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 hain..hanji..ki
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
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
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)