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Lahore becomes a melting pot where identities merge

Indian influx into Lahore continues, spawning more tales of how decades of hostilities have been put on hold, writes MK Razdan.

india Updated: Mar 24, 2004 01:37 IST
MK Razdan

The great Indian influx into Lahore continues, spawning more and more tales of how decades of hostilities have been put on hold as cricket lovers across the great divide celebrate the game to which they bring a passion uniquely sub-continental.

Never since India was partitioned 57 years ago have so many Indians been on the Pakistani soil at the same time. And that has created a kind of identity crisis in this bustling Pakistani city as it plays host to some 10,000 cricket-crazy fans from across the border, about 2,000 of whom have trooped in since India's win on Sunday with many more on the way.

At the famous Anarkali food market, total strangers are asking each other, "Bhaisaab, (brother) are you from India or Pakistan?"

It is a bit of a comedy of errors. A Pakistani poses this question only to learn that his interlocutor is a Pakistani too. But many locals find to their delight that the people they have posed the question to are indeed Indians and the vice versa.

In this unique, illuminated food market where the dishes you order are freshly prepared in your presence, it is indeed difficult to figure out who is an Indian and who is a Pakistani. As a Sikh gentleman from Chandigarh put it on Monday night good humouredly, "how does one figure out who is an Indian and who is a Pakistani? Same looks, same language. Only we Sikhs stand out clearly".

So it is at Anarkali that Indians and Pakistanis, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs occupy the roadside dining tables enjoying choicest mutton and chicken dishes as a band marches up and down the street as if it is playing for visiting Heads of State. The air is filled with the aroma of traditional Punjabi spices and bonhomie between the locals and Indian "invaders". Police vehicles with mounted machine guns escort the Indian team whenever it steps out of the heavily guarded Pearl Continental Hotel here.

Smart-looking commandos with "No Fear" emblazoned on their black T-shirts throw a ring around the cricketers, but vice captain Rahul Dravid, nevertheless, went to the crowded Anarkali shopping area where he was mobbed by Pakistanis. Sachin Tendulkar, arguably the most popular Indian in this country, spent most of his time yesterday in the hotel room but the moment he came down into the hotel lobby, Pakistanis, young and old, besieged him for autographs on whatever paper they could lay their hands on.

Two thousand six hundred (2,600) policemen and commandos were deployed at the Gaddafi Stadium for Sunday's game, but in the stands the Indians and Pakistanis, men and women, sat together, cheered together and jointly carried the flags of the two countries stitched together. It was as if they were supporting a joint India-Pakistan ‘Dream Team ‘against Australia.

Perfect strangers became good friends. One Pakistani businessman invited a Punjabi family from Jallandhar to move out of their hotel and stay in his big house.

The overwhelmed Indians said they would avail of his hospitality next time since they were returning home the day after the match.

Bowled over by courtesies, Balwant Singh, from Chandigarh, who is with a group of 20 family members, describes his visit to Lahore and the warmth as "the experience of my lifetime."

First Published: Mar 24, 2004 01:09 IST