My Tryst with Pakistan(i)

I wrote the first write up of this blog “My Tryst with Pakistan(i)” last year and it remained saved in my computer.  I often read it and did some corrections in punctuation and grammar.  After writing last two blogs, I got the courage to complete this blog strictly based on my travel diaries and sharp memory.  This blog is not edited at all as I was convinced that no editor will understand my feelings and may change totally the message of my writing.  

I am aware that edited version of this blog could be more interesting to read but I am not writing for any literary competition.  Hence it is as it is.

Suddenly my father clasped my hand and held it tightly, “Your son has a long life. Even if someone takes him to Pakistan he will not be harmed”. The white beard Sadhu with long saffron clothes looked at me intensely and uttered these words. I vividly remember his glowing face when he appeared at our door asking for some alms. I was standing with my father near the wooden gate looking at our sprawling vegetable garden on the slopes of hills. “He is a lucky boy” said the Sadhu, predicting further. This was the first time I heard clearly the word Pakistan although partition and refugee were common. I was 9 years young and it was 7 years after partition of India or birth of Pakistan.  My family had not suffered the trauma associated with these terms. So going to Pakistan and surviving there was a sign of long life and good luck or vice-versa. I did go to Pakistan almost 50 years afterwards and survived, proving correct the prediction of that unknown Sadhu.

My first meeting with a Pakistani was a pleasant experience. I was travelling by train from Mashad to Tehran. The Manager of the pantry car was a Pakistani.  We got introduced to each other when I went to eat there.

He was quite happy that probably for the first time an Indian had come to his pantry car.  He offered me not only free food for the entire journey but also gave a place to sleep in the pantry Car for the night.

I do not remember talking to him much, but I remember that he was a soft spoken middle aged person with a good personality. I take this opportunity to thank that gentleman for his hospitality extended to me 38 years back.

Adjacent to my bed was Aizaz’s bed in Tehran, Iran in a Guest House which had a large dormitory hall with number of beds.

Aizaz told me that he was from Mathura, a Hindu Holi place near New Delhi in India.  He would recall how he was in the school there, studied there, how he and his friends used to go for swimming in the Yamuna River and so many other stories of Mathura and its temples.   Aizaz was fond of reading.  He brought some newspapers in English and he shared these with me.  He was in his early 40’s and a civil engineer by profession, he told me and was very devoted to his mother.  Apart from Mathura, he always talked of his mother who was old.  He had to stay for few months in Tehran for some project but was missing his mother every day.  I was quite pleased with his devotion to his family particularly to his mother and his home place Mathura.

After a couple of days, he gave me an envelope and said “Harish Sahib, as you are going down, please drop it in the letter box, I have written a letter to my mother”.  I took the letter and kept it in my pocket till I reached a letter box.  Before dropping, I curiously glanced at the address.  It had name of his mother followed by some address of Karachi, Pakistan.  I was taken back.  All this time he was telling me that he was from Mathura, India. When I returned back,  I asked him “Aizaz Sahib, you are telling me you are from Mathura which is in India. How can your mother live in Karachi?”  Aizaz told me that as a matter of fact, they migrated from Mathura to Karachi at the time of partition.  “We are called Mujahir in Pakistan”.

I was sitting in the lounge of Zurich Hostel when a well built young person  came to me and asked my permission to sit by my side.  I looked at him.  He must have been 23-24 years old, a young fellow with good physique and long curly hair.  I vividly remember his face, very respectful and affectionate.  “You are from India”, “Yes” was my reply.  “I am from Karachi Pakistan” he said in Urdu.  I asked “What are you doing here?” We are in business.  “We”, he replied “yes, we are a group of 4-5 persons from Pakistan”.  “What sort of business you are doing”.  He looked at me more intently now and said “buying and selling cars”.

He asked “Bhaisahib Will you have a cup of coffee?  We will go to some restaurant.  I have enough money.  I will pay for it.”  I readily agreed.  We drove in his car in streets of Zurich in the evening.  Most of the shops were closed but restaurants were open.  After about 15 minutes drive, he stopped at one of the restaurants and went in for coffee.  We were still chatting.  He said “Bhaisahib, you are a good person and will not be our competitor”.  I will tell you about our business.”  We buy second hand cars which are in good condition in Switzerland and then drive them to Istanbul.  In Istanbul, we have a garage which is run by Pakistanis.  They change the tyre, renovate it with paint and polish.  The car then looks like new.  Then another group drives these to Tehran where each car fetches a profit of about $ 5000 which is quite a large sum at that time but shared by three teams, one in Zurich, one in Istanbul and One selling them in Tehran.  I was quite impressed to know this sort of business.

We drove back to the Hostel after the coffee. I never saw him again as I left early in the morning next day.  I could not say thank you to him for the coffee and the confidence reposed in me for telling his business secrets.

I heard some commotion near the reception as I was walking through the corridor towards my room in the Hostel at Olympic Stadium, Helsinki, Finland.    The light was dim in the verandah but I noticed five tall young persons in their twenties, wearing Salwar Kameez of different colors talking to each other in a language I found familiar to myself i.e. Punjabi.  I did not notice them when I collected my room key from the Reception.  Instantly, I turned back and went near them and asked in Punjabi “What is the matter?”  They were visibly relieved to find someone speaking their language.  In nutshell they told me their story.  They boarded a plane from Lahore for Copenhagen, may be with a stopping somewhere in Europe.  They were not allowed to get down as they did not have enough papers and seemed to be illegal immigrants.  They were put in another plane and sent to Helsinki where they did not require visa.  They were stranded.  They had no idea where to stay for the night.  So someone directed them to come here to the Youth Hostel.  But there was no accommodation available in this place.  They did not have much money.  Later I found they were duped by some unscrupulous travel agent in Lahore to whom they paid hefty amount of money to come to Copenhagen.

I went to the receptionist and asked her if she can suggest any other place where cheap accommodation is available.  Since I was guest here and staying for a few days, she knew me and told me ‘Yes, there is a University Hostel.  When we experience an overflow, we send our guests there.  I requested her to find out if there is accommodation for those five persons.  She telephoned and said “Yes.  They must reach by 11 o’clock as the gates would close at that time.”  It was 9.45 p.m.  I asked these fellows to come with me.  The receptionist gave  directions on a small map.  We had to take a tram from the stadium and change to another tram to reach the University Hostel.  I asked all five of them to follow me.  They had small bags. As their luggage was not much,there was no problem.  “Do you have Finnish Markka?”, I asked.But they only had dollars.  I calculated and exchanged 50 dollars in the Finnish Markka and gave them the exact money.  This was to be used till tomorrow.  We boarded the tram, followed the route map, got down and changed the tram and reached the University Hostel.  The receptionist there gave me five forms.  She knew that five people were coming.  Each form was to be filled up separately.  “What is your name?”,  I asked one person.  He handed over his passport to me.  “Write whatever is written here, name and address.”  Instantly, I knew that these passports are not their real identity.  The same agent must have made their fake identity.  I quietly took all the five passports and filled up the forms and asked them to sign which they did in Urdu.    Now I turned towards them and asked them “you must be hungry’.  ‘Yes’ they said in chorus.  We came out of the gate even though receptionist warned us that the gates would be closed in another 20 minutes.  I saw a hawker selling sandwiches just near the gate.  I asked for five veg. sandwiches the type which I was enjoying everywhere in Helsinki.  I asked them to pay from their exchange.  It was time for me to go, as my hostel would be closed by 12 o’clock.  I told them in Punjabi “Alright I am going now and you take care of yourself.”  They were quite happy with the accommodation and food.  As I turned back, I heard someone asking “from where you are from Pakistan”.   “No, No, I am not from Pakistan, I am from India” I said.  There were completely taken aback with my answer.  Instantly all five tall persons, knelt down and with open hands prayed, may be to Allah for unexpected help or for me. I did not wait for them to get up. I, turned around and walked to the tram station.  I had good and sound sleep that night.

‘Tuck, tuck, tuck’, someone knocked at the door of my hotel room in Copenhagen, Denmark at about 8.00 in the morning.  I was getting ready to go down for breakfast and then for the Conference.  My other room partner and co-delegate from Kerala was taking a bath.  I slightly opened the door when a middle aged burly person walked into the room and said, rather asked “Are you from India?”.  I said ‘Yes’.  ‘I am Choudhury from Pakistan’.  ‘Are you not coming for breakfast’, ‘Yes, we will be coming in few minutes’.  ‘O.K., I will wait for you in the dining area, he said and left.  I was not very amused with such type of intrusion and introduction in the morning.  My friend got ready and we both came down to the hall where buffet breakfast was being served. I found Choudhury sitting at a table, waiting for us.  We joined him. He placed his hand on my shoulder and said ‘Look my friend, we have to fight one day, but we should take our food together during this Conference”.  We were chatting in Punjabi and he seemed to enjoy the chat and the breakfast.  Similar thing happened at lunch time, he straightaway came to me, “let us go” and we had lunch together.  Slowly I came to know that he was a politician and a businessman from Punjab province of Pakistan, may be from Lahore and he was the political agent of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto  when he was the President of Pakistan.  This was what he told me and I had no way to verify, nor was I interested in verifying it.

We spent three days in the hotel for the Conference.  Second day, someone with the name of Gurdarshan Singh, a clean shaven Sardar from India, came in search of Indian delegates and met me. He was staying with his family near the hotel and asked both of us to come to his house after dinner. I introduced him to Choudhury who was listening to our talk.  He immediately started blasting him and said “we are supporting you Sardars in your struggle and you are coming to invite only Indians to your home”. Later Choudhury told me a story how the Pakistani be fooled Sikh leaders of Khalistan movement when they come to Pakistan where everything is orchestrated for them.  They could buy anything from any shop without paying and the shopkeepers were compensated by the Secret Agencies.

He was a big man which I came to know when the local Pakistani Team came to invite him to inaugurate their club cricket match on Sunday.

Three days passed like this.  Every day when we sat on a table, he would affectionately put his hand on my shoulder and repeat the same sentence“Harish, ek din tan asi ladna hai, par hunai roti naal naal khavange”-  “Harish, Some day we have to fight, but today let us eat together”

“We are diverting flight as the weather at the Delhi Airport is bad” Thai airlines Pilot announced.  I was coming from Bangkok to New Delhi at night in December.

I was suspicious that the weather was bad because the plane had been circling over Delhi for almost 15 minutes. “Why is the flight not landing?”, the person sitting next to me asked. “Probably due to fog which is common in winter”, I said.

The pilot did not inform us where he would be redirecting the flight.  It was almost an hour later that he announced the flight would be landing at Karachi Airport.  I had no idea of other passengers but, personally I was very excited.  Within minutes, plane started descending and in a few minutes we landed at Karachi Airport.  I was sitting in the middle row so was not able to see the lights of the city but the sky was clear.  Though the plane landed, still it took a while for it to stop as it taxied to the remote corner of the airport.  It took another half an hour, for the stairs to come.  The buses were accompanied with police vehicles.  We were asked to leave the plane carrying our passports which were checked at the stairs as we were descending.  As I was going down, I could see that the airport was quite far away.  The plane was surrounded by police vehicles.  We came down and went towards the buses.  Police was all around and circled the passengers, but they were not hostile, they all were greeting us warmly, Welcome to Pakistan”.

It was a big Boeing probably 747 Aircraft and carrying a large number of passengers.  Many buses came and drove all the passengers to the main airport.  We were escorted to the transit lounge and it was a chaos with such an unexpected coming of passengers at midnight.  There was not enough place even to sit and it became difficult to access the airport facilities also.  Later we were asked to eat from a small restaurant.  Bread butter and omelettes was available in plenty, tea/coffee was freely available. There was a great amount of excitement among the airport staff, be it from restaurant, duty free shops or other workers.  They were all coming to greet us. “Welcome to Pakistan” was the common sentence that we heard everywhere.  I was surprised to see young girls working in the duty free shops even at night.  They were beautiful and well dressed and were speaking to shoppers in a very polite and polished manner. A young Pakistani brought bread and butter for me.  We chatted for sometime and he wanted to know of the conditions in India. I noticed that he had an immense desire to know more and more of India.  He kept coming to me after serving food to other customers for asking more questions.

Police men were mingling with the passengers.  I walked towards a Policeman who smilingly welcomed me.  “How far is Karachi city?” I asked him.   He told me that it was very far from the Airport.  Then I asked whether it was possible for me to go and have a glimpse of the city.  He replied that no “You do not have Pakistan Visa”.  Moreover, even if I take you to the city, there is no guarantee that you could enter back to the Airport.   It was my ignorance that I asked such a silly question.  I went back to the lounge and slept in a corner on the sofa.  So we spent  a night in Karachi Airport.   In the morning we all left to board the plane which would take us to Delhi.

MOTHER - 2001
Earl Court
My son Himanshu had come from Germany where he worked on holiday work visa for two months during his vacations from the college in Delhi.  I met him at London Bus Station yesterday and had booked a room in the hotel in Earl Court area.  He had not eaten Indian food in all these months and I thought of taking him to an Indian restaurant in the morning.  We quickly found one near our hotel.  It was a small restaurant with tables and chairs on one side and food counter on the other.  There was only one person taking the order and serving food.  Himanshu asked for Aloo Paratha with some pickle.  He brought it readily in 20 minutes.  It was delicious and we both were enjoying eating the stuffed Paratha.  I also asked for curd which is normal to have with this type of Paratha.  He brought the curd and when we were finishing the food, he also brought a plate of fried pakoras.  “No, we didn’t ask for these pakoras”, I said.  “This is for your son, my wife has sent it from the kitchen” he replied.  I carefully observed the restaurant now.  This was a Pakistani restaurant.  In fact Indian, Bangladeshi, and Pakistani were all running similar ‘Indian’restaurants.  They served the same food.  I looked at the person.  He must have been in mid 40’s and wearing salwar-kameez, the normal dress for a Pakistani.  While Himanshu was eating  akoras, I turned around my neck and saw a small door on the back of the restaurant with two curtains hanging there.  I could see from gap in the curtain that a woman was looking at Himanshu.  Pakora plate was a gift given by the woman.  She must have been watching him all the time after making parathas and then decided to send a plate of Pakoras.  At that time, I did not realize particularly but in the night I was thinking why she sent a plate of Pakoras for my son.  She must have been thinking of her own son or someone back in Pakistan of Himanshu’s age.

I walked out of the Berlin Youth Hostel.  It was evening time.  Half a k.m. from my place of stay, I found ‘Agra Restaurant’.  It was not open yet but there was a couple preparing for serving dinner.  I went to them and they very warmly met me.  They were from Pakistan.  I jokingly asked them “Have you named this restaurant after Gen. Musharraf visited Agra”.  They had a laugh.  They asked me to come in the evening later and requested to have dinner and I happily accepted the invitation although my dinner was prepared in the Hostel.  I decided to skip it and came to the restaurant at about 7.30 p.m.   Customers started coming and in another half an hour it was full.  I was sitting on one side of the restaurant on small table and chair.  In between serving food to others, the owner brought a cup of tea for me.  Customers were coming and going.  It was a take-away restaurant.  At about 9.30 p.m., I was feeling very hungry. I said “I would also like to eat”.  Bhaisahib, could you wait for few more minutes.  It is going to empty now.  It was 10 p.m. and all the customers gone.  The couple joined me for dinner.  The woman had prepared special malaikofta for me.  Although she was sitting with us, she did not take dinner.  She was delighted to serve dinner to us for which I waited for long time.  I had very good dinner and then of course wanted to pay for it.  “No” the woman said very clearly.  “You are our guest, Bhaisahib.  We invited you to come to our restaurant”.  The firmness in which she said ‘No’, did not give me any more courage to insist on paying.  I thanked them and walked back to my place to stay with great satisfaction not for free food but for delicious hospitality.

I changed my flight from a gulf country for Vienna.  It was winter time and it might be snowing there.  I found a person in mid thirties sitting next to me wearing cotton safari suit.  I was curious to know as to why he was wearing such light clothes while he was going to Vienna in the winter.  I could not resist my curiosity and asked him “friend, this flight is going to Vienna and I presume yon are also going to Vienna.  It will be cold there.  Do you have warm clothes in your checked in baggage?”.  He did not respond properly and instead just said “Yes”.  I also did not browse the subject further.  When we were to reach Vienna, he asked me “Uncle, where are you staying in Vienna”.  I told him that I was going for a meeting of a day and my accommodation would be looked after by my host.

We met again at the baggage belt where he had collected his suitcase.  As I came out, I felt the icy cold winds.  He also felt the cold now.  “Why did you not take out your warm clothes before you go out in cold”, I advised him.  He only had one sweater.  I took out my jacket from baggage and gave it to him.  I had a long coat for myself.  “Have you booked any accommodation somewhere”, I asked. He said “no”. I told him if he came with me, I could probably get him accommodation at a reasonable price.  We took a tram and reached the place where I was staying.  I met number of my friends.  By this time, I came to know that he was from Pakistan.  He got the accommodation with my reference.  I took some rest in my room and came down where I met him again.  We sat in a corner and chatted for some time.  I came to know that he too had come for some meeting and was told at the last moment to go to Vienna. He could not prepare well and that’s why he didn’t have warm clothes.  He had to stay for few days.  I advised him to go to the store and buy some warm clothes.

I met him in the evening and invited for the cocktails event at our conference.  As he was a Muslim, he did not drink. I told him that I would be leaving for India the day after.  He told me that he had already bought some warm clothes and would return my jacket tomorrow morning.  Next morning, he promptly came to my room and returned the jacket and thanked profusely. He also brought two pinnees(sweet)for me , prepared by his wife. Finally before leaving, he said “Uncle, I cannot give you my phone number or email nor I can take yours as both of us will be in trouble.  But I will always remember you and your kindness.”  I did not ask him why we couldn’t exchange our contact details but I thought he might be on a special task, may be nuclear or any other confidential or secret work.
In the year 2003 IYHF signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with UNESCO for promoting “Youth Hostelling for Peace and International Understanding”.  As a consequence the Youth Hostels Association of India (YHAI) and Pakistan Youth Hostels Association of India (PYHA) agreed to exchange groups of active members of their respective Associations under a “YOUTH LEADER’S EXCHANGE PROGRAMME”.  It was also decided that each host Association would extend local hospitality.

The programme began with an YHAI Delegation visiting Pakistan led by Dr. Harish K. Saxena, then National Chairman in April, 2004.  PYHA reciprocated the visit in November 2004 taking a 32 member Delegation led by Mr. Anwaar H. Siddiqui, Vice-President PYHA to India.

 A group of 28 members on behalf of India YHA visited Pakistan, as a part of a peace and International Understanding  rogramme. Whenever I go down memory lane, I recall many memories that are connected to that trip.

We never thought of getting such a tumultuous reception from Pakistan side. We walked through Wagha Border towards the customs. It took a long time for us to collect our baggage at the custom, not because of any kind of problem regarding baggage checking but for a very funny reason. As the custom department wanted to host tea and snacks for us, it took a little longer for a sumptuous feast to be arranged at the Border. After having a delicious snack, a school band played a welcome tune for us which sounded similar to Bhangra.  After receiving such warm greetings we all proceeded to the luxury coach, with joy and excitement in our hearts for this journey.

Lahore was almost similar to old Delhi. We met an Imam of a famous Mosque. He delivered a very eloquent speech on the brotherhood of religions and explained how everyone should remain in peace with each other. We were invited for dinner by the secretary of the’ food court’. (The food court is a large market with restaurant on both sides.) Special arrangements of vegetarian food were also made. As soon as our group entered the food court, we were literally forced to sit at the first restaurant. This gesture was followed by the other restaurant as well. Each and every restaurant was serving the food affectionately and we all were enjoying the hospitality. By the time our group reached the end of the food court, we were almost full. But an excellent dinner was arranged by the Secretary of food court. The Secretary made a small speech and we were again fed a wide array of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.

We were going to Murree by a Luxury coach of Pakistan Tourism. After sometime, the bus came to a halt and everyone was requested to get down. There was a shop across the road that served fried pakoras. A man was giving freshly fried pakoras served in old newspaper as plates. The guide explained that this was the same shop where Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru came for pakoras and even at that time he was served pakoras in old newspaper in the same way. We stopped at Government college for women, where all the teachers and girls welcomed us warmly and many photographs were taken. We then proceeded to a hall, where Principal of the college welcomed us by delivering a poem on the theme ”How long we will fight with each other”. Everyone was moved by those words. I asked for a copy of the poem, it was somewhere with me but over the years I lost it. Later on, we made a move for Taxila Museum which was very well preserved and documented.

I still wonder how our host organised visas for all of us as we did not report to any police station. Initially, we were not even sure that we would be able to go to Lahore, Murree, Taxila and Rawalpindi, Islamabad but our host took all the headache and organised  the visas.

Night in Islamabad was a very rewarding experience. The dinner was hosted by a Minister.  Melodies of Jammel and Rukhsana were organised to be enjoyed with the feast. After dinner, we were told that something has arrived from Quetta, Baluchistan by air for us. It was a big round  tokra or basket that contained lots of sweets, dry fruits and presents for all. The basket was a gift sent by one Mr. Syed Fasieh who was chief Editor of Daily Baluchistan Times, a reputed newspaper of Baluchistan.  He had printed a welcome Editorial in his newspaper regarding our visit to Pakistan.  Cuttings of the editorial were sent for us along with the basket.  Within minutes of receiving the Basket, Mr. Fasieh called and we talked for the first time. He conveyed his regrets that he could not meet us as he was busy in Quetta, but he wished all the best for our journey. I thanked him for sending gifts to all of us. I would always remember this kind gesture.

Last day, we left early morning from Islamabad for Lahore. We had to leave for India the same day via Wagha Border, but a Minister of Punjab province had invited us for lunch oin Lahore.  The lunch was arranged at a Government Guest house. As soon as our bus stopped at the Guest house, a young woman came down to receive us. She was young  smart and well dressed.  I thought she might be some Minister’s Secretary or working in Government office, she welcomed us profusely and I thanked her.  We were guided to the first floor where a large number of guests including some Ministers, Diplomats and other people had assembled.  As everyone got seated in the hall, a formal welcome was conducted by the same lady.  I came to know that she was Ms Syoda Sughra Hussain, a Minister in the Punjab Government.  After knowing this, somehow I felt immense pride for this woman, may be because she was from the Indian sub-continent.

We were ushered into a big hall.  It had a dias and class room type chairs.  All members of our delegation sat there.  I had no clue what was going on.  We were supposed to have a meeting with Mr. Khurshid Mahboob Kasoori who was then Minister of Pakistan for External Affairs.  Mr. Agha, our host, came to me and whispered in my ears “Dr. Saxena, you have to speak before Mr. Kasoori speaks and say something about your delegation, mission of Peace and International Understanding etc. but be short.  Mr. Kasoori may speak at length.  But you welcome Mr. Kasoori also”.  “Mr. Agha, I have no idea of Mr. Kasoori”, I said.  “Just say a few lines. His father was also Foreign Minister of Pakistan and well known in India.  He will be very happy.”

He was still tutoring me on what to say when my name got announced to come on  stage. I am not bad in extempore speaking but it was a question of pleasing Mr. Kasoori.  I do not remember what I said but it went well with him and he was visibly pleased when I mentioned his father’s role and his popularity in India as Foreign Minister.  After that Mr. Kasoori addressed us for a long time, emphasizing Indo-Pak relations and friendship.

Mr. Kasoori hosted High Tea for all of us in the adjourning Hall.  He mixed around freely with all the delegates and cut jokes, told stories and became quite popular within a short time with the members of our delegation who were keen to have photograph with him.  When he was a bit free, I went to him and said ”Mr. Kasoori, Indo-Pak relations cannot be improved until the diplomats of both sides change their thinking and attitude and work for real peace.  It is my view that diplomats of both the countries are not guiding their Governments properly”.  I do not know whether I was right or wrong.  Mr. Kasoori immediately called some Pak Diplomats, standing stiffly in their suits on one side and said “look what he is saying on how to improve Indo-Pak relations” and turned towards me and said “Please repeat what you said”.  I could sense that diplomats were not amused by what I was saying, still they kept their cool and stiffness.

In Lahore, we got a chance to interact with young students of the University.  We were also invited by the Lahore University’s Music Society where our group was entertained with light and classical vocal music.  It was like listening to a music concert in Delhi.

Later we went to Lahore College of Women University and met the Vice Chancellor and the staff. There was a wide range of discussion on Indo-Pak relations and how we could promote strong friendship among people of the two countries.  I noticed that the young Pakistani students were curious to know more about the Indian students and somewhat envious of the progress and opportunities in life for them, but with no trace of hatred.  They wanted to catch up fast with Indian youth and their progress in their own country (Pakistan).

On the third day of the visit of the Pakistan Delegation to New Delhi, a Song and Drama presentation was conducted by students of a local college of Delhi University. It was a heart touching drama on the theme of Indo-Pak relations.

The flags of India and Pakistan were displayed on the background of the stage and were an integral part of the overall theme of the drama.  Suddenly, a Maulvi Sahib (a member of Pak Delegation) pointed out that Pakistan Flag was wrongly depicted.  I rushed to Agha Sahib who told me that white vertical strip in the flag is missing.  I had never intently observed thePakistan flag earlier.  Clearly it was a mistake.  I immediately apologized to the whole delegation but everyone took it sportingly and never raised this question again during the whole play.  I even offered to get that flag removed altogether, though it was a key element of the drama. But same Maulvi Sahib said “Let the drama go on”.
I thanked them profusely.

“Uncle, I have come to seek your blessings”.  I looked up and noticed a young woman from the Pakistan Delegation standing at my office door.  She removed her sandals and walked a bit on the carpet.  I got up and went near her.  She covered her head with the chunni which she was wearing. I placed my hand on her head and said “May God Bless You”.    She bent a little further probably to touch my feet.  She was a devout Muslim girl.  I stumbled back and said “No, daughter, I don’t allow girls to touch my feet”.  She turned around and left the room.  I sat in my chair deeply moved by the respectful gesture by this young Pakistani woman whom I hardly knew.

The detailed report of the Indian delegates visiting Pakistan from 13th to 18th April, 2004 and a report on reciprocal basis of the Pakistani delegation of 32 members to New Delhi has been printed separately.  It is in record with us.

I was President of International Youth Hostel Federation (IYHF) from the year 2000- 2008.  In the year 2006, I decided to contest again.  This would have been my 4th term and according to IYHF rules, a President could only have three.  But in my case, I was elected by the Board and not by the Conference for the first time.  Technically I completed the 3rd Term in 2006.

Since I was the first non-European President in the history of IYHF, first few years were comfortable for my relations with the large number of countries.

I heard that in a meeting of the European YHAs in Spain, one country  from Central  Europe raised the question that Youth Hostelling is a movement having its geneses in Europe and so how could a non-European be its President for such a long time. Let me make it clear that it was not a racist comment. I heard further that this argument was rebutted by many European countries followed by heated exchange of e-mails by others on this matter.  It was the Pakistan YHA which not only strongly supported me at that time but also filed my nomination as a proposer.  I won the triangular election in Devos, Switzerland in

In the last 30 years, I always had good relations with Mr. Agha Afzal Hussain, National Secretary, Youth Hostels Association of Pakistan. Later Dr. Anwar Siddique, Mr. KaziHimanyu, Dr. AkhtarRahman and some others from Pakistan also became good friends of mine. They all held high positions in the Pakistan Government or were diplomats or educationists.  We used to meet at the International Fora and I always got their support whenever I was chairing the meetings or the conferences.  Invariably we used to chat in our own language and other delegates used to be envious of us. Many in other countries had a perception that our two countries are bitter enemies.Hence they wondered as to how we were so friendly in these meetings. Here I used to remember the words of Mr. Choudhury, “Harish, we have to fight one day, but today let us eat together”. I think no event or number of wars could take away this basic fact and feeling that at one time “We were one”.


  1. Thank you for the wonderful write up.

    In my opinion, the common man, (be it India, or Pak, or Bangla or any where) wants peace. No body wants war.

    It is only the politicians and of course, the religious fanatic leaders, wants the war.

  2. Would love to take a pilgrimage to Hinglaj in Beluchistan someday!

  3. M not to whom tears come easy

    But the first few write ups' intensity of human emotions gave me overflowing eyes

  4. Really good write up..enjoyed a lot reading it..!!

  5. As a Youth Hosteller in Mangalore in the early seventies , this article brought back pleasant memories..The article is very informative and gives various first hand accounts which makes it interesting to read.

  6. nice travelling post if any one who is interested in travel then visit


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