which taught us how different we are from Indians and how it was impossible for us to coexist with them, the trip turned out to be real eye opener, something no Pakistan Studies text book could ever teach me.

For starters, it was hard to tell that we were in a different country after crossing the Wagah border. India seemed to be like a continuation of Pakistan. Despite having crossed the Wagah border, the topography remained unchanged. Our Sikh cab driver made us feel welcome as we discussed our shared history and culture – the similarities and how the same clans exist on both sides (Warraich, Cheema, Sandhu, Virketc). Being in Amritsar, we realized the fondness and the bond Sardarjis felt towards us – the amount of interest generated when they found out where we were from was heartwarming to say the least. From inviting us to their homes, to offering to show us around, they made us feel very special.

On landing in Delhi, we made a list of all the places we wanted to visit. Our first stop was Humayun’s tomb whose similarity to the TajMahal we were struck by; to our surprise we found out that the inspiration behind the architecture of the Taj was in fact Humayun’s tomb. For someone who was quite notorious for bringing about the downfall of the Mughal Empire, the structure was expectedly extravagant. Akbar, who is regarded as one of the greatest Mughals has quite a simple tomb in comparison in Agra, which is overshadowed by the TajMahal. However, not many people throng Akbar’s tomb which is quite a pity considering his contributions to the Mughal empire.

Go Pakistan!

Go Pakistan!

A lot of Indians we met highly recommended a South Indian vegan restaurant called “Saagar”.  Despite being Lahoris used to meat being the attraction of our meals, the vegetarian food here was, to say the least, delectable. They had a variety of dosas, chaats and other delicacies.  Each was seasoned in the most balanced manner to make up for the lack of textures and tastes of meat. The food was good enough to make a Lahori like myself, not crave meat for the rest of my trip. The South Indians are real experts at making vegan cuisine a choice worth exploring.The evening before the Pakistan-India game turned out to be rather exciting, as we had to go to the team hotel to get a hold of the match tickets for the next day. A friend of ours had spoken to the Pakistan team manager who happened to be his uncle and he agreed to give our group match tickets. ITC Maurya, where both teams were staying was full of autograph seekers and cricket fanatics waiting to catch a glimpse of their favourite cricketers. Our first celebrity sighting came in the form of Yuvraj Singh who was walking with some swagger towards the gym keeping at bay around 20 people following him, begging for an autograph or a picture with the cancer surviving superstar of Indian cricket. One of the guys in our group shouted loudly in Punjabi “Yuvraj brother I’ve come all the way from Lahore to see you”. Yuvraj stopped in his tracks, walked towards him and asked in Punjabi “Are you serious?” My friend promptly flashed his passport to Yuvraj who got quite excited, shook his hand and gave my friend’s phone to one of the autograph seekers so he could take a picture. The people surrounding Yuvraj could not fathom what was going on and wondered what was so special about Lahore that got Yuvraj to give us so much attention. Throughout the trip we reaped dividends from playing the Punjab and Pakistan card.

Throughout the trip we reaped dividends from playing the Punjab and Pakistan card.

Qutub Minar under my index finger

Qutub Minar under my index finger

The next morning at the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium, we couldn’t contain our excitement. The magnitude of a Pakistan India cricket match cannot really be put into words, and being there in Delhi to witness the game live was an experience at another level. The history between the two countries and the political tinge attached to a Pakistan-India game with over two billion people watching it across the globe always makes it more than just a cricket match. We donned our Pakistan team jerseys and strode towards the stadium waving the Pakistan flag while chanting slogans. The atmosphere was electrifying and even though Pakistan had already won the series, the stadium was jam-packed. The Indian supporters vastly outnumbered the Pakistanis. When we entered our stand we realized we were the only 4 Pakistanis in a stand of about 700 people. The Indian police had confiscated our flags and banners at the entrance, which was quite disappointing considering we saw a lot of Indian flags in our stand. Inside the stand, we were the center of attention. Every time an Indian player took a wicket or scored a boundary the entire stand erupted and turned towards us shouting, dancing and celebrating. In the pin drop silence that ensued when a Pakistani player did well, we shouted our voices hoarse making our presence felt. For most of the match, the Pakistan team was on top and since we were making a lot of noise it felt like the Indians were watching us more closely than the match itself. There was great camaraderie and a lot of friendly banter between the Indian supporters and us. They came to shake our hands and have their pictures taken with us making us feel like real celebrities.

You could almost mistake it for the Badshahi

You could almost mistake it for the Badshahi

The Indians were quite curious about Pakistan and an Indian boy in his team jersey came to us and said that it was his fantasy to sit down with Pakistanis and talk about India and Pakistan. People were generally of the opinion that the media and politicians create a lot of divide, the problem lies not between the people of India and Pakistan who share a lot of love and mutual respect but the leaders themselves.  An Indian man told us a heartwarming story of his visit to Lahore to witness a Pakistan-India match back in 2004, when a poor old man came up to to him, handed him Rs. 50 and said that this is all he had but he wanted him to keep it as a token of love from a Pakistani to an Indian.  Random Indians invited us to their home, gave us food at the stadium, it was quite a humbling experience and not what one expects being a Pakistani coming to India.

After the match a group of Kashmiris came to meet us, they were all supporting Pakistan and were quite disappointed with the way Pakistan threw the game away when the match was in the bag. One of them said ‘Though Pakistan has won the series we would’ve liked to see them conquer Delhi, but at least they’ve lifted the trophy in Delhi’, underlying the political significance of Delhi as the seat of power in the subcontinent. The Indians were quite supportive at the conclusion of the game and in the true spirit of sportsmanship congratulated us on a hard fought game and a series well won.

Random Indians invited us to their home, gave us food at the stadium, it was quite a humbling experience and not what one expects being a Pakistani coming to India.

With Kuldeep Nayar

With Kuldeep Nayar

Our foray into the historical sites of Delhi continued the next day when we decided to visit the Qutub complex. The QutubMinar is the biggest testament to the historical symbolism of Delhi, it was said that whoever conquered Delhi ruled the rest of the subcontinent. The multiple layers of history were evident as one set eyes on the Qutub complex – ancient Islamic architecture mingled with Hindu architecture, different cultures, languages blended in together hold testament to the transfer and fusion of knowledge that has taken place over time. The TajMahal, which we later saw in Agra, in all its opulence, did not impress us as much as the Qutub complex. Beautiful and breathtaking as it was, it stood as a reminder of the decadence of Mughals who nearly left the empire penniless in building the structure.

Luckily for us, our trip coincided with the birthday celebrations of the revered Sufi saint HazratNizamuddinAuliya. In the evening with Delhi experiencing one of its harshest winters in 40 years we decided to pay our respects at the shrine. SadiaDehlvi, an author and a patron of the shrine was kind enough to take us there. Some of India’s best qawals were going to perform at the shrine all night. Once we entered the shrine, the warmth being exuded by the spirituality at the shrine engulfed us. We saw people from different religions sitting together in peace and harmony swaying to the qawali. There seemed to be a lamp of love for all religions. The message of the Sufis is love for God and mankind regardless of race, caste, creed or religion and on HazratNizamuddin’sAuliya’s birthday this message seemed to be resonating quite powerfully.

During the course of our trip we came across some fascinating people. Our hosts in Delhi made us feel right at home. We had gotten in touch with Sahba, a Himanchali living in Delhi and Adnan, a software engineer and history buff, through a friend and they went out of their way to make our trip comfortable. Where else in the world will you find people taking days off work for near strangers and treating them as their own family? One of the highlights of the trip for us was meeting the veteran journalist and peace activist KuldipNayar. The man is an inspiration for many and a living legend. His efforts towards bringing the people of Pakistan and India together are exemplary. Being born in Sialkot and educated in Lahore, he is an eyewitness to the partition and has lived through the entire history of post partition India and Pakistan. He narrated an interesting incident when he led an Indian delegation to Pakistan, which consisted of some anti Pakistan MPs. Having experienced Pakistan and its people one of the MPs asked KuldipNayar‘Pakistan keddoshuruhuiga?’ (When will Pakistan begin?). We discussed the politics of India and Pakistan and the impediments to peace. KuldipNayar’s work and persona is an embodiment of how the relations between Pakistan and India should be.

DSC01017The trip was a great learning experience. It was an exploratory trip as well in trying to understand the genesis of Pakistan for ourselves. Our knowledge of partition and India is rather warped since it comes from the books we’re taught at school, Bollywood movies and the media. So it is essential for there to be an increase in people to people contact between both countries to help us in trying to understand each other better and to acquire a deeper understanding of the history of the subcontinent. Only then can there be a chance of long term and sustainable peace between India and Pakistan.

The road leading back to Lahore from Amritsar is a straight one and is separated by two gates at the border, one each for India and Pakistan. I looked backed at the Indian side for the last time and the irony of the hate filled propaganda, which makes peace so distant between India and Pakistan, struck me. We are a people who have lived together for centuries. As one Indian shopkeeper on finding out I was from Pakistan had remarked: “There is so much love between the people of India and Pakistan, it is these politicians which make things complicated”. The India I had experienced was very different from everything the prejudices of my upbringing had led me to expect.

As I crossed the border and entered Pakistan, the Border Security Force guard hugged me, welcomed me back to Pakistan and asked what I thought of India. I smiled and thought of the remark made by the Indian MP to KuldipNayar who didn’t realize he had even left India when he was in Pakistan. I could now truly relate to what he meant. We both felt we had been at home, albeit burdened by the weight of history.

The writer is a lawyer and researcher based in Lahore. Twitter handle @jalalhussain Email address: [email protected]

3 Responses to “India at Last”
  1. anonymous says:


  2. govind says:

    I would humbly like to submit that Shahjahan did not spend more than 5 % of 1 years revenue on the TajMahal, please also consider the employment it generated for labourers, stone masons etc.

    It is not the same as spending crores on a rolls royce which benefits only foreigners

  3. PRAVIN KARKHANIS , Mumbai says:

    I had the same experience when I travelled in Pakistan way back in 2004 to witness India-Pakistan cricket matches played at Karachi , Rawalpindi, Peshavar and Lahore. I have penned down my travel story in my book , titled ” Manzil-e maqsood…..Pakistan ” originally written in Marathi which is susequently translated in Hindi , I sincerely wish that it should further be translated in Urdu so that your countrimen could also enjoy reading it. I firmly believe it could help building the bridges of friendship between Indians and Pakistanees

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