Our soils are parted, let’s not part our souls.
I said, “I want to go to Pakistan…” but, I couldn’t finish before the reactions came flying in:
“There are so many new places you can see, then why Pakistan?”
“If a war starts between India and Pakistan, the first thing they will do is seal the borders and you will be left on the other side forever.”
“Believe us, it’s not safe to go there. You won’t even get a US visa after this.”
Born and brought up in a Punjabi family, with an understanding of the Muslim world which was unfriendly, to say the least; these reactions were not all that surprising for me.
But there was still the question of whether a good part of this resentment did not flow from ‘Islamophobia’ or the lens through which the world sees Pakistan i.e. as a haven for the world’s al Qaedas and Talibans.
So I was clear: I wanted to go and find my own answers on the other side of my very own Punjab.
I reached Amritsar a day before, with fingers crossed but still clueless about whether I would even get the visa. Finally, everything fell into place and it ended with a lot of, “We cannot believe you are doing this…” lines.
I was going as a part of a 16-member peace delegation for a conference on South Asia People’s Union, and among the very few members who were visiting Pakistan for their first time. Everybody asked the youngest delegate in the team, “How do you think Pakistan will be?” And, that mounted my excitement even further.
The moment we crossed Wagah and got to the other side, a chill ran down my spine at the sight of the place where a suicide bombing had followed the daily parade, exactly a week before. And I caught myself chanting all the Sanskrit mantras I knew at mind-boggling speed.
A shower of rose petals by our Pakistani friends who had come to receive us at the border, was something I had definitely not expected. The South Asia Partnership (SAP) Pakistan’s team rolled out the red carpet and gave us a very warm welcome.
We directly headed for lunch at one of the members’ place. And in my first few hours there, I was at a complete loss at making out any difference between them and myself. We looked similar, wore similar clothes, ate similar food and spoke the same language; that same Punjabi with the same accent, except for the ‘Haye Rabba’ I burst into and the ‘Haye Allah’ they burst into, while laughing.