There is a huge splash in the Indian media these days regarding the peace process between India and Pakistan. Pak President Musharraf recently visited India, apparently to watch a cricket match. However, the real intent was to give a push to the sluggish peace process. The results have been heartening. New public contact measures are being taken and trade routes are going to open.
I am glad that the relations between the two neighbours are improving. In fact, on my way to Muscat via Karachi, I was befriended by two Pakistani guys who expressed similar feelings. They were from Karachi and were returning home after making a business visit to Singapore, and seemed to have a great time. I briefly met them in the smoking room in Bangkok's transit lounge. Later, they boarded the same flight that I was on. They were so keen to know about India that it seemed impossible for me to answer all their questions. They were like firing bullets one after another. They had a quench for India and things Indian that was difficult to satisfy.
In the beginning of the journey, they were unable to believe that I was not from Pakistan. The reason was my Urdu. They thought the kind of Urdu I was speaking was no more taught or practised in India. They were sitting just in front of my seat and were arguing like this:
"Bhai Karachi ja rahe hain" (Brother is going to Karachi)
"Nahin, Bhai Muscat ja rahe hain" (No, brother is going to Muscat)
"Par Karachi to ruk kar jayenge, kyon Bhai?" (But will be stopping over at Karachi, won't you bro?), one of the guys asked me.
I told them that I was from India and I was going to Muscat. They were really surprised to know my Indian status. Then they started asking me questions. Sample these:
Are Indian people as beautiful as they show in Indian TV serials?
Are Muslims safe in India? Are there riots there everyday?
Can Muslims say their azaans on loud speakers? I heard that they cannot. It is not allowed.
Muslims are killed in Kashmir everyday. Is it true?
What do Indian Muslims think about Kashmir?
What do you think? Shouldn't the people of Kashmir be given a chance to decide the fate of their own land?
What do you think--who would the people of Kashmir turn to if they are given a choice to either join India or Pakistan?
Are there poor people in India? Is there anybody in India who goes to bed without bread? Like in our Pakistan, there aren't any such poor people. Even our beggars in Karachi have color TVs.
And so on...
I was really sad about this last question. I could not tell them that all was well with India. Of course, there are lacs of destitute people in our country who have neither homes nor adequate food.
When I got a chance, I also asked them about Pakistan's craze about Bollywood. They confirmed by saying that they didn't watch anything but Bollywood movies. Pakistani movies are pathetic, they said.
No wonder Amitabh Bachchan was suggesting to hold the next IIFA Awards in Pakistan.
While we were discussing movies, one of them suggested: "We can solve the Kashmir dispute easily. Give us Aishwarya Rai and take Kashmir."
I could not stop chukling at this. I countered: "Aishwarya is difficult to part with. What about Laloo (Prasad Yadav)?"
For the uninitiated, Laloo is a colorful Indian politician. He is hugely popular in Pakistan.
They wanted to visit India and asked me to suggest them three most important places to visit. They had already counted Agra in. I gave them some names. They seemed determined to visit India but were sceptical about the chance to get an Indian visa.
We parted out ways at the Karachi airport, with a firm handshake, and an invite to visit Karachi. That was lovely of them, those two warm-hearted young men of Pakistan.
I hope with the peace process marching in right direction, my Pakistani friends will be able to experience the magic of India soon.