Our twinned histories

Experiences in the other Punjab, foreign but familiar

The Sikhs are the only people in the world denied free access to their “Mecca”, Guru Nanak’s shrines around Lahore. ( Source: Reuters ) The Sikhs are the only people in the world denied free access to their “Mecca”, Guru Nanak’s shrines around Lahore. ( Source: Reuters )
Written by Manohar Singh Gill | Updated: May 24, 2014 8:41 am

I was born in Aldinpur village, Amritsar, 10 miles from the border with Pakistan. Lahore and Amritsar are the heart of the old Punjab. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s original village, Jati Umra, is five miles from mine. The two Punjabs are embedded in two countries but it cannot be forgotten that in history and culture, they are one people: same language, same food, same dress, same ceremonies and the same jokes.

Syed Babar Ali is the founder and chancellor of the Lahore University of Management Sciences, justly famous in Pakistan. Iqrar Ahmad Khan, an acclaimed agricultural scientist, is the vice chancellor of Faisalabad Agriculture University. Both had been pressing me for long to visit and speak to their students. In the last week of March, my wife and I decided to go.

We crossed the new Attari border. The process there is tedious and slow, and not conducive to expanding visitor numbers or trade. The trade trucks choke up the main road and there is utter confusion. There is an obvious need to park the trucks in a separate designated area, away from the road to Lahore. The Pakistani processing on the other side is easier and faster.

We stayed at the Lahore Gymkhana. We did not have any security guards and I have never felt the need for any, here or there. In our country, security guards have become a means to elevate a politician’s status. They cannot protect him, hemmed in as they are by the crowds pressing in.

In the afternoon, I went to LUMS and spoke to a big gathering of students from many faculties, and their staff. The vice chancellor and Syed Babar Ali — incidentally a school friend of our former chief minister, Harcharan Singh Brar — were present. They were most curious about our election system, electronic voting and the whole process of democracy going on in India. I noted that boys and girls were present in equal numbers, and they questioned me intensively.

They want to know more about India. I asked to be taken to the canteen and observed boys and girls sitting in happy groups. I was taken around the university; classes had ended and they were all gathered in an open courtyard. Boys and girls were talking to each other, as they might in Delhi University, with easy camaraderie. The images of Pakistan people promote here are not correct. They have their loonies, as we have ours. Like us, the large mass of people have good sense.

The next day I went to see Mian Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister, who had invited me. He was fascinated with our talk on development and my explanation of …continued »

First Published on: May 24, 2014 12:35 amSingle Page Format
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