Love you, Lahore

Published: March 11, 2012

The writer teaches at Shishuvan School, Mumbai

It was my last evening in Lahore. We were at the famous Cuckoo’s Den restaurant in Heera Mandi. Artist Iqbal Hussain’s labour of love, trying to reclaim the lost glory of this cultural hub, is a lovely space, especially if you are seated on the terrace, overlooked by a magnificent view of the historic Badshahi masjid.

While everyone else was waiting for their dinner to arrive, Haroon and I excused ourselves for a while. He wanted to say something. It took a while for the words to come. “Chintan, we would have been such good friends if we were living in the same city. We share so much in common,” he said. I was deeply struck by that spontaneous expression of friendship. It was a reaffirmation of the respect and affection I had felt for Haroon since the day we first met. I was overwhelmed, so there was a long pause before I said, “I know, it’s so unfortunate. But we must stay in touch. I think I’m going to cry when I leave.” I did.

Haroon, 27, is an anthropologist by training, works at the Citizens Archive of Pakistan (CAP), and is deeply interested in recovering and celebrating the lost histories of minorities in Pakistan. His remarkably pluralistic perspective is informed by the rigour of reading, observing, listening and, perhaps most importantly, questioning.

I was part of a 21-member delegation that crossed the Wagah Border near Amritsar to spend five days in Lahore, thanks to Exchange for Change, a collaborative programme run by Routes 2 Roots, a Delhi-based non-profit organisation and the Citizens Archive of Pakistan (CAP), which has offices in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. The reciprocal visits of students and teachers from Pakistan to India and from India to Pakistan were planned as the last leg of the year-long exchange program that involved 2,400 students from Karachi, Lahore, Delhi and Mumbai.

Through an exchange of letters, postcards, photographs and oral history recordings, this programme sought to help students from both sides of the border appreciate the possibility and merits of sustained dialogue in order to gain a clearer understanding of their shared history, culture and lifestyles. This material was exchanged in the hope that it would clarify misconceptions, dispel misinformation about historical events and empower children to reject inherited prejudices and form their own opinions based on personal experience.

The two educational institutions that we visited were The City School and the ILM school. The welcome ceremonies, special assemblies and performances, guided tours, free-flowing interactions, lavish meals and photo sessions gave us a rich experience of their warmth and hospitality. I also mean Haroon Khalid, Anam Zakaria and Owais K Rana, three amazing young people in their 20s, doing important and inspiring work at the CAP, beautifully representative of a Pakistan that most Indians don’t know. They live in a society that is often dismissed as traditional, orthodox and unworthy of being engaged with. In their little personal choices, however, they resist becoming just what they are expected to be, in matters of gender, food and faith.

We visited some of the loveliest places in Lahore — Jehangir’s tomb, Data Darbar, Gawal Mandi, Iqbal’s tomb, Lahore Fort, Lahore Museum, Gurdwara Dehra Sahib, Liberty Market and Government College. However, my fondest memories of Lahore are of the Lahoris — the lovely people from CAP, the friendly hotel staff at Avari from manager to janitor, singer Shafqat Amanat Ali who made time to sing for us, the qawwals at Peeru’s Cafe, the vice-chancellor of Government College who humbled us with his hospitality, the shopkeepers, the immigration officials, just about everyone.

I’m 26 now, and I had been waiting for this trip for 15 years. I remember getting upset as a child when people said hostile things about Pakistan. I spoke of my desire to see Pakistan, and was either snubbed, scolded or laughed at.

Being able to eventually go despite the bureaucratic and political hurdles, border crossings and stringent visa procedures, was a great feeling. For me, crossing the border was never about setting foot into enemy country. The feeling I had was that of walking into an old ancestral family home.

Correction: ILM school had been written as Institute for Leadership and Management in an earlier version of this article. The correction has been made.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 12th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (35)

  • antanu g
    Mar 11, 2012 - 10:03PM

    Girish Modi, thank you for loving Lahore. I love Pakistan too. Even I don’t want people to say bad things about Pakistan. I am Bangladeshi by birth, Indian because of opportunity, and Pakistani by heart. Do you love Urdu? I too love Urdu. It is world’s most beautiful language although I don’t understand it.

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  • dasmir
    Mar 11, 2012 - 10:08PM

    Like wise I visited Lahore in 1992.I was also given only Lahore 5 days Visa.I thought I will get that extended by 7 days and then see Taxial,Rawalpindi and yes Lahore.One of the most magnificient building that is not mentioned here is Lahore Railway station.Something similar is Charbagh Lucknow.But the best part of lahore is not the city but Lahoris,what a contrast to Delhiwala.You are never to see sucha friendly welcoming people anywhere else..Then Lahori dhabas.They are a tourist attraction in itself.
    Truely said Jisne Lahore nahin dekha usne kuch nahin dekha(Thou in punjabi it sounds so much better!)

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  • Falcon
    Mar 11, 2012 - 10:20PM

    Chintan –
    Thanks for visiting us. I am glad you enjoyed your stay. Please come back for more. Bit by bit and piece by piece, we have to re-build this relationship.

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  • Hamid Umair
    Mar 11, 2012 - 10:45PM

    I want to see Mumbai, Delhi and all Indian Punjab :P

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  • oktata
    Mar 11, 2012 - 11:25PM

    @antanu g:

    i really really really hate to write this at such aman ki asha kind of. forum, but what does the following line means:

    I am Bangladeshi by birth, Indian because of opportunity, and Pakistani by heart

    the writer above is by birth, by opportunity and by heart an indian. and to appreciate any part of pakistan, any of it’s quality, or for that matter anything pakistani, you can very well enjoy them and still retain the indianness in your heart…….maybe you just got carried away, a bit.

    because, in my humble opinion, if you work somewhere and your heart doesn’t beat for it, you certainly are not an asset to country, if not liability.

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  • Mar 11, 2012 - 11:32PM

    @Antanu

    no one becomes Indian by oppurtunity. I recommend you take flight and follow your heart to Lahore.

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Mar 12, 2012 - 1:51AM

    I like your name Usthad ji chanton monton.

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  • AllahRukha
    Mar 12, 2012 - 2:32AM

    @TightChuddi:
    no one becomes Indian by oppurtunity

    Yes do. When given employment and a chance to live a better life in a different country. Just as millions of Bengalis, Indians and Pakistanis living in west.

    Chintan: From Pakistan (Lahore) with love.

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  • Parveen
    Mar 12, 2012 - 4:09AM

    Cute boy love story.

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  • Parveen
    Mar 12, 2012 - 7:05AM

    Hope they can get married in canada.

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  • antanu g
    Mar 12, 2012 - 7:37AM

    How many of you live in United States even when you don’t love it? You love India I love Pakistan. Don’t be haters. Peace.

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  • Mar 12, 2012 - 10:14AM

    Everyone love his or her mother land and language also one of them is me who loves Balochistan. it is my heart. unluckily, we are deprive from all natural resources.

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  • Parveen
    Mar 12, 2012 - 10:45AM

    America and india are worthy of love, unlike pakistan.

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  • Parveen
    Mar 12, 2012 - 10:47AM

    Two boys in love, separated by artificial border, bollywood flick material.

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  • Parveen
    Mar 12, 2012 - 10:52AM

    @antanu g:
    Why do you hate so much. Make love (like chintan) not war, even if you are a confused bangladehi.

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  • unbeliever
    Mar 12, 2012 - 12:13PM

    @antanu g:

    if you live in us without loving it, you probably leave the country for your own good, and for the greater good of americans.
    to be blunt, i would say, those indians and pakistanis who live in us, enjoy benefits provided by us govt. but have their allegiance towards motherlands, are just traitors to united states.

    there’s no problem in using your knowledge acquired in us for the benefit of pakistan, but not having american heart while in america, is first grade hypocrisy.

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  • Abhi
    Mar 12, 2012 - 12:17PM

    hey antanu, sorry to hear your story. I think now Pakistani’s are granting citizenship to those east pakistanis who wanted to move to pakistan after bangladesh happened. You can apply for the same.

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  • Neha Khan
    Mar 12, 2012 - 1:01PM

    Am quite appalled to read the comments by the Indian readers here to a very heart warming piece by Chintan Modi. I just hope and pray they do not represent India.

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  • American Pakistani
    Mar 12, 2012 - 1:01PM

    Troll fight in the comments. Typical reaction to an IndoPak article (with no one paying attention to what the author wants to say). Move on already.

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  • Noble Tufail
    Mar 12, 2012 - 1:23PM

    you are always welcome to Pakistan Modi. Thanks for writing your reflection.

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  • sars
    Mar 12, 2012 - 1:50PM

    The comments seem to have distracted from a nice opinion piece. Yes the majority of us are a hospitable, industrious,and sensible lot. Too bad the minority gets most of the headlines, for the wrong reasons. Good that you enjoyed your stay and i hope more people get the opportunity to make their minds up for themselves.

    Maybe being pakistani is a state of mind not neccessarily a passport categorization. Many expats with foreign citizenship are still pakistani to the core.

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  • Mar 12, 2012 - 2:38PM

    it is luck which has thrown us in beautiful places as well as in worst, mostly people love his or her nation as well as country.

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  • Mar 12, 2012 - 4:26PM

    I live in the UK, and you can say I am english for oppurtunity. But racially, culturally and spiritually I will always be Indian and hence my allegiance will be to India only. Fortunately, being a good Indian I can be a good Briton as well if I pay my taxes, watch cricket in Lord’s once in a while, cheer English foot ball team in international matches etc. These are petty things and I have no problems doing them. But being Pakistani by heart and Indian for opportunity is not a petty thing. It can be very dangerous in fact. That is why advice to you (and also quite a few Muslims in India) to follow their hearts to Pakistan. Also, minorities from Pakistan should be brought back to India. There is nothing for them there anymore just pain and misery.

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  • Muhammad Shoaib
    Mar 12, 2012 - 4:52PM

    Thanks man. Though there are lot of dirty-things about India in our mind but believe me they had been instilled so and we are Alhumdulillah washing them out. Furthermore, we have alot in common especially for living together for like hundred years so we should live like good neighbors and everybody is allowed to cross-boarder whenever he/she wishes.

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  • Realist.
    Mar 12, 2012 - 7:27PM

    <3 Lahore for Life!
    Best city in the world <3

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  • Yousaf
    Mar 12, 2012 - 8:00PM

    Ones the kite flying festival is reinstituted after the present Government is replaced …you must revisit you shall have a fantastic time ….

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  • Irshad Khan
    Mar 12, 2012 - 8:32PM

    A very good and touchy article by a loving young man from India. We should encourage youngsters to visit each other`s country as we, old people, failed to develop good relationship between two neighbours; Though we believe in the saying that the neighbour is more important and dear than your relatives.

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  • Saad Raees
    Mar 12, 2012 - 10:28PM

    Thanks for visiting Pakistan :) I wish you would have visited Karachi as well, believe me you would have had so much fun :) Also I consider myself really lucky enough to have an Indian mom, because of whom I could visit Delhi on regular basis, although I’m still dying to visit Mumbai, Agra, Calcutta and Goa(i have some kind of affection with Goa lol)

    And as far as haters are concerned, I really hope haters from Pakistani side dont read this article, because if they read the comments, another war is gonna start here, unfortunately :(

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  • Optimist
    Mar 13, 2012 - 1:39AM

    You are always welcome to my dearest city where I was born and lived first 25 years of my life!
    .
    We need more people like you on both sides of border!

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  • rabeea shahid
    Mar 13, 2012 - 1:48AM

    Its good to see that you have such nice opinion about Pakistan. I think the relations between india and pakistan should be normalized and people of both the countries should meet each other. This is the only way to remove misunderstandings between the two countries. I also have always dreamed of visiting india. I am really interested in seeing the beautiful beaches of Goa:)

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  • Deb;India
    Mar 13, 2012 - 5:33AM

    Chinton, you have fared much much better than any official ambassador for your country.
    Hope your tribe multiply and prosper.

    @antanu g

    People who live as a citizen in foreign countries for opportunities while their heart beating for another country (the country of origin) are simply traitors.

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  • Cynical
    Mar 14, 2012 - 12:48AM

    @antanu g

    You are lying.Your heart is not in Pakistan! If it was, you would have been in Pakistan, with or without opportunities.

    By the way, you are born in Bangladesh (and you admit your heart is not there).
    Your heart is in Pakistan. (you said it)
    And you are in India for opportunities. (you said it)
    May I ask you, exactly what type of opportunities?
    I hope these are not at crowded places like airports,bus terminus,railway stations,malls and so on.You know what I mean.

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  • buddy
    Mar 24, 2012 - 2:34PM

    Hope one day we will have breakfast in Dhaka, lunch in Delhi & dinner in Lahore

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  • Adan Ali
    Mar 25, 2012 - 6:22PM

    Love you all Indians, I was also a part of this project and visited India through this project you all are lovely people toooooooooooooooooooo. Been to Delhi Agra and Amritsar.
    Student of The City School Ravi Campus Lahore.

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  • Saqib
    Apr 17, 2012 - 10:41PM

    I visited India in 2007. I saw New Delhi, Taj Mehal and Fatehpur Sikri. All are excellent places and must see. I belong to the family of Armed officers still i love India. If we cannot listen to each others praises then we shouldn’t talk about friendship and peace. There are many Pakistanis too who are Pakistani by opportunity and Indian by heart. I personally know them and i never feel bad about it as both are a part of same country Indo-Pak Subcontinent.

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