Friday, August 15, 2008


As I sit writing this piece, news channels flash breaking news of a suicide attack in Lahore, amidst reports of Pervez Musharraf deciding to finally submit his resignation.And that reminds me of Sushant's comment in response to my previous post.You are right Sushant, there are grave and serious doubts about a Pakistan post-Musharraf.There is a big question mark there, as to whether Musharraf's exit would actually mean a genuine transition to democracy for Pakistan or would it just make the country a perfect playing ground for fundamentalist and jehadi forces.Our national security advisor has already expressed his concern about the same.We can only hope that whatever happens, happens for the good of the two countries and their people.

Anurag in a reply to my last post wanted me to write more about Pakistan, its people and my experiences there.It's impossible to write all of these in one post, for I have quite a number of them.Therefore, I have decided to write them one by one as and when they come to mind, not necessarily in a sequence.I hope you won't mind the uneven and bumpy ride!

Pakistan was a total mystery to me (in many ways it still is!) till the summer of 2003.Close on the heels of my action laden trip to the war zone in Iraq , came the opportunity to visit the hostile neighbouring country.After almost a year and a half of military standoff following the attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001, relations between India and Pakistan were slowly beginning to get normal. And much to the relief of the natives of the two countries, new peace initiatives, or, as they say in diplomatic lingo, confidence building measures, were being announced left, right and centre. The two neighbours also announced to resume with much fanfare the stalled Delhi-Lahore bus service and journalists from both sides of the border were given a free ride aboard the much awaited Sada-e-sarhad (Call of the Frontier) ,as the service is officially called. As a part of the select group , I got the opportunity to savour the excitement and exhilaration of the historic moment firsthand. It took us eight hours to cover the 530 km long journey.

I remember the bus crossing Wagah border late in the evening amidst loud cheering and mad celebration. Emotions ran high as relatives from both sides hugged and cried and I felt a tug at heart.

Once in Lahore, we were literally mobbed by the local media, everyone wanting a sound byte or two and then there was the welcome party with garlands and flowers in their hands. The warmth of the locals was so overwhelming that we forgot our exhaustion completely.Those smiling, gleaming faces which looked so much like our own , the language and the mannerism so similar to ours took away all our inhibitions and we felt immediately at home.

A funny thing happened that night.Tired after the day's action, as I was preparing to retire in my hotel room, I got a call on the intercom. It was a local who introduced himself as a businessman.He wanted me to carry his message back home to the Indian Soap Queen, Ekta Kapoor that she should stop making those saas-bahu serials as they were becoming an obsession with Pakistani women.His lament was that his wife spent all her spare time watching the Ekta Kapoor soaps and doing so neglected him and the family completely.He also complained that all those devilish and crazy looking vamps in her soaps were a bad influence on Pakistani women and, consequently, the percentage of saas-bahu spats in their families had risen dramatically!! Assuring him that I would convey his message to Ms Kapoor, I hung up. Of course, the message was never conveyed and Ekta Kapoor continues to make those soaps to this day, not that she would have stopped spinning those crazy tales had I conveyed the message to her ! This funny little episode gave me an initial idea of the deep inroads that the Indian entertainment industry had made into the Pakistani society.More was to follow in the next few days.

My first trip to Lahore lasted only three days and I still remember the mad rush to squeeze as many stories as possible in that limited period. The trip was very, very restrictive and we could travel only with the Pakistani Information Ministry officials. Were we to venture out on our own, we had to be accompanied by an Information Ministry chosen local journalist who could keep a watch on the kind of stories that we were doing and ensure that we didn't do any negative stuff. The journo assigned to me was a family man in his forties and was extremely polished and sophisticated in manner.He often bad-mouthed Musharraf and his regime and said nasty things about the establishment and how it was not genuinely serious about improving relations with India.

I had a feeling that he said all those things just to instigate me to say more and reveal any negative intentions that I might be nursing as far as coverage was concerned. And I think, considering the long history of mistrust and hostility between the two countries, our suspicion of each other was but natural and pretty understandable. But not every journalist that I came across in Lahore had a motive or seemed to carry one. I had some truly wonderful experiences in that extremely warm and hospitable city. More of that later.


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