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Lahore musings

chandigarh Updated: Feb 18, 2013 14:22 IST
VK Kapoor
VK Kapoor
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In 1990, the Indian hockey team had gone to Lahore to participate in the world cup. I had accompanied the team. It was a grey afternoon when the Pakistan International Airlines flight landed. Our passports were taken and we were escorted to the hotel. The stamped passports were given to us at the hotel. The officer said, "Aawaam mein bahut gussa hai (There is a lot of anger among the people)".

I fixed up a meeting with the deputy inspector general of Lahore. After a few minutes of formal talk, we started conversing in Punjabi. The atmosphere became friendly. He briefed me about security arrangements for the team. I told him about the officer's remark of anger among the people.

The day Team India was to play, I sensed hostility in the air. General Tikka Khan, the governor of Punjab, was the chief guest. The moment the team started playing, spectators started hurling abuses. Some even chanted mourning rites and beat their chests. In one enclosure, schoolchildren yelled, "East or West, India is the worst."

The bazaars in Lahore were plastered with posters like "Kashmir banega Pakistan". It was a raw expression of hatred like the cry of a beast.

On a personal level, I found Pakistanis warm. In the evening, I walked down the food street for dinner. Whenever, I left the hotel, I knew I was under watch. When I reached a shop and ordered dinner, the person 'tailing' me whispered to the owner "sarhado paar (from across the border)". I was served food of my choice.

Suddenly, I saw some people getting together and whispering. I quickly finished food, and asked for the bill. The owner refused and all three of them told me that as long as I was in Lahore I should have food there. One old man said, "Watana di gallan karan ge (we will talk about our land)".

The mayor of Lahore hosted a reception for the team at Shalimar Gardens. He told me that had the country remained intact from the North West to Delhi, the prime minister would have always been a Punjabi - whether a Hindu, Muslim or a Sikh.

The bureaucracy, police and political class came from the rich, feudal class. I met a number of 'sardars', 'sahib zadas' and 'Khanzadas' in positions of authority. At a reception, I got talking to a former minister. I asked him how he kept himself busy. He replied casually that owned some land. "How much land?" I asked. He said, "Punj, che, railway station lagde ne (Must be five to six railway stations)."

Many a times, I caught the man tailing me looking at me intently. On the day of departure, I confronted him. He said the superintendent of police who had recruited him bore a marked resemblance to me. Both of you look as if you're born to the same mother, he added. I shook hands and gave him all the Pakistani currency I had.

In the plane, I was thinking about the umbilical cord that India and Pakistan shared. The two have the same culture, language and roots, but the decision of a few has affected the destiny of millions, forever.

"Lamhon ne khata ki thee sadion ne saza pai."