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Indian Journalist's Pakistan Experience: Assi Lahore dekhya!

Thursday, October 29, 2009 02:46:56 PM, Rana Ayyub

Yes Yes, I am back from my first ever Pakistan visit. The stress on the 'yes' is for the reason that for the past five days odds, I have been inundated with messages and phone calls if I was safe and alive. "We told you not to go "messaged a couple of friends post the spate of terror attacks in Pakistan and unfortunately I had to be in the country just around the time. In a way the entire enthusiasm post my return from Lahore, yes the city of Manto and Iqbal was eclipsed by the terror mania.


It reminded me of the conversations with the young guys in Lahore's famous liberty market. The most handsome men speaking in Punjabi accented Urdu. (Btw that kinda leftover its impact on me. Ever since my return I have been concluding all my sentences with hondi hoya and types).

I was in Lahore to attend a conference of South Asian women in Media. The best part about the conference though was the interaction with women journalists of SAARC countries, which meant meeting the likes of Moldavian and Afghanistani journalists, which was a treat. It was a delight and an enlightening experience hearing the tales of grit and courage from this bunch of women who were accompanied by their 6-month-old babies. The moments that made my trip a memorable experience was just meeting the local people there. Amazingly warm, their hospitality embarrassed me of our own perceptions and bias that we have against a nation which we now are on hostile terms with.


Shopkeepers offered to keep their shops open for us on a Sunday, which is a non working day. The dupatta shop waala insisting that we have a cold drink with him and calling up his father to inform him that Indians were visiting the shop. The mochi (cobbler) who gave me a peck on my forehead and called me gudiya. "Gudiya, tu itthe baith. Meri photo khincha tere saath aur bambai le jaa. Woh log bolenge ki ye insaan to hamaare jaisa hi dikhta hai".




While all these moments endeared them to me, they also made me ashamed of my perceptions and opinion of the 'hostile nation' and its citizens.

I am sure Pakistan is facing a turbulent time. I am sure the issues between India and Pakistan are grave and need serious attention and strategies but what is more serious a problem is the internal situation that both the countries face. The day I left India for Pakistan, there was a major naxalite attack in Gadchiroli killing 22 policemen. The day I reached Pakistan Peshawar and Islamabad were bombarded with terrorist attacks and a day after my return it was Lahore were we had stayed which bore the burnt of these attackers who were killing 4 year olds in the name of religion or in the name of paradise as a newspaper headline captioned it in the above picture. The Pakistani youth like its Indian counterpart is appalled at the game of death and terrorism that have overtaken the two countries.

Aslam was one such individual. A Medical student, he was managing his fathers dress material shop in his father’s absence when we went visiting. "Agar mera bas chale na mam, to aaj hi chale jaaon yahan se..ghutan hoti hai ab".


The anger is directed more at the politicians, at the likes of the Zardaris and the Miya Nawaz who they believe have sold the country. While we were at the Conference, the controversial Kerry Lugar bill was the subject of discussion everywhere and as we journalists were trying to figure out stories revolving around the same, came the first attack.

The attack in the midst of it is symbolic in more ways than one, symbolic of the power dynamics, of a sudden destructive disruption in the middle of a healthy argument or a debate.

What was refreshing though was meeting a large number of teenagers, professionals who had in the midst of the chaos managed to build a semblance of normalcy. Young enthusiastic set of volunteers who managed the affairs at the conference. College students who had formed web portals and community sites for people to people contact. Women, a chunk of this lot initiated debates and discussions. Standing in firm opposition to the chauvinistic mindset. The entire conference was the hard work of such amazing women. In a discussion with a couple of them over dinner hosted by the state governor, I got a sense of what it meant to be there. It reminded me of the brilliant movie from Pakistan “Khuda ke liye”. The movie was precise and articulated what the common man or rather the middle class of the country was facing. On one hand were the hardliners, the talibans whose mere ideology and concept of Islamic teaching baffles me and on the other hand was the high on power western countries or If I may say America which had created and let loose the monster and trying to drag the same country for its use against these men.

So were does that leave Pakistan and where does that leave Indo Pak relations. As I crossed Atari to reach Wagah on the Pakistani side, the Pakistani media surrounded us. One of them asked me a question. "So what do you think can a bunch of journalists from India do for the peace process between India and Pakistan". I paused for a minute and realised that there was no answer so I ended up saving my face with a cliched diplomatic reply. But as the camera switched off, I realised that I had not much to offer or rather by myself nothing. What was required was a concerted effort by everyone so that an Aslam from Pakistan and his counterpart from India chooses to stay back and does not end up feeling claustrophobic in his own country.


(Rana Ayyub is the senior and respected Indian Journalist

associated with The Tehelka.

She was recently in Pakistan to attend the

conference of South Asian women in Media)









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