Sunday, February 26, 2006

Watching Sachin at Gadaffi: Part IV - The Crossing Back

During our return journey, we had decided to play it safe and land up really early at the border. We kept an ambitious target of leaving at seven, and actually managed to do so by eight. I decided to give more time to myself to digest the 400 grams of fish I had consumed the last night, and so skipped breakfast. We had booked a cab to go to Wagah, and again this meant four of us had to sit in the back-seat. In the cab, our leader started suffering from cramps in his legs - a more severe form of pins-&-needles. After fidgeting for some ten minutes, he decided to stop the car, and just got down to loosen his legs a bit. When that didn't work, he just jogged a bit to get the circulation back. Hence we were witness to a fairly strange sight with a man jogging on the highway and a cab following him from behind. When he also realised that this might be looking odd, he asked us to go and park our car 100 metres ahead and he would run to it. He finished off his 100 metres lap in a jiffy and wanted to continue the game, maybe to regain full strength in his legs, till all of us lost patience and asked him to stop the game and continue with the journey.

We reached Wagah from the Pakistani side at 0830 hours, and were greeted with sparse crowds. The immigration clearance happened in possibly ten minutes flat, and the Pakistani side made it a point to ask us whether the process this time round was a lot more convenient or not. It was impossible to negate that, and when the gates opened at around 0930, BSF also was in a PR overdrive. There was a banner welcoming back all Indian cricket-lovers, arrangements done for tea and coffee, and ten custom posts in the open for immigration clearance. Before the gates had opened, we had formed a queue which had about twenty people. A young guy landed after that, and again tried to create a ruckus by forming another queue - 2X2 in his language. I guess it is again an Indian trait, with so many of us around, we just do not have the patience to actually follow the rules and maintain discipline in such a scenario. Besides, the Pakistanis are used to a police state, so possibly are a lot more disciplined.

We were back in our country at around ten, and our leader made it a point to say 'Shukriya' to all the custom men. Our train from Amritsar was at five in the evening. Hence, the next step was to book a hotel for half a day where we could have just dumped our luggage. Again, the leader was quite insistent on the railways cloak room, but this time I managed to convince him as to how we just might need a bathroom also during the day.

We checked into a very shady hotel, where we could have only stayed if we did not have to stay there. And since we had time, the next destination was to witness the tourist-spots of Amritsar - Jallianwalla Bagh and the Golden Temple. Jallianwalla was the first halt, a tiny non-descript ground which possibly noone would have ever got to know but for a crazy general's depraved idea of law & order maintenance. The ground is just before the Golden Temple, and there is a narrow passage leading into it. Inside, a park and a memorial has been created, which is in a state barely acceptable, though still better compared to our other smaller monuments. What is touching are the plaques which have been put up, they genuinely have captured the essence of what had happened here, and the sheer barbarity of a man to do what he did. The Martyr's Well has been cordoned off, and in the compound walls, the bullets fired to stop people from scaling them, have been pointed out.

So in such an emotional state, we moved to the Golden Temple - the holiest place for the Sikhs. It is a sprawling complex, with the main temple situated in the middle of a man-made lake. There are gurudwaras all around, and the overall structure made of marble, with gold added wherever needed, is visually quite appealing. Besides, the main keertan which is being played via a loudspeaker, is quite soft and soothing, unlike most of the songs played in our jagarans. The temple is so holy because it houses the Adi Granth, the main book of the Sikhs. It is here that their religion was codified.

To visit the main temple, you need to go in with some prasad. Again, to specify the egalitarian nature of the religion, one can give any money, he will get the same amount of prasad. The prasad is a halwa made of atta in pure ghee. The queue of the visitors to the main temple is about 100 metres long, and while all my friends decided to go in, I skipped the opportunity. I would like to believe that for me religion is an extremely personal thing and hence I would rather not undergo the rituals, but I think the real reason is I just do not have the patience to stand and wait for my turn with God. Jallianwala Bagh was enough for me to discover my spirituality, and I waited for my friends by just seeing the goldfish play in the clear waters of the lake (above).

Sikhism - like Buddhism and Jainism - started off as a reform movement for Hinduism. One of my good friends is convinced that Sikhs are one of the most maliceless and genuinely honest people. In fact, while we see them in Delhi as being fairly aggressive, I guess thats truer for Punjabi Hindus. In fact, in Punjabi villages, non-veg food is also not consumed very much. I guess thats the reason why Pakistan manages to produce so many mutton-consuming fast bowlers while we struggle to unearth anyone who can beat Razaaq in the speed game.

We decided to have lunch at the famous Golden Temple langar. This concept of seva is one concept which any true relgion should capture. The basic idea is equality and service, and any person can simply walk in anytime of the day and have a simple meal of rotis, dal and sabzi. This facility is open twenty-four hours a day, and is run totally by volunteers - who do the cooking, serving and cleaning. If I ever have the means to actually build a temple, I will surely incorporate this seva-bhaav into that. There is a famous tea also served, cooked on charcoal fire, but I guess that was towards the evening so we could not have that.

After doing the holy rounds, we finally decided to do what had been missing from the entire trip so far - a round of drinking. We asked an auto wallah to take us to a decent bar, and he took us right to the other part of the town. The manager had some problems in entertaining us as the place was booked for a private party. However, he asked us to sit in a small coffee-shop on the first floor, and when the waiter came to take our order, we realised there was no liquour available in the place. They had lost their licence, and instead they would take our order and get the booze from the nearby thekaa. The only money they would make in the transaction is through the snacks we have. Our leader was a teetotaller, two people reported sick and hence abstained, and the rest of us managed to gulp down some beer and vodka, even managing to carry some vodka for the train journey.

The return journey was in a Shatabdi so was much more decent than the Qualis trip. At an overall level, the trip was like one of those which become great after you have undertaken them. We never realised we were having so much fun, till we came back and started discussing as to how much we actually enjoyed. Anyways, we reached Delhi at 2300 hours on Valentine's day, and by the time I slept at 0030 hours, I had realised I would be a goner in office for the remaining three days of the week.


satya said...

Pretty cool stuff. I did not think much about Jallianwala. I loved the Golden Temple, did every bit of it. If I had gone with my frens, I would have been far more enthusiastic about it. I had gone there with my mother, sis, bro-in-law and my niece on my shoulders. And my niece kept removing her head scarf covering and fellow devouts kept pointing that out to me.

Being a begger around the Golden temple would be pretty cool then, right. Food is ensured, just worry about the weather elements.I bet as a begger I could find a fellow begger of the weaker sex to give me some comfort in the mustard fields, singing praises of my Punjab desh.

I guess since you were going across, you did not witness the closing parade at the Attari-Wagah gate. It is pretty ridiculous to put it mildly. Both the countries have loud speakers pointing in the opposite direction belting out desh bhakti geet.Our songs are lovely with that beautiful voice of Mohd Rafi talking about hindu,musalman,sikh and issai.Then in the process one of the crowd is handed a flag and expected to start with slogans positive to your homeland which is also expected to degenerate into bad mouthing the other, I dont remember if this is done on the initiation of the border guards, a kind of charade they play for the likes of us tourists. I remember getting close to the gate when the numbers were less and seeing for the first time with my innocent eyes, my first Live Pakistani! It was a family with two sons, all similarly dressed in the Punjabi Salwar Kameez and they looked just about economically sufficient. The boys were staring at us Indians with bewildered eyes. The Pakistani family obviously had some connections to be so close to the border. It was a sight I wont forget in that June heat, they were standing in the shade of a tree(not sure), all dressed in black. Then the sloganeering started. Unfortunately or fortunately, I did not stay for the Super Tall Guards saluting by lifting their legs higher than my height, before the gates were closed.

satya said...

was your blog only about the Pakistan trip?