Come Let's Learn !
Newszone - Barrytone

No Active News...

My Thoughts, My Words


Every month, we will post an article written by Barry on this page.

Pakistan Diary...

What do you say to a 17-year-old boy who takes his grandfather to the doctor after a fall, knowing fully well that he may miss the train he is to board for a historic mission? What do you say to a lad who has never spent a day away from his parents, travelling alone to Amritsar? What do you say to a student from a Bengali-medium school giving a passionate message to a large Pakistani gathering in Urdu, Hindi and English? What do you say to Krishnendu Chakraborty?

You don't say a thing. You learn from him; you get inspired by him; you salute him.

Krishnendu was one of the 33 young Calcuttans on the TTIS Peace Works team, supported by The Seagull Foundation for the Arts, which went on a 12day mission to Pakistan. For the few days they were there, they lobbed grenades of love and shot arrows of peace at every Pakistani they encountered. As leader of the team, I refused to draw a line of control. They went on the rampage, booming and blasting their guns of peace in every direction.

Young Pakistanis, like their cricketers, always give as good as they get. They retaliated with a passion so Pakistani. They trapped us with garlands of love and charged at us with hugs so big and kisses so sweet. They terrorized us, threatening that they would not let us go back to India without giving them a few more days to kill us with kindness.

Our army assembled at Sealdah on the sixth of January. The battalion boasted of students, teachers and Principals from 35 different schools. Our march to Karachi was a long one: to Amritsar, by foot across the Wagah Border and then by bus through Lahore, Multan, Mohenjo Daro, Harappa, the Indus and Hyderabad. All along our line of attack, we were bombarded by Pakistanis on the street with words so warm and gestures so genuine. Heres an excerpt from my diary while at the friendship front.

Jan 8: Arrive way behind schedule in Amritsar. Still no sign of visas.

Jan 9: I tell the team not to worry about the visas. I lie. Im worried, but keep it to myself. Time to do constructive things. We seek divine intervention at the Golden Temple. Mourn at Jalianwallah. Picnic a few kilometers from the border. No visas and picnicking!. I must be crazy! We watch the parade at the Wagah border. We meet Indias last soldier at the gate, Tokas Singh. I introduce him to Mrs Shukla Bandopadhyay, our inspiration. I tell him about the mother who lost her only son in Kashmir less than two years ago. His eyes moisten as Mrs. Bandopadhyay tells him he reminds her of Anirban, her son. He too was a tall, handsome soldier, and a sportsman. Tokas was an international swimmer, Anirban, a terrific polo player. Tokas seeks her blessings and tells her she now has a son in him.

Jan 10: No good news from Delhi. Visas delayed because of SAARC. I cry inside; smile for the team. Time to distract them. Appropriately, take them to see Kal Ho Na Ho. Kal ho ya parso, were not budging from Amritsar. Late night, the visas arrive. We all cry.

Jan 11: At the border we raise slogans for Peace, for India, for Pakistan. We pray for the poor, ours and theirs. We sing our national anthem; we regret not knowing theirs. We kiss our soil. We watch our blue-shirted coolies handing over our luggage to their green-shirted ones. Where? In the few feet of no mans land. We wonder. Whats the difference? Blue or green, they look hungry, tired and desperate. They accept either currency. Amazing! Problem is, they dont have enough of either. Who cares? Politicians here? Generals there? Wish they did! We cross the line. We pray again. We kiss their soil. We are choked. A warm welcome from their commander. He tells me its a problem within the family, why let the angrez get involved. I agree. He cant mention names. Hes in uniform. Im not in uniform. I can. I do. I make a joke about not beating around the Bush. He laughs. He looks me straight in the eye. He shakes my hand again. Hes my friend.

We are completing formalities on the Pakistani side. Tokas signals to me. He too has strolled over. Is he permitted to do that? Well, he has! He wants me to send Mrs. Bandopadhyay to him. He is not alone. Aslam Khan is with him. Hes Tokas counterpart,  the last Pakistani soldier. He introduces his new Ma to his purana dost, Aslam. Hes already told Aslam about Anirban. Aslam tells Mrs. Bandopadhyay to enjoy every moment in Pakistan because this too is her sons country. If Tokas is your son, so am I. Please call one of the students to click a photograph of you and your two sons. She does. Seconds later the moment is frozen: the mother of a soldier who is no more, with her two new sons one Indian and one Pakistani. I wipe a tear and thank the Lord Im a part of this. Whatever this is!

Later that evening we stop for biryani near Lahore. A garden restaurant. A wedding reception is on. The bride is stunning. Our team joins the baarat. They dance with them. They rejoice. Whos who? Whos us? Whos them? Who cares? Its only been a couple of hours in Pakistan and our youngsters are going for broke. This isnt do or die. This is do and live. Teenaged Vibhu admires the brides mothers jewellery. Off comes her necklace. You like it, you must keep it. As a token of my love. Vibhu is floored. Its gold! How can I take it! I tell her you must. I caution the rest of the team. Watch what you say you like. They will hound you till they make it yours. This is the real Pakistan. These are real Pakistanis. Not the ones the media sees through outdated binoculars from a distance.


Jan 12: A little after midnight we stop at Multan. Garam chai for the moment. Delicious Multani halva for home. Our young delegates pose with a Pakistani and his AK-47. Our guard on the bus. Is this for real? At six its time for breakfast. A Punjabi dhaba. We have with us Jains, Marwaris, Bengalis .. young people, very protected at home. Conservative.Will they sit on the khatiyas and tuck into Afghani rotis and the worlds best dal? Of course they will! They do. They lick their fingers. We move on.

We get into Karachi. Its afternoon. Our friends at Karachi High greet us with malas, drumbeats of dhaakis and dancing on the street. We wonder. This could be Ekdalia Park.

Whats the difference? There isnt any.

Jan 13 14: As email addresses, ideas, handshakes and hugs are exchanged, our children and teachers make friends that will last a lifetime. Peoples lives change forever. Humayun Sir from Lahore counsels a 14-year-old member of our team. A few months ago she was a nervous wreck. The best of psychiatrists gave up. Humayun Sir doesnt. He brings out the old, confident, extrovert in her. She is now home and happy. Humayun Sir, who has a daughter her age, will spend his summer vacation this year in Calcutta with her family.

 Omar is a student who lives in a mansion in Lahore, almost always alone. A brilliant actor, he dreams of the day he can make it to the National School of Drama in Delhi.  Later this year some of his Indian friends will visit him and go fishing and horse riding on his farm.

Jan 15 Parting is painful. Barry Sir, how can you be so cruel? A few more days please! I wish I could. But we have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep. At the airport Aurangzeb, a suave businessman on his way to meet the PM, is lattu over one of our spinster teachers. The flight to Lahore is delayed. He grabs the opportunity. Will you marry me? Not right now, she says, but you could give me your card. If theres a wedding card on its way Ill keep all of you informed.

I meet Mubashi Hameed, a Government Official. He tells me all about the India Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and its successes, I tell him about the Indian mother and her two sons, one from each side. He takes his specs off. He is in tears.

So, where to from here? Exchange programmes between schools; pen-friends; a Friendship Fest in October in Calcutta and much more. Theres no stopping TTIS Bonding Beyond Borders mission.  There was no stopping us from singing a dosti song we learnt in Pakistan at Howrah Station when we arrived on Saturday. There was no stopping us from shouting India Pakistan bhai bhai. Dont watch us from a distance. Join us. Join us now.  Put the past behind you.  If a mother who has lost her only son can, so can you.

(This article appeared in The Telegraph on 19 January, 2004)