The enmities between Pakistan and India find their provenance in the Partition of the Indian Subcontinent, and the legacy of British rule. It is not hard to remember that until Partition, when the great subcontinent was divided into India and the two Pakistans, the peoples of the subcontinent were one, including those of our own ancestors who had crossed the kala pani (black waters) for Fiji, thereby severing forever, their ties with the motherland, as it then was.
There is evidence of shared history everywhere.
We feel the same sense of belonging here, as we did when first visiting India, a shared delight that people, despite the distance wrought by the crossing of the kala pani, understand our incredibly bad Urdu and Hindi. Ariza notes that the mainly tall women in our family look like typical Pathans.
But for a quirk of fate, we would be part of some tribe in the mountains of the Khyber Pass, shrouded from head to toe in fashionable black!
This morning at breakfast, when Altaf went to the buffet for his second serve of aloo fry, hot puri and lassi, he finds himself in the midst of a battle over “boil egg”.
The Pakistani hockey team are staying at our hotel and need their daily dose of protein to compensate for the high-carb breakfasts consumed daily in Pakistan.
Pakistanis are obsessive about cricket and hockey, and the players of both are huge stars in the subcontinent.
The men’s Pakistani hockey team are amongst the best in the world.
The day before, we had passed Aitcheson College, Imran Khan’s alma mater.
We were told that the privileged Pakistani students of the College, had their own horses for polo, and each his own manservant.
As we leave our hotel a beggar scowls at Imrana for giving him USD$, which is all she has, instead of Pakistani rupiyah. That night we dine at the home of Hina Jilani, former UN Special Representative of the Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders.
Hina and her sister, Asma Jahangir, have fought many women’s rights and human rights landmark cases.
Both are recognised names in the global human rights community. Hina chairs the board of the Geneva based International Council of Human Rights Policy which Imrana sits on.
Hina was one of three shortlisted for the position of the High Commissioner of Human Rights. We enjoy our traditional Pakistani dinner of biriyani, lamb korma and carrot halwa, and discuss Pakistani politics.
Against the backdrop the headlines focus on the plans for the lawyers “Long March” to Islamabad, to again demand the reinstatement of deposed Chief Justice Iftiqar Chaudury and other judges as promised by President Zardari, and the non-interference in the Pakistani judiciary.
Imrana notes the bravery of Pakistani lawyers and the need for the long term investment in the rule of law.
The Punjab government imposes a Section 144 Governor’s Emergency Rule which allows it to prevent any rallies of more than Four people, and demonstrations for 30 days.
The lawyers remain resolute.
In Peshawar, militants attempting to kill the Chief Minister, Bashir Bilour, of the North West Frontier Province, (NWFP), kill Five people, including a woman and her child, and injure five in the crossfire in downtown Peshawar.
We worry about the hotel we have booked, Greens, which is in the heart of Peshawar.
Lahore is famous as the cultural capital of Pakistan. It is a typical concrete, traffic-jammed, hot and dusty Asian city, but with pockets of great beauty, reminding us of the bygone era of the Moghul kings and Pakistan’s British heritage.
A Pakistani engineer we meet on a train tells us, “if you visit Pakistan and don’t visit Lahore, you have not been born”.
On our way to visit some of the famous Moghul landmarks, legacies of Akbar the Great and Jahangir (read The Twentieth Wife and Feast of Roses), we are amused by the various modes of transport.
We pass a donkey carrying heavy Pakistani-made red clay bricks, then two men virtually helping another donkey walk, an auto-rickshaw powered by a 9 kg gas “bottul”, a horse pulling a cart, a bicycle, a motorbike carrying a family of five including what looked like a 6 month old baby balanced precariously between them, none of them wearing helmets, a 10 seater minibus carrying 20 passengers, an ornately decorated truck carrying cargo, and of course the standard cars including a sprinkling of BMWs, Porches and Mercedes Benz.
We visit the stunning Badshahi mosque built in the 1600’s. It’s open central area can accommodate 100,000 Muslims during namaz (prayer).
The Lahore Fort’s architectural beauty and history is romantic, with names such as the Palace of Mirrors and the Pearl Mosque to remind one of its stunning past.
Now, Nazhat has her sense of belonging, in the Palace of Mirrors, saying that this is where she would have been reclining, not as The Twentieth Wife, but as wife number one.
Jahangir’s tomb and the Museum are also worth a visit. When we visited Jahangir’s tomb, students from the Lahore College of Fashion and Design are attempting to draw the designs of the inlaid flowers of semi-precious stones, such as lapis lazuli, sculpted into the marble, as part of their examinations.
We note with sadness the lack of funds available to maintain the great works of art and beauty. Ariza is surprised that there are so many artefacts in both the fort and the museum, which speak to the Hindu-Sikh past of Lahore and Pakistan.
It seems that our ancestors were more tolerant of each other’s religious beliefs than we are today. Ranjit Dalip Singh, a former Sikh king of Lahore, really the secret son of a Muslim man and a Sikh princess, converted to Christianity, become Freddy Dalip Singh, and ruled both Muslims and Hindus for many prosperous years.
Nazhat wonders how, in countries with limited resources, governments choose between looking after the living, and preserving the past. She reminds us of the words of a philosopher who said, “if you do not know where you come from, how do you know where you going?”
Fiji Times Online, April 05, 2009