Saturday, December 16, 2006

Pakistan trip - The Wagah border series

After the dinner at Nandos, when I reached my room, I bawled under the hot shower for a full one hour. The realisation that the next day was my last in Pakistan was mind-numbingly painful, in ways I could not comprehend. I mean - It was a business trip, I'd had not much time to talk to a lot of people, I'd not seen the 'real' Pakistan and yet, here I was, crying my heart under the shower, hoping that the pain will go away. Finally, it struck me that I was wasting one of Pakistan's natural resources so I turned off the shower. That night, I went to bed with a resolution to make the most of the one day I had left.

The next morning, as promised Mr. F was at my doorstep in the morning to pick up the documents needed at the police station. Soon, NBhai and "the boys" arrived at the hotel to take us shopping.

"Sayesha, tumhe khussa khareedna chahiye!" NBhai suggested. ("Sayesha, you should buy khussa!")

"Okay, sure!" I replied. "Lekin Nbhai, khussa kya hota hai?" ("NBhai, what is khussa??")

Turns out khussa is the traditional Pakistani jooti. The ones we were shown were all closed ones, and I don't really like closed shoes, so I chose the traditional chappals instead.

The chappals I bought

Meanwhile, "the boys" had disappeared. Apparently, they were outside the shop babe-watching in spite of the babes being all covered up. I was in a CD shop when one of them - U - handed me a little brown packet and said "Sayesha, this is for you."

I opened it, and found the pair of earrings I'd seen at a shop before but I hadn't bought them because the guy didn't let me bargain. Wow, I was really touched.

We had lunch at McDonald's. I was really excited to see a Pakistani McDonald's! It was very different from the ones I was familiar with. Even the food tasted different. One of the boys K and I were sitting opposite each other, and we had a long chat about religion, India, Pakistan, traditions, arranged marriages and what not. We were so engrossed in our conversation that NBhai had to interrupt. "Bolo kam, khao zyada." He said. ("Talk less, eat more.")

So I quickly finished my lunch. What was the hurry for? We were going to the Wagah Border! Yes, the one where a gate is all that separates Indian soil from Pakistan's. I was super duper excited. I still remember how NBhai had asked me.

"Sayesha, would you like to see the Wagah border?"

"What??? The Wagah border???"

"I mean... only if you want to!"

"Yes yes yes yes I do I do I do I do!"

The Singaporeans probably had no idea what the Wagah border signified to Indians and Pakistanis, but to me, it was the opportunity of a lifetime. It was easy for me to see it from the Amritsar side, but to see it from the Pakistani side was a sign of incredibly good luck.

So after lunch, we set off for the Wagah border in a hired car.

The driver pointed out this canal to me and told me that it originated from India.
And in my head I sang "Panchhi, nadiya, canal ka pani, hawa ke jhonke... koi sarhad na inhe rokey..."

We passed by a village and I saw little boys playing cricket on the way. Gosh, it was so India!

Mosque on the way to the border

Donkey man

On the way, we passed Batapur, an entire town built around the Bata factory.

Brick factory with smoke coming out of the chimneys

Finally we reached the Wagah border and NBhai got us entry tickets. Notice THE GATE in the distance?

There was a school expedition to the Wagah border, and these kids tumbled out of a bus. One of them pointed to the Singaporeans with us and said, "Dekho, angrez aaye hain!!!" ("Look, the British are here!")

While I laughed my ass off, the teacher chided the kids "Unko ghoorna band karo! Kabhi insaan nahin dekhe kya?" ("Stop staring at them! Haven't you see humans before??")

As we neared the gate, we were asked to split as there were separate queues for men and women. Whoa. I was stopped by a guard who wanted to know if I was Indian. When I told him, he started chatting with me! I asked him if I could go through because the ceremony was about to start, and he said "Arre nahin, main toh bas baatein karna chahta hoon... aap Hindustan se aayi ho, Singapore mein kaam karti ho..." Finally he let me go through.

Does anyone remember this backdrop in the last scene in Veer Zaara?

The ceremony area had steps for men and women to sit on. The atmosphere was totally charged. It was like a ticketed show where each side was trying to outdo each other in its show of 'patriotism'.

This old man was singing and dancing to the music. (Videos in the next post)

The Pakistani crowd and me

Notice the Indian crowd on the other side?

The old man had an incredible amount of energy for his age. He sang and danced throughout the entire show.

The Gate

This dude kept asking the crowd to cheer "Pakistan zindabad!" and he kept looking at me because I wasn't cheering. But I couldn't. Not because I have any negative feeling about Pakistan but because I can't cheer 'Pakistan zindabad'. Not until I have cheered 'Hindustan zindabad' from the other side first. So I just fiddled with my camera and he gave up asking me to cheer.

But eventually I cheered...

...only when these Paki hunks walked in. Hehehe! :P

The Pakistani guards seemed much taller than the Indian ones.

Ah, finally the gate opens!

The Indian guard on the right is opening up the flag.

The ropes from the two flags are brought together.

The two flags... sigh...

Everyone looks at the flags.

The crowd cheers! The air is filled with music and cheers of 'Superpower Allah! Superpower Allah!'

The guards from both sides try to outdo each other in marching high and hard.

The guards face each other.

The ropes cross.

As the guards walk away from each other, the flags are pulled down.

The flags get lower and lower. Along the way, the crowd cheers if the other side's flag is lower.

The flags are folded up on either side.

The guards face each other one more time...

And SLAM! The Gate shuts.

As the crowd dispersed, I posed with some Pakistani women.

I found out later that the guards shaking hands was only introduced recently in honour of the attempts of both countries to be friends. NBhai said it used to be quite aggressive earlier - and sometimes the guards would even injure themselves in trying to stamp the ground harder than the other side's guards.

However, I did not find the show very aggresive. To me, it seemed like both sides were kind of 'teasing each other' and entertaining the crowds on the two sides with the show more than anything. For all we know perhaps at night, the guards of the two sides share samosas through the gate. :P

After the show, all eyes turned to me. Everyone was asking me how I was feeling. "Overwhelmed" was my reply. I was still reeling from my incredibly good fortune to have had witnessed something that no one I knew had. Being there on foreign soil, a few feet away from Indian soil and fellow Indians, in that atmosphere charged with cries of 'Pakistan zindabad', the feelings I experienced can't be put in words. It was just very very memorable - the best possible way for an Indian to end her trip to Pakistan.

We also posed with one of the guards in the march. Whoa! Check out his height!

When we got back to hotel, I had another surprise waiting for me. The very tall hotel doorman I'd written about stopped me at the door and asked me if I was Indian or Pakistani. When I told him I was Indian, he said, "Mujhe maloom tha! Hum saare guards aapke baare mein baatein kar rahe they... aapko Urdu mein baat karte suna toh sabko laga aap Pakistani hain. Lekin phir bhi mujhe lag raha tha ki aap Hindustani hain!" ("I knew it! We guards have been discussing you... hearing you talk in Urdu, everyone thought you're Pakistani. But I thought that you're an Indian!")

I was so surprised by the seven-feet man talking to me that I did not know what to say at first. But he went on merrily chatting, ignoring all the guests who were opening the door themselves.

"My name is Baboo." he pointed to his name tag on his chest which was at my eye level. "What is your name?"

I told him.

"Sayesha, aap ek kaam karna. When you go back, please tell everyone you know that the people of Pakistan are not violent. The governments and the people
of the two countries seem to be on different wavelengths. We genuinely want to be friends with you." He said.

I told him of how much I'd enjoyed my trip, and how friendly everyone had been, and how much I'd loved his country.

"Aap bahut achhi ho. When you come to Pakistan the next time, you cannot stay in any other hotel, you must come back to the Pearl-continental. Theek hai?"

"Theek hai." I said, even though I doubt if I'll be able to afford it. Another business trip, perhaps? I crossed my fingers.

"Baboo, can I take a picture with you?"

"Sure! But you must shake my hand in the picture."


"And you must look up at me. I must look tall in the photo."

"You want to look tall? Dude have you measured your height?" I thought to myself.

Anyway, that's Baboo and me (in very high heels)!

I got the photo printed out last week and mailed it to the following address:

Baboo (the tall doorman)
Pearl-continental Hotel

I hope it reaches him.

Meanwhile, it was time for NBhai and "the boys" to go back to Karachi. Their flight was a few hours before ours, and so we bid goodbyes. I nearly cried as I spoke to each of them. Mr. Z called NBhai's phone and asked to speak to me. I nearly cried again. Sheesh.

I'll miss you guys and I'll always remember this trip!

After they left, I was brooding so much that my adorable manager decided that cheesecake would be the answer to get me out of my depression.

Well, it wasn't, but it was nice to see him so genuinely concerned.

"I can understand, Sayesha. Of all of us, they would miss you the most." He said. "You really became one of their own in the last few days."

Sigh. :(

We still had some time so we roamed around the malls in the hotel. Spending money is supposed to help depression, isn't it?

I used up all my remaining Pakistani money on these two pashmina shawls.

Finally, it was time for us to get to the airport and fly back to Singapore. Bleah.

Last shot of Pakistan taken from the aeroplane window

I was very very sad on the way back. For someone who's as chatty as me, I was abnormally quiet. Mixed feelings surrounded me. I felt fortunate to have had the chance to visit Pakistan - something not every Indian will get to do in his/her lifetime. I actually felt jealous of myself for witnessing the Wagah border ceremony from 'the other side'. And yet, I knew how difficult it was going to be, to settle down in Singapore again, a place which even after nine years is not really as 'apna' to me as Pakistan felt in the seven days that I was there for.

Finally, a few lyrics from Veer Zaara (a movie which was in my mind through my entire trip, and which now holds new meaning for me) to wrap up my Pakistan posts:

Do pal ruka khwabon ka kaarwan
Aur phir chal diye tum kahan hum kahan
Do pal ki hai yeh dilon ki dastan
Aur phir chal diye tum kahan hum kahan

"The caravan of dreams paused for two moments...

And we walked away from each other...

The story of our hearts lasted two moments...
And we walked away from each other..."



  • even here! :O


    By Anonymous satish, at 9:40 PM  

  • very very sweet! >:D<

    By Anonymous shub, at 10:44 PM  

  • And so it all ends...

    By Blogger Iday, at 1:39 AM  

  • great! as usual!

    Wagah is on my dream destination list !
    my friend had been there and she had a similar experience - the cheer leaders, the energetic crowds, the feeling of patriotism, the feeling of oneness!

    tks for the travellogue, the pics and the videos. ghar baith pak darshan kar liya.

    By Anonymous asha, at 2:44 AM  

  • very touching..bollywood style:)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:54 AM  

  • Can't bother to login so as anonymous but your post was super duper. I feel as if I myself has been to the wagah border.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:03 AM  

  • //it struck me that I was wasting one of Pakistan's natural resources
    #Wagah does make ppl senti. mental kaa pata nahin...:P
    my parents were thr last year and the videos they brought back were amazing...Definitely on my to visit list
    #Shopping helps depression!!! :-O
    Omg...god help husbands with depressed wives in that case!!!
    #Oh n...AWESOME videos :D

    By Blogger Bivas, at 5:17 AM  

  • #Satish,

    Thanks! >:D<

    Sigh... yeah, it's over :(

    You're welcome. Thanks for the patience! :)

    Thanks! :)

    Thanks! :)

    Thanks! Hope you get to go there sooooon! :)

    By Blogger Sayesha, at 10:37 AM  

  • awesome post sash. loved it. rula diya mereko baithe baithe.

    By Anonymous tgfi, at 8:41 AM  

  • it would have been a little difficult cheering for pakistan, with the heart saying... hindustan zindabad... :-)

    arre yaar the feeling is too much when u see the flag lowering ceremony... if its a sunday u have a lot of crowd on indian side and on fridays on pakistan side...

    do they have army and all that near the border??? they have huge army cantonment at attari... which is last indian vilage from the border... thats when the heart starts pumping...

    pure madness... :-)

    By Blogger virdi, at 3:17 PM  

  • Abs fantastic!!

    m waitin to see the videos once i reach home :D

    ur sure one lucky gal!!

    By Anonymous Thisisme, at 5:40 PM  

  • Touching...

    By Anonymous naari, at 8:20 PM  

  • Wow!!! Loved your posts on the pakistan trip series, especially the Wagah border series.. and an aptly ended post!!
    I so want to go there now :)

    By Anonymous PizzaDude, at 9:01 PM  

  • Hey Sayesha..
    Lovely post, very very touching!

    By Blogger wolf21281, at 4:21 AM  

  • Wishing you a happy new year-2007 !!


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:01 PM  

  • long post, my patience died out at 4th line of para 1.
    Just few comments
    - Why the blog is so long?
    - Why the photographs don't have proper light?
    - What is the height of short skinny person called Baboo?
    - and at last what is the meaning of hopscotch, and why a simple bolg has such difficult name?

    I would be glad if you do not make fun of me in public and write to me directly.

    -Amar (loser-in-love.blogspot.com)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:57 AM  

  • Wow!!
    Sayesha, your Pakistan series has been amazing. I want to visit Pakistan myself now!!
    Keep it going!!

    pradeep dot rajagopal at gmail dot com

    By Blogger pradeep, at 6:43 PM  

  • what a wondeful article syesha... really loved it... specially the wagah border stuff...

    - your indian friend

    By Blogger akash, at 8:52 PM  

  • Could not stop tears reading the last article!!
    I wish I too could visit Pakistan..
    its so near yet so far.. isnit it?

    By Blogger Swathy, at 9:51 AM  

  • Sayesha, I just loved your Pakistan Visit Blog...it was very touching...u write so well....Cheers.

    By Blogger Rupali, at 4:59 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home