Pakistan, a voyage of discovery
The tall man strode into the hall attired in a white salwar-kameez, a pair of Peshawari shoes or khedis and a black jacket. The packed hall of 900 erupted into thunderous cheers and a standing ovation. Boys and girls jumped up with excitement, thumping their tables and filling the air with whistles. Writes Rajendra K Aneja.chandigarh Updated: Apr 26, 2014 08:50 IST
The tall man strode into the hall attired in a white salwar-kameez, a pair of Peshawari shoes or khedis and a black jacket. The packed hall of 900 erupted into thunderous cheers and a standing ovation. Boys and girls jumped up with excitement, thumping their tables and filling the air with whistles. The welcome befitted a rock star.
The gentleman in white moved to the stage and commenced speaking. He spoke clearly, simply and in elegant Urdu; every member of the audience could understand him. His thoughts were clear.
He stood for a multi-cultural and secular framework, believed in a corruption-free society, condemned attacks on minorities and their places of worship, had faith in the youth and economic development.
Seeing the shocked disbelief on my face, a Pakistani manager remarked, "For us, he is your Sachin Tendulakar, Virat Kohli and Amitabh Bachchan, all rolled into one!" True.
Imran Khan, the former captain of the Pakistan cricket team and now an important leader of the opposition, was generating mass adulation, bordering on hysteria. He represented hope and peace.
With his rugged, Pathani features, brilliant oratory skills and sincerity, Imran could have cemented a place in the movies; but he bravely chose a road not taken, secularism and modernity.
"Is it true that Muslims in India are persecuted?" a middle-aged woman asked me as I shopped for khedis for my dad, who had spend his childhood and youth in Lahore, the Paris of the East. I was in the crowded 200-year-old Anarkali Bazaar and was taken aback by the bold and blunt query.
"Madam, I could be the only Hindu and Indian in this ancient, beautiful market of about 15,000 Pakistani Muslims. Yet I shop here alone without fear. So how can about 177 million Muslims in India be frightened?" I asked her. "Remember, we have as many Muslims in India, as there are in Pakistan," I added.
The spring festival had adorned Lahore with bright yellow and pink flowers at every corner. Lahore after all these centuries still resembles a beautiful lass in bridal finery. It is clean and tidy.
The gurgling canal runs through the centre of Mall Road. Traditions blends with modernity, the ruins of Lahore Fort blend with modern villas and hotels.
Pakistan also teems with entrepreneurs. Seema runs 450 outlets of fashion garments, branded "Bareeze". Omar runs 400 outlets of a leading footwear, "Servis". Both are market leaders.
Romana has just launched a kidswear retail brand. Azfarbhai leads an event management organisation to enhance professional skills. Shazia runs schools in different parts of the country. These young entrepreneurs are the new face of Pakistan.
Shopping malls and traditional markets co-exist. Pakistanis adore tasty, delectable food as much as Indians. The aloo-paranthas, kulfis and chole-kulchas beckon connoisseurs of vegetarian food.
Despite the differences that plague the countries, Bollywood films and songs are immensely popular in Pakistan. Movies, music and cricket bond these distant neighbours. The moment a Pakistani delegate, shopkeeper, hotel staff realised I was an Indian, I would be transformed into a special guest.
I reflected here are two neighbours united by centuries of culture and tradition, but divided by a rottenly managed Partition and a mountain of misunderstandings.
India and Pakistan can break the mountains of misunderstandings one step at a time. The fresh, youthful breeze blowing across the countries may usher in new possibilities.