I have not randomly decided to write my first entry today rather I have a special reason. Yes, it is ‘Diwali’. The first festival I have ever celebrated in a foreign country when I visited India back in 2014.
Being a Pakistani crossing the Wahga border on foot with a few college mates I had mixed feelings of excitement, curiosity and nostalgia. “Don’t blame me if you don’t feel to be in a different country after crossing the border” said our professor to all of his excited Bollywood maniac students. Indeed, we share so much because of our common historical terrain. Yes, we had never been to India before but probably we knew much more about India than we knew about any other country on the globe by that time. We are the 1990’s generation that has witnesses the switch from DVD to CD, Door Darshan to Star plus, and Kapoors to Khans. However, after the internet and social media revolution there is an unquantifiable exchange of information across the borders anyway. Holding the stories of India, in our heart, we have heard from our Grandparents (who migrated to Pakistan from India after the great partition), our critical readings (It was a group of historians), and our Bollywood explorations, we definitely had awkwardness derived by the news channels and journalistic accounts of Indo-Pak diplomatic encounters and perpetually fluctuating border tensions. However, we were yet to ‘discover’ our version of India on this journey.
It was probably the shortest travel of my life when it took me 25 minutes to be in a different country not to mention the European borders that I explored later. We got a typical Punjabi welcome and the journey from Amritsar to Patiala was a memorable one. We sang for six hours non-stop without repeating a single song and Sardar Ji (our Host) was astonished to witness our exceptional talent. Patiala is a former princely state and it still has those vibes because of the royal architectural remains and the old city structure. I visited the fort and the palace and walked through the streets with century old houses and markets full of colorful phulkari products. Everyone who learned that we are from Pakistani treated us with exceptional hospitality. I still remember we sat in a small restaurant to eat and while looking at the menu we spotted a quote from Pran Naveli’s book about Lahore. My professor inquired about it from one of the staff members and he lead us to the owner of the restaurant who was born and raised in Lahore; a historical city which was part of India before 1947 and now in Pakistan. The old man broke into tears when he heard he has visitors from ‘his’ city and offered us a hospitable treat. He sat down with us talked about the streets and places in Lahore, he vividly remembered from his youth years. Fortunately, most of the things he talked about are still there and have sustained the same names including a neighborhood “gawalmandi”, “Diyal Singh Library” and “Ganga Ram Hospital”.
The day we left for Delhi from Patiala was the day of Diwali. We arrived late in the evening and there were people playing with fire crackers everywhere. Roads were empty and there was no traffic jam but streets were crowded with men, women and children. We decided to buy some firecrackers to enjoy the festival but met no luck as it was a holiday and no shops were open. We walked pass a temple in front of which there were many families celebrating Diwali. They offered us firecrackers for free and we joined them in the activity. We collected unquantifiable laughter, uncountable warm hugs and not to forget ‘Barfi’.
Shahjahanabad now known as Old Delhi is a different world all together with the hustle bustle of merchants and visitors in the narrow streets and irresistible smell of traditional food where paratha from Parathe wali gali and Kaju barfi from Haldiram in Chandni was our center of attention. Old Delhi reminded me of Walled city of Lahore. Delhi and Lahore has countless similarities; street names, cantonment map, railway station building, Red fort and Jamia Masjid. Visiting the shrine of great Sufis Hazarat Nizamudin and Aamir Khusroo I was constantly thinking about my visits to the shrine of Hazrat Data Gang Baksh and Bibi Pak Daman in Lahore. Both India and in Pakistan; shrines are visited by the people of every caste, color, religion and nationality, unlike temples, mosques and churches. People are happy to share their Sufis even though they don’t share faith. A practice that is capable of restoring our faiths in humanity and humanism.
Our last stop in Amritsar was an equally enchanting experience at Golden Temple. The beautiful golden building shinning in the sunlight and its reflection in the serene waters of holy pound was a delightful scene. Listening to the lessons from the holy script of Guru Granth Sahab made me realize that one can learn something valuable from every religion. We ate Langar for lunch and the activity itself is very soulful where everyone sits on the ground and eat same food. Volunteers are always ready to serve more and this activity never stops which is exactly what happens at Sufi shrines in Pakistan. My last note on my personal journal that night was “Hunt of similarities and differences is a subjective affair. It depends on what you are looking for”. Which reminds me of Rumi who tells us “Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth.” I believe travelling is one way of doing this.
When someone asks me India and Pakistan are enemies I tell them I have friends there and that’s my discovery.
A STAR IN THE MAKING, SHANDANA IS CURRENTLY PURSUING HER MASTERS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY FROM NEW YORK UNIVERSITY. AN AVID TRAVELLER HERSELF, SHE LOVES DOCUMENTING HER ADVENTURES AND WE CANNOT GET ENOUGH OF THEM! IT’S SO EASY TO FALL IN LOVE WITH HER STORIES, STRAIGHT FROM THE HEART.