A visit to India after a long time
A lifetime passes by before one even knows it. Sometimes it drags; sometimes it is faster than light. Two weeks ago when I landed at Mumbai it had been fifty years since my last visit to India. I find that really hard to believe considering it’s closer to home than even Lahore. But, given the circumstances, it’s a reality and a sad one at that.
The ‘sad’ refers to the fact that two peoples, by and large, comfortable and ‘at home’ with each other are kept apart by endless issues and controversies of which the bulk are mostly unaware and in which most are least interested. Worse still is I met people who had been all over the world but never to Pakistan. Not just the young but even people my age.
Most people, both sides of the fence, want to know of the differences between the two countries. Frankly speaking it’s the similarities that are striking. Much like at home, there is an economic divide between the rich and the poor, developed areas and lesser-developed areas. There are power cuts and shortages, there is unemployment, and traffic is wayward, amongst a million others similarities. Hospitality is par excellence, as is ours. Allow your focus to wander and you could be sitting in any city of Pakistan.
And yes there are differences, again based on culture and, undeniably, the sheer size in terms of landmass, population and the economy. A few are noteworthy. Firstly, Indians generally speak in a lower voice and while articulate are measured and respectful of sensibilities. There is no arrogance or attitude with immigration or security staff and even the police, who the terms of my visa unfortunately had me visit on multiple occasions. They are polite and correct and even display a smile. Now I am told that this is a South Indian phenomenon and that the North is different. Why does that ring a bell?
I witnessed an incident that took me completely by surprise. While driving into Coimbatore from Ooty, on the outskirts, there was a fatal accident. The corpse was covered, in the middle of the road. The offending tanker with the motorcycle under its wheels was on one side of the road, the forlorn driver standing and police directing traffic around. All very orderly. I was dumbstruck. Had it been Karachi, We would have made a U-turn and run for our lives. The tanker would have been in flames, the driver lynched if he hadn’t run, half a dozen cars stuck in the melee would also have been damaged and mayhem would have reigned. No sane person would have stuck around even for a minute to be directed around the corpse.
The third is the absence of arms. They are just not visible. Yes, hotels have security gates and explosive detection equipment but no armed guards. Around Mumbai there is nakabandi, in towns and at the entrance to the airports. And the police doesn’t run around in multi-million rupee SUVs.
I loved the city of Ooty in Tamil Nadu. A hill station, much like Murree in style. But it’s almost a city by comparison. Remnants of the Raj are very apparent in the hotels, typical shopping centres and the hustle bustle of tourists enjoying the weather. In the hotel, I met a gentleman from Bangalore, who spends each summer in Ooty, at the very same hotel, like many of our people do in Murree. And guess where he was born? Lahore! Has never visited, couldn’t stop asking questions.
The spectacular part of my trip was (apart from the super dog shows with record entries I was invited to judge that hectic weekend) the visit to the Mudumalai game reserve. Spent hours driving the main road with elephants, wild boars, bison, deer, peacock, monkeys, you name it we saw it. The best, however, was yet to come. This great guy, my princely host’s cousin, who had superb connections and knew the forest well took us deep into it around midnight. It was suddenly another world.
In an open Gypsy (Suzuki) armed with a huge spotlight, we tracked the forest in search of the elusive. An elephant with her baby was at the roadside, trumpeting a mock charge, a porcupine, magnificent in full bloom with deadly spikes. I may have dozed because the driver nudged me with “tiger!” and as I looked up, in all its magnificence was this amazing beast fifty yards ahead. I caught half its head and the complete torso before it vanished into the jungle. We gave chase and saw a herd of deer taking evasive action. Two minutes later, the spotlight fell on a leopard ambling in the clearing. He took two magnificent full-length strides airborne and was gone into the thicket. He paused. In the light we could see him. Then he turned and slowly walked away. I can still picture the images! Pure magnificence.
Brings me to the question discussed often when one side meets the other. What if we were a united country of 1.5 billion people? Could the sub-continent have been another China?
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