Bytes from across the border
On a recent trip to Pakistan, Monica Sharma shares her diverse experiences in the sisterlandtravel Updated: Nov 11, 2011 13:04 IST
It takes years to slowly climb the ladder of success in journalism, and people still don't recognise you by face -- well, unless you're Vir Sanghvi that is. But, it takes just a few minutes for a journalist, especially female, to achieve 'celeb' status while crossing the India-Pakistan border.
That's right! As soon as your feet touch Pakistani soil, local TV reporters rush towards the women journalists, who are a rarity in Pakistan. With mikes in hand, eager for a byte for TV, they promptly ask you to articulate your feelings about India-Pakistan relations.
So, on this five-day visit to Lahore to attend a media conference, I basked in my newfound glory. The VIP treatment continued throughout the stay.
Local television channels such as Kohenoor news channel and Express News were eager to have a panel discussion with the Indian journalists. And, get this -- you don't have to go to the television "sets" -- they come to you. The TV anchors erect the sets at the hotel itself, as the organisers of Lahore Press Club restrict entry.
But before we know it, after a fascinating five-day stay, packed with sightseeing and entertainment organised by the press club, it's time to go. As we leave the country and return to the south side of the border, reality dawns upon us. The VIP status quickly wears off and we are nothing short of ordinary, once again.
Onscreen Indian women have captivated the Pakistani audience for years. Fascinated by the persona of these desi girls, who are clad in heavily embroidered saris and jewellery from head to toe, the ladies from across the border are hooked onto Indian TV serials on Star Plus, Sony, Colors and more. India's smallscreen babes rule in the sisterland -- be it Balika Vadhu, Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai or the longest ever running Indian daily soap, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi -- local ladies love them all.
But, many are under the impression that reel and real life Indian lasses are one in the same. I had to clear things up. No, we don't sleep in our bridal saris with a face full of makeup and kilos of gold jewellery.
A Pakistani journalist revealed that these serials are even responsible for strained relationships between husbands and wives due to the battle of the remote control. In fact, he shared that these ladies remain glued to the television for at least two hours every evening, neglecting their household chores.
Pakistan's golden palki
The golden palki (palanquin) carrying Sikhism's holy text, the Guru Granth Sahib, was taken to the birthplace of the first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak Dev, in Nankana Sahib, near Lahore, in 2005. But the golden canopy could not make its way inside the sacred sanctorum due to its enormous size. It now sits in the courtyard just next to the sanctorum. In fact, initially its two pillars were also detached, as it could not be removed from the bus.
A glass-covered shed has been erected to keep the holy Granth Sahib safe in the golden palki. A guard is also positioned near the palki to protect it. Among others, a woman granthi has also taken up the important task to recite the holy text.
The palanquin, which is made up of 15 kg of gold, was presented by the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) after the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC) decided to replace the marble canopy with a golden palanquin.
The night food street in Chandigarh was constructed along the lines of the one in Lahore. In fact, Lahore's food street has more of a fan following than the one in Chandigarh, mainly because of the traditional Pakistani food available, especially the non-veg delicacies.
Tale of two cities
On a bus ride journeying through the historic city of Lahore, we drive past well-preserved monuments, free from the effect of time, with nothing more than the fallen leaves to litter the grounds. The Shalamar Gardens are reminiscent of Kalka's Pinjore Garden, only in a much better condition. The cities, however, are far from clean.
The five-day sojourn in the Paris of Pakistan, Lahore, is enough to cause a considerable dent in one's initial opinion of the place. The road, which twists and turns through the history of the city, took us to the historic fort and other sites from our hotel. These roads were not just wide and comparatively decongested, but also devoid of potholes, which characterise the freeways running through the length and breadth of the Indian cities.
The dazzling noon sun, apparently a bit too warm for October, brings to light some scribbles on the monuments as we reach Lahore Fort on day two of the trip. This reminded me of another trip, which I took to Hyderabad. Humayun's Tomb in Hyderabad and the Sheesh Mahal in Lahore (in the Lahore Fort) have more than just Mughal architecture in common -- they are both also marred by graffiti. But the two cities, both predominantly Muslim, have a startling difference -- that of the upkeep.
The tryst with the past in Lahore makes it abundantly clear that the Pakistanis have a bit more respect for their culture and heritage. Be it the Sheesh Mahal or the Shalamar Gardens, you cannot find faults with the upkeep. As you stand face to face with Lahore's past, it dawns upon you that India can only catch up to its sisterland across the border, if people pay more respect to their heritage.
A visit to the historic Anarkali Bazaar in Lahore, established by Emperor Jahangir, sets a familiar scene. The old market, Chandni Chowk, in Delhi as well as the bazaars in Lucknow and Hyderabad, share many similarities with those in Lahore. The structures, buildings, pathways and even the display of goods, is almost the same. Even shopkeepers have the same style of haggling with customers.
Anarkali Bazaar, one of the oldest surviving markets in South Asia, is reminiscent of the bygone era. It was named after Anarkali, the love interest of Mughal emperor Akbar's son, Salim. The bazaar is made up of a web of narrow passages and lanes extending towards Old Lahore.
While wandering through the tapered lanes of the market, you will find imitation royal Mughal style jewellery, pathani kurtas for men, suits with cotton lace for women, hair pieces and even the famous Hashmi Surma. The shopkeepers are open to negotiate on prices and the rates can be slashed down to almost half. And, if you are an Indian visitor, you will probably get an additional discount due to the 'Lahori Mahmanzi'.
Pakistanis love to watch Bollywood movies. Nothing wrong with that. But ask them who their favourite actors are, and the answer may come as a surprise -- no it's not the globe's most renowned veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan. Nor is it some of today's hottest stars such as Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn. Kareena is okay, but their hearts beat for Katrina Kaif.
The actors that topped the list of India's hottest are the Khans -- Aamir, Salman, and Shah Rukh. The elders give no justification for the rating. But a young boy does, "Of course they are our favourites -- they are bringing glory to the Muslim community worldwide."
In Pakistan, you are never alone. And, it's not just the uneasy feeling of being in an unfamiliar territory that accompanies you constantly. Day in and day out there is a third eye watching over you. No one really knows whether it's the Inter Services intelligence (ISI) keeping a tab on the activities of Indian journalists or just a strange coincidence that you feel like you're under observation.
But, one thing is for sure. Be it the hotel lobby or corridors, there are familiar strangers lurking about, struggli