A story of Love and Indo-Pak relations through social media— we are One Genetic Chain
By Parmod Pahwa
My friend Surjit Anand has long been active on the social media where he has made many Pakistani friends. His parents migrated from the Pakistani side of Punjab during 1947 and passed away in Delhi remembering their birthplace.
One day I asked Surjit to join me at a Qawwali hosted by Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi. I noticed his sentiments towards Pakistan and his passion for Pakistani food and people. He longed to visit Pakistan and to salute the soil where his parents were born, saying ‘Salam hai us chaman ko jesney mujhey gulzar keya’ (salute to that soil from which I budded).
He finally made plans to visit Pakistan and submitted a visa request, invited by a friend in Pakistan who sent the necessary documents. One day he got a call from the High Commission’s visa section to collect his passport. The visa had been issued. I accompanied him to the embassy, waiting outside the gate in his car while he went in.
He came out dancing and jumping like a schoolboy who had received an A++++ report card. He hugged his driver and shouted “Vishnu puttar (son), I got it!”
It was a Friday evening. He rushed to my office, grabbed my chair and computer and without asking booked two air tickets for Amritsar. I told him that I was planning to travel on Monday, as I wouldn’t be able to have any business meeting over the weekend. But he was so excited and in such a hurry that he compelled me to leave in just five hours. I could not refuse and by early morning the next day, we were in Amritsar.
We were among the first to cross the white line known as the International border between India and Pakistan. Two nations with one soul divided by politics not people. As we crossed, the officer on duty asked to see our passports. Surjit tossed his passport to the officer and fell on the floor in a sajda (prostration), and kissed the soil just a few feet from our legal nationality.
The officer told me that many non-Muslims from India perform sajda here — something our Border Security Force (BSF) jawans from UP or Bihar (non-Punjab) states find difficult to comprehend.
At our hotel near the Lahore Press Club, friends and well-wishers began to drop by to welcome us. The hotel manager noticed with surprise how many chahney waley (people who love us) we had. “Aap to sab key khas mehman hai” – You are everyone’s special guest, he commented.
We went for dinner at the famous Village restaurant with some friends – businessman Anas Butt, journalist Sajjad Pirzada, and Tarnjeet Singh, a Pakistan television anchor.
I had visited Lahore before and took things in my stride but Surjit, in Pakistan for the first time, found it hard to believe that he was in a country that many fellow Indians see as the epicenter of terror. He was surprised to see girls in public not wearing burqa and people in general who seemed perfectly ordinary and moderate, enjoying their dinner like anyone else.
The restaurant owner knew Taranjeet Singh and me so we got royal treatment. Anas bhai won the billing war. Taranjeet Singh then took us to the area known as Race Course for coffee at midnight. Again Surjit found it hard to believe he was in Pakistan, given how many perfectly respectable looking women were out with their families – no burqa. Nor did we see any bearded fanatics on horseback with sticks and guns. The roads were excellent and clean.
The next day we hired an auto rickhaw to sightseeing — and give my friend a new birth (jinne Lahore nee vaikhya o jameya nae, as the saying goes – he who hasn’t seen Lahore has not been born). After Minar-e-Pakistan, Taranjeet Singh welcomed us at the Maharaja Ranjit Singh Gurudwara and Samadhi.
At around 1 pm, the hotel called asking where we were. There had been some blasts followed by protests. The authorities had deployed two armed men for our security and wanted to bring us back to the hotel for our safety. We had police-reporting exempted visas and had not informed any authorities of our arrival. However, we appreciated the local authorities’ gesture and attempt to look after “foreign” guests.
The following day I had some business commitments, then went for my mandatory visit to Hafizabad, the town of my forefathers. The people there refuse to accept any excuse and feel insulted if I do not eat with them, seeing me as an elder son of their family who lives in India.
Our young friend Babar Jallandhri from Lahore, who runs a peace group with 15,000 members on Facebook, accompanied us motivated only by affection.
I thought it would be good for Surjit Anand to see how the real Pakistan lives in villages and to meet with honest people. We have no blood relations there. Surjit Anand himself was just a friend of an Indian whose forefathers were from this soil.
I jokingly told him to beware of terrorists in the wilderness around the village. He smiled but his eyes grew moist with tears. I felt as if some souls of my elders were requesting me through his eyes, “Please my son, don’t insult this Pakistan soil even in a joke.”
Surjit stayed behind for a few days after I returned to India. I heard that within 24 hours he had become a member of a huge family – a Chachu, Mamu and Puttar (uncle and son) instead of Surjit Anand Sahib.
When he set off for Faisalabad (formerly Lyallpur) where his mother was born over 70 people came to the Kot Sarwar rest area at the Motorway to see him off. He says that this was the first time since his mother’s death that he wept again like a child, moved by their love.
In Faisalabad, my local friend and business associate Rehan Naseem Bhara took him to Mandir Wali Gali where he searched for the house where his mother was born. Overcome by emotion, he did a sajda and kissed the steps leading to the house.
He recently returned to India with three full bags and is still floating on air with the love he received. As he left Pakistan, he again did a sajda, kissed the soil and thanked the Almighty for enabling his one remaining dream to come true.
For Surjit Anand, his Pakistan visit was a pilgrimage. He came to see me the very next morning, to bless me again and again.
He now has another wish: “ONCE MORE TIME PLEASE; this time with family.”
Parmod Pahwa is a frequent visitor to Pakistan who is an Indian businessman. He believes in Dosti (Friendship) and recounts the story of his friend Surjit Anand who made a cross-border visit for the first time with the help of social media friends.