OPINION

A Sudden Trip to Pakistan - Last Day Reflections in Lahore

September 19, 2006
Mayank Austen Soofi

[The author traveled to Pakistan in September, 2006]

The cool air was still and silent except for the subdued chirping of sleepy birds, their soothing noise filtering out from the leaf-padded branches of the thick Peepal trees. The street outside the guest house, situated in Gulberg - a premier residential and commercial district of Lahore - frequently tinkled with the ringing bells of early morning cyclists. The dawn darkness of the sky was streaked with the orange rays of a rising sun.

It was a new day in Pakistan; but my last here. The three-day visa was expiring in the evening. Four in the afternoon is the closing time for the gates at the nearby India-Pakistan border. It was time to leave and to make farewells. So, I concentrated on memorizing the scents and sights.

Not being sure of a repeat of the good fortune of landing up with a surprise visa to Pakistan, not being able to believe in the assurances that it could not be the last trip to Pakistan, I opened my eyes wide apart to take in and preserve the entire scene - the brown color of the brick walled guest house; the vines of the money-plant that had crawled around the roof of the foyer, the footprints of various people that had pressed into the gravel walk; the quiet deadness of the metal gate, and the orange shade of the sky that lay above Lahore.

I sucked the air in too.

Deep inside the guest-house, beyond the living room, beyond the grand piano, beyond the dining hall, across a narrow gallery was the kitchen where the cook, busy making oily parathas for the breakfast, was awakening every sleeping soul by the continuous clatter of his cooking weapons.

Not caring for the cook, I walked towards the metal gate. The Dawn newspaper was lying outside.

The heart smiled a sarcastic smile. It appeared so normal to wake up in the morning, to brush the teeth, to take a warm-water shower, to come out and pick a copy of The Dawn, to have tea, to contemplate about the breakfast menu, to plan for the day ahead.

To plan for the day ahead...but today there was no need to exhaust the mind. The itinerary was already fixed: a typical Pakistani breakfast of parathas and chickpeas curry, and then to Wagah, twenty miles away from Lahore - where Pakistan ends and India starts; where my real life would be waiting in revenge, eager to re-possess my soul let free for few days.

The life that I lived in the past three days was already becoming blurry. I had come to Lahore as a part of a delegation of Indians to demand, with the similar-thinking Pakistanis, for a visa-free South Asia. I had dutifully done the things expected of me: patiently sitting through the agonizingly long speeches and seminars, secretly praying for them to be quickly over in order to gorge on the customary banquets that take place at the conclusion of such events.

I had also visited all the necessary tourist traps - the forts, the mosques, the shrines, the food streets, the museums, and the gardens. I knew I would not miss them.

But I was feeling for the friends I would be leaving behind - for Mr. Abdul Rauf Malik, a soft-spoken, ageing communist and a collector of Lenin and Mao books; for fat and robust Mr Mohammad Yosaf Baloch of Balochistan who travel to Afghanistan almost every week; for the young, beautiful, Canada-born Ms Nusrat Sheikh who lives in Islamabad and suffers from depression; for the silent, sensible, book-loving software engineer Rizwan, from North West Frontier Province, who unsuccessfully helped me search for a fresh fruit juice stall one hot, muggy morning after I could no longer partake of oily curries as breakfast.

I was also sure to miss Ms Bakht Arif, a smart engineering student whom everyone called Rosy and who played the younger sister in a play organized especially for us visiting Indians on the evening of our arrival; the always-smiling biryani-seller Mr Nadeem Khan, of Rawalpindi, who spent good two hours gently convincing me to convert to Islam; the exquisitely beautiful Saira, a thirty-something dancing girl of the red light district of Heera Mandi, who seduced me with her eyes and anklets.

I do not imagine to easily forget Mr Naeem, the sculpturer, who gave me a ride in his vintage car, driving me through the old quarters of Lahore, and later treating me to dainty drinks in expensive cafes and to goat's testicles in cheap eateries during the midnight hours.

These men and women were good, honest and loving. Except Saira the dancing girl, I met all of them more than once. Except Saira, they all hugged me warmly each time we meet. Except Saira, they all exchanged e-mail addresses and phone numbers and promised to stay in touch.

Alas, it would be tough to meet them again. It is difficult for an Indian to get a visa to Pakistan; and for a Pakistani to get a visa to India. It is impossible to cross the border without it. Most sadly, it is hard to nurture friendships, however passionate, that are made so quickly and, particularly, when there are so scant hopes of meeting again.

The journey to Pakistan was almost over; and my dream was begining to end.

Mayank Austen Soofi owns a private library and four blogs: The Delhi Walla, Pakistan Paindabad, Ruined By Reading, and Mayank Austen Soofi Photos. Contact: mayankaustensoofi@gmail.com
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#1
S
September 19, 2006
10:38 AM

"I had come to Lahore as a part of a delegation of Indians to demand, with the similar-thinking Pakistanis, for a visa-free South Asia."

--Dude, visa-free India-Pak? Why dont we just hand over our country to Mushy dearest and his bunch of terrorists?

#2
Mayank Austen Soofi
URL
September 19, 2006
10:43 AM

S, try saying something original.

#3
Aaman
URL
September 19, 2006
10:57 AM

But seriously, Mayank, what are the arguments for lifting visa controls between the half-states that surround India, a three-fourth-nation?

One can easily list hard facts that make a case for stronger border controls, such as an influx of unemployable/low-skilled migrants, the security threat, the dynamics of excess labour driving down wages for those already here, etc. What's the counter-argument?

#4
Mayank Austen Soofi
URL
September 19, 2006
11:10 AM

Aaman, your concerns are valid. I'm planning to upload one Pakistani piece each day. I have already written one article which particularly answer your queries. There will be other posts too which would attempt to reason, directly or indirectly, that why it is wise to have a visa free India and Pakistan. Please be patient.

#5
temporal
URL
September 19, 2006
11:45 AM

"enemy country"?

sheesh! you sound like a jihadi

:)

#6
Mayank Austen Soofi
URL
September 19, 2006
11:52 AM

Come on, temporal. I did not really mean that Pakistan is an enemy nation. It is just one of those cliched labels that everyone gives when describing these two nations. I was merely playing on it.

#7
temporal
URL
September 19, 2006
12:15 PM

yeah cliches can be fun:)

#8
Naina Agarwal
September 19, 2006
01:36 PM

Guys
Screw paki stuff and get some indian stuff here. we dont wanna know how pakistan is doing ...our country first ..looks like all the folks on the blog are having a soft spot towards pak.

crap...this blog is useless ...

#9
Aaman
URL
September 19, 2006
01:49 PM

Naina, I suggest you read the name of this site again, slowly, and consider what it means to be not an island, bereft of the bonds of history and humanity.

#10
Durgesh
September 20, 2006
03:15 AM

Aaman,

Dude, I agree with Naina. What the fuck have Indians got in common with this country which only exports terror to the entire world.

You need to be alert otherwise this space would be hijacked by all these pakistani pimps like temporal and soofi.

#11
Aaman
URL
September 20, 2006
03:57 AM

Durgesh, again, read the name of the site - it's desicritics, not india-critics, and unless you've slept through geography and history all through school, we're still desis, like Pakistan.

and lay off the Kanye West colloquialisms, you ain't no gold-digger

#12
Monica Singh
URL
September 20, 2006
06:57 AM

Well !!!!!! mayank i think your article is super, even i can imagine those whole moments which u already experienced. i m not agree with other people becoz if we people will talk like that then what is the difference between us and the terrorists man !!!! so keep it up ;)

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