The India we normally don’t see
The World Cultural Festival 2016 was recently held in India. It was hosted by Germany previously. The festival was organised by Ravi Shankar, the founder of Art of Living and Yoga. Ravi Shankar sermonises on controlling one’s feelings and emotions in addition to being a staunch supporter of inter-religious harmony. His devotees are spread all over the world. Hence, this time around, the World Cultural Festival was organised by the Art of Living on the bank of the River Yamuna. I, too, was invited to become a part of the prestigious festival.
Acquiring India’s visa is indeed a hard nut to crack. A day before the departure, we were still not certain if we were going to get our visas even though we had our flights booked to Delhi. Fortunately, the visa arrived just in time and we began our journey. Throughout the flight, the feelings of fear and extreme anxiety kept us overwhelmed. A plethora of questions was brewing inside each one of us as to how we would be treated there. The recent tragedy at Pathankot further aggravated our concerns. Until a few days back, we were not even certain if our T20 cricket team would be able to go to India. With all the concerns still intact in our minds, we finally landed at the Delhi Airport. The Airport, indeed, makes for a great spectacle; immensely spacious with modern architecture and the ever-courteous staff. When they were made aware of the reason for our arrival, all of us were requested to take seats. They took our passports from us and filled in the arrival forms themselves. The only thing we had to do was to sign our forms at the end. The staff was not only incredibly chivalrous but well-educated as well. All our concerns seemed to be dismantling with every passing second. The story just does not end here. When we came out of the airport and conversed with the local people, belonging to different professions, the situation was more or less the same. Whenever we would reveal our nationality, they would turn even more gallant. Seeing this, I, rather curiously, inquired a local as to what elicited this response from them towards Pakistan. One of them instantly replied with a smile adorning his face, “We constantly wait for Pakistanis to come here.”
We stayed at a hotel in Delhi where the volunteers from Art of Living served us lavishly, their discipline being immeasurably commendable. A colossal number of them comprised of school and college students who were performing their duties without any monetary incentive. They responded with polite smiles even to the random anger outbursts by some of us. During his speech at the World Cultural Festival, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal commended the volunteers and their services in the following words, “I do not know what Ravi Shankar has taught the volunteers that no matter what happens, the smiles on their faces never fade away.” Amusingly, our observation coincided with that of Arvind Kejriwal.
We participated as the representatives of Pakistan and began by singing Junaid Jmashed’s Dil Dil Pakistan in front of a humungous audience, as we entered the festival premises, followed by the slogans of “Pakistan Zindabad, Paindabad”. Throughout the festival, not only the Indians but the Indian media manifested a rather positive demeanor. The stage for the festival covered up to seven acres where 1,500 dancers and performers displayed their talent in full glory. Around 20,000 participants from 155 countries attended the festival. Apart from that, millions of Indian citizens flocked to Delhi to witness one of the biggest festivals in the country. However, not even a single case of misbehaviour was reported. Such was the discipline exhibited by our neighbours. Their ministers as well as the Prime Minister Mr Modi made appearances too.
Apart from the security, all the administrative units were being handled by the volunteers. Representatives from all the participating countries delivered comprehensive speeches. Sherry Rehman was invited from Pakistan who captivated the audience with her eloquence. Moreover, Mufti Saeed was invited too who delivered an incredibly soul-stirring speech while throwing light on the importance of brotherhood and peace. He quoted a few verses from Quran as well. The audience endorsed his speech affirmatively. Ex-Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was invited too but he could not make it to the festival on account of personal reasons. An artist troupe from Pakistan performed the sufi song Jugni with Nighat Chaudhry as the lead dance performer. The performance received a huge round of applause from the entire audience. Our stay in India was accompanied by complete security protocol following the performance of Pakistani artists on the third day of the festival.
After staying for three days in the capital city of India, we set out for Jaipur. We had already visited the architectural masterpieces of Agra – the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort before the commencement of the festival. Although, we could not roam around freely during our visit to Jaipur, owing to the security protocol; the respect we were given, however, was unparalleled. Moreover, on our way back from Jaipur to Delhi, we were not allowed to stop anywhere for food and hence a number of us had to go through the agony of hunger pangs. Nonetheless, we compensated for it by singing songs. It would be rather pertinent to say that we indeed learned quite a great deal during our stay that would not have been probable otherwise.
India has progressed a lot in recent years. The current population seems ecstatic with the Modi government. The reasons include his strict actions against corruption, the improved economic conditions of the country and the elimination of interview process for government jobs. Even his opponents praise him for his commendable efforts. However, the abundance of stray dogs in streets and on the roads has marred the beauty of the country, especially Delhi, to significant extent, due to an immensely unpleasant odour. Most of the tourists, including us, were constantly scared of being bitten by the stray dogs. Moreover, the profusion of drug addicts has also played its part. As soon as the night falls, these drug addicts, mostly young children and teenagers, fill up the streets and neighbourhoods of Delhi, including the most posh localities and high-end shopping centres. Something needs to be done by the Indian government regarding the aforementioned problems.
Moreover, both the countries need to ease their visa policies so as to encourage the exchange of culture and regard among the citizens of both the countries. Only then will we be able to live in harmony.