Initially, Delhi was shy. It covered its beauty under the silver shawl of thick clouds. Slowly and gradually, though, it started to open up. And, it was amazing. The great “happening city” has many layers that keep unfolding with every passing moment. The more you see, the more you get curious.
Delhi is a mix of a magnificent past and the promise of a bright future. Old Delhi, with its sprawling gardens, silent corridors and sharp-edged historic buildings, reminds visitors of its luxurious, royal life. The hands that carved these stones definitely deserve a salute.
New Delhi, however, represents a whole new face of modern India. The society’s openness rejects the biases of caste, creed, race and gender, and the city builds towards a better future.
During the trip, I realised that Delhi has different faces. Like Islamabad, it is an administrative capital and goes to sleep early. Our capital, however, does not have the historic look of India’s capital. No, Islamabad is a whole new city developed on modern lines. Meanwhile, Old Delhi, with its nightlife, history and greenery, reminds me of Lahore, my hometown. Lahore has the Badshahi Mosque and the Lahore Fort, while Delhi has the Jama Masjid and the Red Fort. And, there are many more similarities between these sister cities. I also found that Delhi was as diverse as the Pakistani port city of Karachi. And, having been to Karachi, I had already tasted a lot of India’s traditional food. However, the food in Delhi is delicious and spicier than in Karachi. It is also quite similar to the cuisine in Lahore.
Throughout my stay, I felt at home, and there was no language barrier, thanks in part to the cultural exchanges through drama and films. Bollywood has introduced India’s culture to Pakistan, and we have done the same through our dramas. New Delhi might be seen as a city with high noise pollution and a lack of public toilets, but the growth in infrastructure development is laudable. Among other things, the administration is running environment friendly CNG buses and successfully operating the under-ground metro network.
After Delhi, I went to Goa, a dreamland the Pakistanis have only seen on television screens. The harmony between development and environment is a lesson for policymakers in Karachi, where the beaches need protection against pollution and urbanisation. The coastal state is a treasure trove of scenic sights, including the green mountains, the heritage architecture, and the coconut and cashew trees. And, the serenity offers respite from the madding pace of life.
The world can keep calling India and Pakistan arch-rival-nuclear neighbours, but the people-to-people contact remains powerful as ever. Our people are tied together in a strange bond. For instance, the warm hospitality shown to visiting Pakistanis comes from the heart. The moment people—from New Delhi to Panjim—came to know that we were from Pakistan, the curiosity was visible. Curiosity to meet those who once lived together for centuries, shared their joys and worries, and whose relations were stronger than those judged on the basis of blood. A weeklong stay with the Indians proved that. They were as curious as millions of Pakistanis back home.
Such exchanges can help dispel negative impressions and the media, through responsible journalism, can play a vital role in this regard. An example would be the coverage of the story of Geeta, a deaf-mute Indian girl who mistakenly entered Pakistani territory and was sheltered by the Edhi Foundation. Incidentally, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, the Bollywood movie reportedly based on Geeta’s story, was a huge hit in both countries.
During our visit, the diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan had apparently soured as the tensions on the Line of Control escalated. The scheduled NSA-level talks were cancelled. It was unfortunate, especially when both countries face common problems that are largely a result of hunger and poverty. They should have passionately participated in the joint talks and 2015 could have been the year in which the neighbours moved forward.
A group of young students showed us the way. To celebrate the independence days of both countries, young Pakistanis and Indians got together on the premises of the South Asian University. And, together, they cut a cake that was in the shape of the nations' flags. Such a minor example, if repeated at higher levels, can help build confidence between the two governments, and help mend relations in order to build a more peaceful, prosperous and developed subcontinent.