A week in Lahore
It was 1982 when we were doing our internship at the government medical college in Patiala. The lure of working in a foreign land drove us to apply for the test conducted by the educational commission for foreign medical graduates in the US. The nearest examination centre happened to be in Lahore.
We were eight of us. After getting the visa from the Pakistan high commission, we got set for a seven-day visit, our first trip abroad.
We knew this was going to be more than a foreign visit. After all, our parents had migrated from Pakistan after Partition. They had vivid memories of towns and villages and were equally excited to see us head for Lahore.
My mother was the principal of a rural school at that time. One of the teachers at her school had also migrated from Pakistan. She told her that she was in touch with a childhood friend, who had settled down in Lahore. She wrote to her friend saying that her principal's son was to visit Lahore for a week and requested her to make arrangements for a comfortable stay.
I remember all eight of us interns reached Amritsar in the morning. I was thinking what gift I could take for the family we were going to visit. Someone suggested I take them a bottle of fine whiskey, as it was not available in Pakistan at that time. Without thinking about the consequences, I put the bottle in my bag and covered it with clothes. The immigration clearance at the Wagah checkpost did not take more than an hour. Luckily, our bags were not thoroughly checked.
The officers let us pass for we were doctors going to take a test in Lahore. At first sight, Pakistan looked very much like India except for the colourfully decorated buses. We boarded one for Lahore. It was decided that my friend Lakhjit and I would stay at the house of the teacher's friend. The six others were put up in a hotel.
With a letter of introduction in hand, I reached the gate of a posh house of Model Town, Lahore.
On reading the contents of the letter, the lady of the house extended a warm welcome. The family was in the advertising business and well-to-do. For the next five days, we were treated to the best culinary delights with at least eight varieties of mutton and chicken dishes to try out.
The day after our exam got over, we decided to explore Lahore on our own. Being a turbaned Sikh, I stood out with everybody wanting to say hello or shake hands with me. Lakhjit, who was clean-shaven, felt left out. He made amends by borrowing a turban from me and donning it for the last two days of our stay.
The bus conductor didn't charge us for a trip, saying we were guests in Pakistan. We went to a restaurant for lunch and were baffled to see the size of a Pakistani roti. We acknowledged the greeting of persons dining at the adjoining table. When we asked for the bill, the waiter told us that it had been paid by the occupants of the next table who had left by then. We were touched by the warmth and hospitality.
The day we left for Wagah, our host gifted us Pakistani suits for our families.
Lakhjit is a cardiologist in the US now but we often remember that week we spent in Lahore.
Three decades on, I still can't figure whether India and Pakistan are friends or foes but I'm certain that the people on both sides of the border share a rare bond.