A student from Pakistan writes about her magical and transformative trip to India last year
You may say I’m a dreamer, but some of you might join in and believe me when I say that that our Indian neighbours are actually people just like us, that our preconceived notions about them being in any way different is a misrepresentation. But to be honest, until I myself visited India too had those preconceived notions. It wasn’t until I crossed the border that my views changed.
I experienced a transformation for which I still have no words. In the little over two weeks I was there, I found beauty and humanity in India and it became like my second home.
The incredible India happened to me in May 2015, thanks to Dr. Kiran Seth, founder of the Society for the Promotion of Indian Classical Music And Culture Amongst Youth (Spic Macay). Spic Macay supported the visa process for 45 delegates from around Pakistan for its 15-day international convention held at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay. The convention was all about experiencing the splendidly rich and vibrant art and culture of India..
When we crossed Wagah and travelled to Amritsar and then Delhi, I felt a bit stunned, feeling that I had entered Lahore’s twin city. I was interacting with the same busy roads, architecture and warm-hearted people as in Pakistan.
I planned ahead for what I would do in the two days I was in Delhi before proceeding to Mumbai. There were many places to visit, including massively crowded bazaars, food stalls and all the heritage sites I could manage — India Gate, Qutab Minar, Lotus Temple, Humayun’s Tomb, Red Fort and Jama Masjid. I loved how Indians have taken good care of their heritage and initiated great campaigns regarding cleanliness.
Most times I went on my own, and would ask an auto rickshaw driver or passer-by to guide me, which they did very nicely. On a Thursday evening, I and another delegate from Pakistan visited the Dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya – and got to experience a beautiful qawwali night. We tried delicious ghulab jamun with lots of sheera at a shop by the Dargah. For me standing in front of this great Dargah and being among the people in a peaceful atmosphere was really something special.
My visits to the bazaars and food stalls the next day included famous Delhi 6 Parathey Wali Gali at Chandni Chowk, with another delegate and a SPIC MACAY representative Harsh Narayan. We had mouth-watering parathas. Palika, Connaught Place and Karol Bagh are a shopper’s paradise, as beautiful and varied as Lahore’s Mall Road and Anarkali.
The next day we took the famed Rajdhani Express train from Delhi. My bag was full of clothes, but I had packed some dreams too, that I’ve held on to for the last 21 years. As a film student, I always had two dreams — to sit at Marine Drive at sunset and to be a writer.
I was left mesmerized by the beauty of this city — huge buildings, glamorous shopping malls, endless crowds at metros and locals of all hues. This city has an unparalleled mix modern and traditional culture. Mumbai is magical and has mystical beauty. This city hides herself among the crowds during the day and sparkles with lights at night by the dancing sea.
Mumbai reminded me of Karachi, both filled with amicable people, practical and modernized. I found a little difference in how people dress, but otherwise it felt the same. Out in public, away from the conference, I found Mumbaiker to be enthralling, warm, and helpful. The city’s beauty grew even more when I met so many amazing people, some of whom became my best friends.
At the conference, I made friends from different cities around India, like Nagpur, Banaras, Goa and Mumbai, including volunteers, students and even professionals at the conference. The Pakistani Bharatanatyam dancer Sheema Kermani also became a good friend when we were in a Kudiyatam (Sanskrit theatre of Kerala) intensive class together.
I shared many moments with my new friends, watching the sunrise while drinking “adrak chai”, sitting at the beach with our feet dipped in water. We roamed all over Mumbai, including Chowpati, Hotel Taj, India Gate, Pagoda, Marine Drive, Haji Ali and Kanheri caves. I tried so many street foods – Sev Puri, Pani Puri, Vara Pav and much more.
I quickly fell in love with the city, not because my dreams were fulfilled, but because I shared my happiness and joy with people whom I had thought were rigid. On the contrary, they were real gems and my love for Mumbai would have been incomplete without them.
People often recognized me as Pakistani because of how I talk, otherwise my Indian friends claimed that I just look like them. Despite knowing I’m Pakistani, nobody ever asked me about politics or any other issue. We shared ideas — passion and love for writing and literature, our culture and norms — took selfies, and above all, I got so much love. Mumbai gave me a lifetime experience. The people I met gave me love, happiness, and joy, and enhanced my exposure and intellect.
Looking back, that visit gave me some of the richest memories of my life, for which the credit goes to Spic Macay and my friends Harsh Narayan, Abhishek Mishra and Sohaina Elia, for giving me so much more than I contributed. Harsh and Sohaina, both a little older than me, encouraged me and helped me to believe in myself. Abhishek, who I didn’t spend much time with, has since become a good friend. We share a love for literature and we both want to be writers.
My journey to India completely changed my perspective about this beautiful nation. I realized that Pakistan and India are two nations that the media sadly misrepresent, and that nothing is black and white or India, Pakistan. Humanity and love are what is real. Let’s take the initiative today and open our arms to accept and love each other, Indians and Pakistanis.
The writer is a film and television student and social scientist based in Lahore