To India, With Love

Taha Sheikh went to Kolkata on a university trip for a conference seeking to pass down the indigenous heritage and culture of the land to the next generation  

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The idea of crossing the border, under the dark clouds of the political turmoil between the two countries, after the murder of Ranjit Singh, was daunting but a few of us were too crazy to care. Hence on the morning of 18th May, we met at our university (Beaconhouse National University) parking lot and left for the Wahga border, to attend the First International Spic Macay convention in Kolkata, India. Spic Macay is basically a voluntary organization for the promotion of Indian classical music and culture. It has chapters spread all over India and even abroad. For a voluntary organization, their work is phenomenal.

Crossing the border in the scorching heat of May was nothing less than torture 

Crossing the border in the scorching heat of May was nothing less than torture especially when we had to wait for more than three hours on Indian soil for our bus to arrive. Luckily for us, the Indian customs did not give us a tough time and were very kind when checking our bags. Even then, they had a black dog (which oddly resembled one of the dire wolves from A Game of Thrones) which stared down each and every one of us. And on top of that, he insisted on walking right up to us to make sure that all of us were aware of his presence.

Anyways, after a twelve hour long tiring journey through bus, we finally reached New Delhi at four in the morning. And to our shock found out that we had to board the train to Kolkata at six. Luckily we were made to wait for those two hours in the VIP lounge of the railway station, which was able to resurrect some of us, especially after we got free wifi access. The lounge itself was brilliant, with delicious food which the thirty-three Pakistanis raided like savages. Well, I guess it was justified, since all of us hadn’t eaten good fresh food in the last twelve hours with the exception of the one stop we had made at a shady restaurant.

And so our journey for Kolkata began in our non AC sleeper. Most of us were travelling on a train for the first time. But before any of us settled into our seats, manoeuvring through the railway station platform was an interesting sight where people do not understand the phrase, ‘ get out of my way.’ Finally after stepping over dozens of innocent feet and injuring some with our gigantic suitcases, we were able to settle into our seats.

The train began to move and thus began the longest twenty four hours of our lives. I had travelled by train before but the people who were new to it were in for a torturous time. The monstrous sun began to boil our skins as the afternoon approached and most of us knew that our end was near. That was just one of the dramatic reactions by my peers which went on for several hours. Some kept fanning themselves with newspapers, some snuck into the A.C parlours, while others chose to fall asleep (I was one of them who slept their way through the ride). On top of that, the heat messes with everyone’s heads as all of us became cranky and the smallest things ignited quarrels.

That was not the worst part of the train ride, the toilet situation was quite interesting

That was not the worst part of the train ride, the toilet situation was quite interesting. I am sure Pakistani train toilets are not pretty as well, but using toilet paper on a moving vehicle was by far the weirdest thing I had done on the journey. First, I knew I had to be fully equipped: hand wash, hand sanitizer (using it after using a hand wash shows how paranoid I was), toilet paper, extra pair of pants (you know just in case), deodorant (not for me but to make the pungent smell of latrine go away). Then to find my balance in the toilet making sure that nothing spills and I come out of there as clean as possible. Every time I used the toilet, I missed the simple invention known to us as Muslim shower so much. One definitely appreciates the little things more once they are gone.

The train ride wasn’t entirely bad, especially after sun set it became quite fun. One of the Indian students who was also travelling to Kolkata to attend the convention had a guitar and thus began the antakshri competition. Interestingly, us Pakistanis knew more Indian songs than the Indians themselves. That musical night definitely rejuvenated our spirits towards attending the convention.

Kolkata is breathtaking with its well-maintained apartment buildings, old temples and colonial houses

We finally reached Howrah railway station in Kolkata before sunrise and were warmly welcomed by the humidity. One annoying thing about travelling in a large group is that you are constantly counting heads making sure that nobody gets lost in a foreign land. Our journey still hadn’t ended; we had to take another bus ride of forty minutes to get to the university campus where the convention was being held. But the beauty of Kolkata made even that bearable. The city is just breathtaking with its well-maintained apartment buildings to old temples to colonial houses. Especially the Howrah bridge, which is a brilliant architectural structure that adds to the beauty of the city. Driving through the city felt like I was watching an old Indian movie.

And then, after a two day long journey, we reached the Indian Institute of Management, the venue of the magnificent convention. The university campus itself was beautiful with a gorgeous lake in the centre of it. All of us were given rooms in the hostel building and the moment we reached there, most of us crashed on the beds and fell asleep, others were overjoyed at the sight of a Muslim shower in the washrooms.
IMG_3524The experience of the convention was rather interesting as the schedule was jam packed. We had to wake up early in the morning at 3:45 to attend the yoga at 4. There were two kinds of yoga: Hatha yog and Naad yog. The former is done through different physical postures while the latter is done through sounds. It was an intense experience to attend both kinds of yogas in the morning. After that we were served breakfast in the mess and later we had to attend our intensives for three hours. This was everybody’s favorite part of the day as there was a range of interesting intensives ranging from various traditional forms of painting to Hindustani vocals to sculpture to Kathak to Bharatnatyam and many more.
_K8A8388Other parts of the convention consisted of us attending fascinating concerts of sitar, Hindustani vocals and violin along with inspiring performances of Kathak and Koodiyattam. For me the highlight of the convention were Ustaad Deboo whose dance was pure magic, especially his phenomenal whirling, and the talks by Shri Jogen Choudhury and Anjolie Ela Menon on painting and their techniques.

The schedule of the convention was a bit overwhelming for most of us in the beginning and we did struggle with it, but soon things began to settle down as the hospitality of the volunteers and the friendliness of the Indian students from all over the country made us feel at home. Even when many of us acted in a bratty manner the volunteers of the convention remained very patient with us.
IMG_9991The idea behind the convention is quite brilliant; to pass down the heritage and culture of the land to the next generation. The main purpose of the organization is to inspire the youth and make sure that the diverse arts and culture of the land do not die out. The man behind the organization, Mr Kiran Seth, with whom we met later in New Delhi is one of the most humble people I have ever come across. All of us chatted with him for more than an hour and discussed the importance of the initiative he has taken and how arts is the one thing that connects both these countries. The memories I bring from this convention are very precious and this convention has truly enriched all of us by exposing us to some of the legendary artists of India.

Comments
6 Responses to “To India, With Love”
  1. shekhar jat(from india) says:

    these kind of exchanges should be welcomed and promoted from both sides i feel like travelling to pakistan and visit temples ,gurudwaras,mosque(if kafirs are allowed) and mazars also places in and around lahore city.

  2. sandipan khan (from Kolkata) says:

    Every morning and afternoon [5 days a week], I have to step in Howrah Station which entering the city of Kolkata from my suburban town to attend my job. Surely, as this afternoon I will go past Howrah Station to catch a crowded local train, I would feel for you that a tourist from my neighbouring country had passed through this place after passing though so many formalities.

  3. Anum says:

    Well written, I like the use of sensory details and amazingly I read the whole article! Rarely ever happens :).

  4. Asna says:

    Taha

    I must say , you have done a brilliant job writing this . Brought back so much of good memories. We surly have made the most amazing memories there . Meeting people from the other side of the border and their so much of love , is something hard to put in words . I really hope one day the hate between the governments come to the end . Ameen

    Thank You so much Taha for sharing 🙂

  5. Rafiya Hasan says:

    It is wonderful and rare to get an opportunity where you are exposed to all art forms of a particular region. Even more wonderful is when all this happens in a completely new environment, with no connection to ‘home’ or the familiar. Put all that aside and you realise that it was the journey that made the whole trip even more precious. The heat, the long waits, hunger, uncomfortable train ride and even the absent muslim shower have all contributed to the memories you have made! I bet they will resonate for a long time.

  6. Usha says:

    Hello Taha

    Just to get a better understanding of life across the border , pray what is a ‘ Muslim Shower ‘ ? Are non muslims barred from using it ?

    Usha

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