After what I can only describe as an intense academic year, I took off for 5 weeks to Pakistan and India this summer for fieldwork.
Pakistan was a complete revelation. I spent about 10 days in Karachi and a week in Lahore, admittedly a very short period of time. However, in that time period, I was fortunate to meet and work with some amazing people and get a flavor for the sights and sounds of urban life in the country.
Karachi was a study in contrasts; warm and welcoming, yet bubbling with tension under the surface. It reminded me of Bombay in so many ways; a true melting pot of people from all over the country (and all over the region). Similar to other cities in India, remnants of the bygone British era stood side by side with edifices of modern commerce. I got to see a bustling market area, Saddar, filled with the beautifully decorated and painted lorries and buses that are ubiquitous in Pakistan. My friends took me to the seaside where we picnicked and took a ride on a camel. I tried some absolutely delicious food, from biryani to Peshawari ice cream to barbeque. And I shopped for lawn, the light, patterned fabric turned into gorgeous salwar suits.
More than anything, people in Karachi are incredibly friendly and kind. On learning I was from India, people were nothing but affectionate. It was great fun gossiping about Bollywood and cricket, and also when exchanging notes on the similarities and differences. It was also interesting chatting with people about the state of Pakistan today; I felt a great sense of urgency around reforming the politics of the place, with people from all walks of life eagerly waiting the day when things would go back to some level of normalcy.
Lahore was different in so many ways; green and lush, very safe and economically quite prosperous. Culturally and historically, the city is an absolute gem, with stunning monuments, well-preserved buildings and an excellent museum. Similar to Delhi, the city is divided into an old fortified city with 13 ‘gates’ providing entrances into the area. Some of the gates are named after the direction which they face, and so till date, there is a Delhi Gate and a Kashmir Gate. The old city has some breathtaking monuments such as Badshahi Masjid, Lahore Fort and Wazir Khan Mosque. Not too far from the city is Jehangir’s tomb and the famed Shalimar Gardens (the latter of which I did not have a chance to visit).
Lahore is also tantalizingly close to India and some good friends and I visited Wagah Border; the experience of seeing the border from the ‘other side’ was surreal, to put it mildly. The changing of the guard ceremony was fantastic fun, complete with patriotic songs and cheers, tons of bravado and ultimately, a sense that despite all the political nonsense, people on either side do not harbor much resentment; its curiosity more than anything else.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever have the chance to go back again, but I was delighted to have experienced Pakistan once in my lifetime.