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Monday, July 31, 2006

Pakistan Visit (Part 9)

Yesterday, I came across a very interesting blog entry titled 'Light Within: Hasan Abdal', about the town of Hasan Abdal (Punjab, Pakistan).

Interestingly, S A J Shirazi, who is a Lahore (Punjab, Pakistan) - based writer, posted this on his blog on April 14, 2006, a day on which I was present in Hasan Abdal along with my family!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Media circus comes to town

As many readers are probably aware, a few days ago, somewhere near Kurukshetra in the Indian state of Haryana, a three year old son of a labourer was playing with some other children. Somehow, he slipped and fell into a dark hole in the ground that was about 50 feet deep. Evidently, a contractor had the hole dug in the hope of finding water, but when none was found, abandoned it.

Anyway, as the news of the child having fallen into the dry well spread, there was plenty of brouhaha around. The police and the fire-brigade could not do the needful, so the army had to be called in and the brave soldiers got the boy out. Well, I can not say they got him out in no time, but get him out they did. In all, the little one stayed inside the hole for about 50 hours. In fact, he had to celebrate his fourth birthday underground, with the chocolates that were lowered down to him with a rope.

All these events received extensive media coverage, especially over the electronic media. A closed circuit television camera was lowered to where the child was and the images it captured were aired into homes all over the country through numerous television news channels.

Some people even organised prayer meetings, in several parts of the country, for the boy's well being and some of these duly found their way to prime-time television.

I wonder if any of this had a bearing on the facts that the chief minister of Haryana state was present at the site for almost the entire final day of the boy's ordeal and that the Major-General, among the army units commanded by whom was the one the soldiers of which pulled the little boy out, was also present when the boy was actually brought out of the well and he held the boy in his arms long enough for the cameras to take pictures.

The honourable chief minister also announced a compensation of Rs.2,00,000/- (Rupees Two Lakh) for the boy and the Zee TV network offered to pay for the boy's school as well as college education.

Now, this is obviously good for Prince (for that is the boy's nick-name) and might help to secure his and his family's future to a certain extent. However, I suspect there are many people in this country who would readily throw their children into dry wells, provided the government promises the same kind of compensation amount and some benevolent television channel agrees to pay for the education of such children, for the parents often do not have any idea as to how they are going to manage to pay for their and their family's next meal.

In fact, I have been unemployed for the past four months and would gladly jump into a dry well if the army would pull me out and the government would give me two lakh rupees as compensation, even if the government decides to tax the compensation amount as it plans to do in the case of the Mumbai train bomb blast victims. I could do without the free education though, as I already have a post-graduate degree, and would be grateful if the television channel desirous of paying for it could just give me cash instead!

It is more than likely that many others among the hundereds of thousands of educated, unemployed youth in this country would choose to do the same, if given a chance.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The legend of Bhoop Bahadur

Not so long ago, there appeared in the Sunday-Magazine of a national daily, a photograph of one of the erstwhile rulers, by the name of Bhoop Bahadur, of what was once an Indian princely state.

Now, what set me thinking was how this blue-blooded gent came to acquire the title/nomenclature of 'Bhoop Bahadur'. I mean I have heard of titles like 'Rai Bahadur', 'Sardar Bahadur' and the like but 'Bhoop Bahadur'...

Somehow, it did not seem to figure. I sat ruminating on the matter for quite a while, sunday papers in hand, reclined in an easy chair, enjoying the gentle warmth of the winter sun on my face. But...

Then, suddenly I hit upon the right note! As the one 'aloo ka paraanthha' too many I had had during breakfast that day started to take effect, there came from somewhere behind where I was sitting, a sound which distinctly sounded like, well, "BHOOP!".

Eureka! So, that is how this venerable gentleman must have come about to be called as 'Bhoop Bahadur'. His state certainly must have been one of the windiest places! Well I must say that the British definitely took a lot of care to ensure that the titles they awarded actually held a lot of relevance.

And, that also explained his posture in the picture. He sat cross legged!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

In the name of friendship...

First of all, there is cause for celebration, as the censorship against blogs in India has come off, at least for now.

The reportage by the print and electronic media played a significant role in securing the right to freedom of expression, I must say.

Also, the Pakistani bloggers did a great job of helping their Indian counterparts, while the blockade was in place, and I would like to thank them for that.

I sincerely hope that the blockade that they are facing in their country will come off, as well, very soon.

The cordiality, however, does not appear to extend to the relations between the governments of the two countries, at least at present. The next round of talks has already been put off indefinitely by the Indian government.

A letter that appeared in 'The Times of India', the day before, seemed to express a very sane point of view in these insane times. Here is an excerpt:

"After the terror strike in Mumbai, a lot of people have been saying that India should pull out of the peace process. This would be unwarranted and irresponsible. The peace process has made remarkable progress in the last three years thanks to the efforts of ordinary citizens, artists, media and, of course, politicians. It should now be taken to its logical conclusion.

True, there has been some slackening of momentum, of late, because things seem to be slowly slipping out of Musharraf's grip. Let us hope that the peace process acquires a momentum of its own so that it can continue even under the next leader. "

I could not agree more!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A few pertinent questions

A group of Mumbai-based bloggers came up with an excellent idea and established a special blog for those affected by the serial bomb blasts in the city's local trains on July 11. Thus, 'Mumbai Help' came into existence.

When I passed on the URL for the blog to a good friend, Murli, he had an interesting observation to make. He pointed out that in the list of people killed or injured in the blasts, posted on the blog, there are a number of Muslim names as well. Later, as I scanned the list, I discovered a few Sikh names also.

Though I have not made precise calculations, I dare say that Muslims and Sikhs constitute percentages of those killed or injured in the bomb blasts, which are quite close to being proportionate to the percentages that the numbers of Muslims and Sikhs in India form of its total population.

This implies that almost all sections of Indian society, in terms of religious faith, were affected by these events.

I wonder what those who were responsible for the attacks and those who whip up communal passions following such attacks, would have to say when confronted with these facts. Would they be willing to admit, at least to themselves, that all those killed can only be described as innocent human beings and such incidents can only be described as human tragedies?

More importantly, do the common folk, in particular, those who are likely to pay more attention than is due to these agents provocateur, recognise these facts?

And, God forbid, what would have been the consequences if these incidents had taken place in a neighbouring state (which is ruled by a party different from the one that rules Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital) the government of which had earlier been widely accused of at least having turned a blind eye to, if not having actively sponsored communal riots?

In fact, the (communal violence-tainted) chief minister of the neighbouring state was invited to address a public meeting in Mumbai, following the blasts. If he meant to arouse communal passions, as many people think, he did not succeed.

Was there no 'communal backlash' in this case only because the ruling party and its affiliates in the state of Maharashtra saw no political gains forthcoming from organising something like that?

It is difficult for me to say.

However, I can say with absolute certainty that no religion in the world advocates communalism.

To quote from a famous poem by Dr. Mohammad Allama Iqbal:

Mazhab nahi sikhaataa aapas mein bair rakhnaa...

(Religion does not preach hatred...)

Ironically, though, Dr. Iqbal left for Pakistan after the partition of India in 1947.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

My first love's fifth anniversary...

I was 16 when I fell in love with her.

It was hard taking my eyes off her once I set them upon her, so pretty was she. Slim, lissom, petite, seductive, wow... I used to run out of adjectives while describing her! She was on my mind all the time and I spent my days and nights doing nothing except dreaming of her.

Yet, she seemed so unattainable even though I wanted her so much. Somewhere inside me the hope that she would some day be mine always burnt bright inspite of the possibility being exceptionally remote.

My parents thought the idea of our alliance was absolutely crazy, wild, etc., etc., put it mildly.

I thought I would still make her mine someday, whatever else happened. Thus time went by...for quite a long while, with my resolve to attain her remaining as strong as ever.

Then one day she went away. My world seemed to fall apart! I searched for her everywhere I could, without success. It hurt like nothing had hurt me before.

Gradually, time the great healer helped me to recover my senses somewhat, though I could never take her completely off my mind at any point of time.

However, I came across others and some of them were really nice. There was one I liked particularly. Slowly, I started to gravitate towards her. I was not sure whether it was love, but I liked this one quite a bit. Almost everyone agreed that the choice I was thinking of making was actually a rather good one. Our interactions were rather pleasant. I decided I would try and tie the knot as soon as possible.

And then...she came first love came back!! Out of the blue or wherever she had gone...I could not care less! I would not let go of her this time.

Hurriedly, I went about arranging everything that needed to be arranged to bring us together. Fortunately, things fell into place exactly the way I wanted them to.

And then the big day finally arrived. I was more excited than I have ever known myself to be, but they would not bring her to me. The wait seemed interminable. If I could wait this long, I reasoned to myself, I could surely wait a little longer. Still, it was not easy. Minutes turned into hours and it seemed those were soon going to turn into days.

"There she is now!" my brother, who was sitting beside me, shouted. There she was, being brought in, graceful as ever.

Whatever happened thereafter, the completion of all the requisite formalities, went by in a daze. It was all over before I knew it and we were finally together, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part...

We were alone now. I wanted to become one with her. I took her in my arms and...
...kicked the engine to life!!!!

She i.e. my love, was my brand new Yamaha RX 135 (Single cylinder, 2-stroke, 12bhp, 135cc)!

What did you think????

P. S.

If I have ever seen a fella's jaw drop, it was the Yamaha dealer's when I went to buy the bike. Our brief conversation went somewhat like this:

S.S. : RX 135?

Dealer: Haan ji! (Yes!)

S.S. : Black colour.

Dealer: Mil jayegi. (It's available.)

S.S. : De dijiye. (Give me one.)

And then this guy's jaw dropped nearly to the floor!

I mean I had heard of this phenomenon of people's jaws dropping, but never experienced it first hand.

It was really good fun watching it happen, about five years ago, on 26 June 2001!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

I condemn the serial blasts in Mumbai and Srinagar.

The signals emanating from the powers-that-be indicate that the bomb blasts that took place today are likely to have an adverse impact on the 'confidence building measures' between India and Pakistan that have been on a fast track in the recent past.

I suppose that is what those who orchestrated the serial attacks sought to achieve and those who have been working hard on the peace process must feel somewhat like the members of a cricket team chasing a big total and having lost a crucial wicket.

Anyway, this only strengthens my reslove to do whatever little I can to contribute to the good cause.

I suppose I shall write more, in the coming days, about the insights I gained from my trip to Pakistan.

Pakistan Visit (Part 8)

The following is the text of the letter that I wrote to the editors of several prominent Indian and Pakistani newspapers , upon my return, and which was published by one Indian and two Pakistani newspapers:

I have been a part of the Indian Sikh pilgrim 'Jatha' that travelled to Pakistan recently. We stayed at Hasan Abdal (Punja Sahib), Nankana Sahib and at Lahore (Dera Sahib Gurdwara). We also took short trips to Chuharkhana Mandi (Sucha Sauda), Eimanabad (Chakki Sahib, Bhai Lalo di Khuhi), Rodi Sahib, Kartarpur, etc.

I am 30 years old and this was my first visit to Pakistan.

I would like to thank the Government of Pakistan for granting visa and the Government of the Pakistani State of Punjab for making adequate administrative arrangements. I would also like to thank Pakistan Railways for running special 'Sikh Pilgrim Special' trains and the West Punjab Police for making adequate security and assistance arrangements. The staff of Pakistan Railways and the Punjab Police were courteous and helpful and cared well for us while we were in Pakistan.

Also, the work being done by Pakistani Waqf Board and the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbhandhak Committee towards the upkeep of Sikh Gurdwaras that lie within Pakistan deserves to be appreciated.

And finally, I would like to thank the people of the West Punjab who were very hospitable and helped make our stay in Pakistan very pleasant. I made some friends and exchanged addresses and telephone numbers but unfortunately I could not exchange contact details with some boys, who were off-duty Punjab Policemen and whom we had met at the Nankana Sahib railway station. My brother, father and I talked to them for quite a while before our train started moving out of the station.

I sincerely hope that all pending issues between India and Pakistan would be resolved soon so that no brave son of India or Pakistan shall die fighting his brethern on the other side of the border, at any point of time in the future. I dream of a day when India and Pakistan shall share a relationship akin to that among the states of the European Union where trade and movement of people across borders shall be free. I am sure there are many others in both countries, especially in the Punjab (in India as well as Pakistan), who share my dream.

To quote from the song 'Imagine' by John Lennon, "You may say I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one."

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Pakistan Visit (Part 7)

Maharaja Ranjit Singh was the last great Sikh ruler. The ones who followed him ruled over much smaller kingdoms and were, more or less, puppets of the British government. Ranjit Singh ruled his fairly large empire from Lahore, now the capital of Pakistan's Punjab.

Being the devout Sikh that he was, he had Gurdwaras constructed at several sites of historical importance to the Sikhs. He also renovated or rebuilt several existing ones, including Harmandir Sahib (the Golden Temple) at Amritsar.

Several of the Gurdwaras I visited during my trip, had been built during Ranjit Singh's time and are grand structures.

Gurdwara Dera Sahib at Lahore has been built right next to Ranjit Singh's samaadhi, near the outermost wall of the Lahore fort, at the spot where Guru Arjan Dev, the sixth Sikh Guru, was tortured by the Mughals in order to persuade him to give up his faith. This spot was located on the banks of the river Ravi. The river has long since changed its course.

The Gurdwara has gold-plated domes and walls covered with white marble, but the Maharaja's tomb definitely scores over it in terms of grandeur. Its ceilings are covered with intricately designed mirrors and inlay work.

There are a number of other Gurdwaras (including Shahid Ganj Bhai Taaru Singh), as well, in Lahore, dating back to Ranjit Singh's time and are excellent specimens of the architectural style of that period.

The Gurdwaras at Nankana Sahib (Guru Nanak's birth place) are all very beautiful. The grandest of them all obviously though, is Janamasthan Sahib. The splendid facia of the building has to be seen to believed.

I noticed stones at Gurdwara Punja Sahib at Hasan Abdal and at Kartarpur Sahib, bearing inscriptions crediting the Royal House of Patiala with the reconstruction/renovation of these buildings. I was fairly impressed by the style of construction of these buildings as well.

Now, all of these buildings were built before 1947 and hence the partition of British India into India and Pakistan, since when these have been out of bounds for Indian Sikhs, like myself, except for the one or two occasions each year when the Pakistan government grants special visa to a certain number of pilgrims. This has obviously been causing a certain amount of distress among the Sikhs in India and every member of the community prays every day for a chance to visit these shrines.

There is however, in my opinion, a positive side to this. I think it is only because of the fact that these beautiful buildings are in Pakistan that these have been preserved, more or less, in a pristine state. Had these been in India or had there been no partition of British India, I am sure all of these would also have been covered in white marble like most Gurdwaras this side of the international border, nearly all of which look almost alike nowadays.

I fervently hope that the British Sikhs, who have formed an association for performing kar sewa (religious service) at these shrines and who have much easier access on account of their British passports, will restrict themselves to improving facilities for pilgrims and will help preserve these historical structures for posterity.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Pakistan Visit (Part 6)

Sardar Dyal Singh Majithia was the man who founded 'The Tribune' a hundred and twenty five years ago. The Dyal Singh Research & Cultural Forum and the Dyal SinghTrust Library are named after him and are located at Nisbet road, Lahore.

I came across, at the Dera Sahib Gurdwara, Lahore, a nice little Guide Book published by the Forum, for the benefit of Sikh pilgrims. It details the Sikh Gurdwaras located in Pakistan and also provides an overview of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC), besides providing some basic instructions for those visiting Pakistan for the first time.

An interesting fact about the Forum that I can not help mentioning here is that presently its director is Dr. Zafar Cheema, a jatt! Another jatt Muslim name mentioned in the Guide Book is that of Chaudhry Shahid Akram Bhinder, a member of Pakistan's National Assembly, who is on the PSGPC's liaison committee.

I visited quite a few of the Gurdwaras mentioned in the Guide Book. However, the most moving experience for me was when I visited the one at Kartarpur, located quite close to the Indo-Pak border, where Guru Nanak Dev spent the final 18 years of his life.

When the Guru left for his heavenly abode, an argument arose between the Hindus and Muslims among his followers about the manner in which the last rites were to be performed. The Hindus wanted to cremate the Guru's mortal remains while the Muslims were in favour of a burial.

It is said that while such an argument was on, the dead body disappeared from under the shroud and in its place were left a few flower petals. The Guru's Hindu and Muslim followers then proceeded to divide these, as well as the shroud, among themselves.

The Hindus cremated their half of the shroud and the Muslims buried theirs. Thus, within the premises of the Gurdwara at Kartarpur, within a few metres of each other, exist the Guru's samaadhi and his mazaar.

To me, this is among the ultimate symbols of Hindu-Muslim-Sikh amity.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Pakistan Visit (Part 5)

We were at Hasan Abdal, where Gurdwara Punja Sahib is located. The first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak Dev, is said to have stopped (with his punja or hand) at the precise location where the Gurdwara now is, a boulder rolled downhill by a Godman, Wali Qandhari. He is supposed to have been quite unpleased by the fact that the Guru had asked his followers to dig for water, which he had refused to allow them to take from a pond he owned uphill. The digging is said to have caused a stream to appear and Wali Qandhari's pond to disappear, hence leading him to react so strongly.

Not quite the thing my brother and I would have done though, exasperated as we both were as we followed our mother through the narrow lanes of Hasan Abdal's main bazar, one evening. For the uninitiated, our Ma's idea of tourism, of being at new places, is mainly to browse through the main markets and bazars and our job obviously is to lug around all that she purchases or rather manages to purchase within the short time span of the trip, with our Pa making the payments.

Anyway, that evening it just so happened that we noticed something we could purchase for ourselves, namely a pair of black, Pathan-style, leather sandals. So, we promptly asked Ma dear to step into the shop with us. As soon as we had picked our respective pairs, began the tedious process of price-negotiations. Now, we are quite used to seeing this happen, right from when Ma purchases vegetables to, well, lots of other things. This, however, was quite different from anything we had seen before. The shopkeeper spoke such perfect Punjabi and was so exceedingly polite that after a while I found myself joining in, on the shopkeeper's side!

This incident, besides the one at Lahore when a shopkeeper refused to accept payment for three large tumblers of lassi that we had consumed and that was second in terms of taste only to the one I used to drink at my maternal grandmother's place, shall always remain among my most cherished memories of the trip.

This is despite the fact that we were overcharged for a number of products and services we purchased, while we were in Pakistan, right from fruit juices and soft drinks to rides in buses and motorised rickshaws. But then, we have been similarly overcharged while visiting an Indian city or town for the first time.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Pakistan Visit (Part 4)

As I travelled across the countryside in West Punjab, there were many familiar sights. Besides the almost unending fields overflowing with wheat that was ready for harvesting (It was around Baisakhi, the harvest festival of East Punjab. They might have a different name for it, but the wheat does not know much about that and ripens on both sides of the border at around the same time.), there were the Massey Ferguson and Ford tractors and John Deere combine harvestors. Among the first unfamiliar sights, were the FIAT tractors. Till that point of time, I had not even known that FIAT produced tractors as well!

The road signs and advertisements painted on the walls might have been similar to those in the Indian Punjab, except that the script used to write these was 'Shahmukhi' (that uses the same alphabet as the Urdu language) instead of 'Gurmukhi'.

Then there were the sights and sounds of a Punjab that I had only read about in books or heard about from my elders. There were children studying in a village school in a class that was being held under a tree, with the added benefit of cool breeze that became cool by virtue of having passed over the village pond. Now this is a scene that you might come across in East Punjab as well, except for the vital fact that each of the children used a phatti (wooden board) to write upon with a qalam (a pen fashioned out of the thick, dried stalks of tall wild grass). My parents tell me they used the same implements at school while they were very young and before these were replaced with notebooks and pencils, even in village schools, in the Indian part of Punjab.

There also was the mela (fair), that is present in East Punjab as well but not in the form that it has been preserved in West Punjab. I came across one that made me feel like I had walked into another era. It was beautiful!

Another aspect of life that remains relatively unchanged in rural West Punjab is the number of blood feuds originating from what might appear to be insignificant issues to the rest of the world, but can only be described as grave affront when looked at while keeping in view the Punjabi concept of anakh (self respect). From what I gather, the number has apparently come down over the years but still appears to be much higher in West Punjab than in East Punjab. The singer Amrit Sa'ab aptly sums up what was the situation, my elders tell me, even upto the 1970's in East Punjab and to a large extent even now in West Punjab, in his song titled Kabza.

The level of economic developement, I would say, is slightly lower than the rural areas of the Indian part of Punjab but is much higher than those in most other parts of India. There are piped cooking gas connections with meters installed for monthly billing. There also is the four-lane GT road that extends upto Peshawar, on both sides of which there are industrial units producing cotton thread and cloth from the excellent quality cotton that is grown in West Punjab. I came across some oil mills as well.

The people, especially in the countryside in West Punjab, felt even more like being my own kith and kin. There were the same nice and soft-spoken baabe (old men) wearing the same kind of kurta and chadra and with a parna around their heads and sweet and smiling little children eager to shake my hand or to ask for a gift, as in my own native village. I was either beta (son) or bhai (brother) or chachu (uncle or, more specifically, father's younger brother) to those I met. I wondered how this could be a foreign country. In fact, I have felt more like being on a foreign land and have been treated as an alien in India, except in the state of Punjab, even though India is supposed to be my own country.

The reasons are not far to seek. For just like my name is G******** Singh Sidhu, you might find some one called Abid Hussain Sidhu (or with some other Muslim first and middle names). This is because there are Muslim Jatts in West Punjab, akin to the Jatt Sikhs in East Punjab. We have a common ancestry. However, some of our forebears converted to Islam in the middle ages while others embraced Sikhism and yet others remained Hindus (whose descendants now mostly populate the Indian state of Haryana). In fact, people of almost all castes in Punjab , and not the Jatts alone, are likely to find people with the same last name on the other side of the border.

I met people who have relatives with the last name Sidhu, during the trip, but missed meeting any West Punjabi Sidhus. Well, may be next time, Insha-Allah!

May the Almighty bring peace and prosperity to all Punjabis, in whichever part of the world they reside!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Pakistan Visit (Part 3)

When I narrated some of my experiences in West Punjab, our good old Sharma ji told me that I should leave alone cars, motorbikes and guns and start noticing some girls and perhaps find one to get married to. Well, I realised quite some time ago that girls generally do not like me and life has been much simpler ever since!

For the record though, Pakistani Punjabi girls wear salwar-kameez suits with dupattas draped across their shoulders in the most proper manner, often using the dupatta to cover their heads as well. I must say that it is the most graceful way of dressing. I, for one, have always believed that being 'liberated' and 'advanced' means that girls attain the best possible education and enter noble professions. And the ladies of West Punjab amply demonstrate this by being doctors, lawyers, teachers, police-women and what not and yet being dressed gracefully at all times. Public display of female anatomy, at least to my mind, is essential only to one profession i.e. the oldest profession in the world and has no other purpose than to attract male sexual attention.

The men of West Punjab, I found, offer tough competition to the ladies in terms of being dressed gracefully. Most of them wear the traditional salwar suits and look quite dapper. Those that do not, generally comprise on-duty security or defence personnel besides youngsters in jeans and shirts or T-shirts. But I did not come across any young man wearing a sleeveless or skin-tight T-shirt or shirt. 'Tehzeeb' is perhaps the key word here, for I can not think of appropriate English translation.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Pakistan Visit (Part 2)

Coming to the automobiles that Pakistanis use, all are of foreign make since Pakistan does not have any indigenous auto brands. However, interestingly enough, the Pakistani Punjabis' favourite small cars appear to be the Maruti 800 (which sells under the brand name Suzuki 'Mehran') and the Alto!

There are a fair number of Hyundai Santros as well.

And then there is the Chevrolet Joy, which was being sold as the Daewoo Matiz in India until Daewoo went bankrupt and was purchased by General Motors (GM). I am not sure if GM has any plans to re-launch the car in India as well.

Almost all the vehicles from the Suzuki stable in India are available in Pakistan as well, but are being sold under different names. However, some of the vehicles are slightly different. For example, the variant of the Maruti Gypsy that is sold in Pakistan is called the Suzuki Potohar and has a much smaller wheelbase and appears to have a wee bit more of ground-clearance (though I have not confirmed that), which makes it look more rugged and more suitable for off-road driving. Then the Esteem, which sells as Suzuki Margalla in Pakistan, has an estate or station-wagon version called the Cultus. All in all, Suzuki appears to have a strong market position in Pakistan just like it has in India.

The similarity between Indian and Pakistani cars does not end there. Honda sells the same 'City' and 'Accord' models in India and Pakistan. Toyota sells a similar 'Corolla' albeit with a diesel engine.

Among the 'higher-end' cars, I came across various Mercedes Benz models.

I believe Porsche has sold several 911 coupes in Lahore since it set up shop there, but I did not have the good fortune of seeing any of these on road.

The motorbikes that Pakistanis ride did not appeal too much to me. But then it could be because I am no great fan of small 4-stroke fuel-saving commuter bikes. The Honda CD-75 and CD-100 appear popular and Yamaha and Suzuki also have products in this segment. The Chinese onslaught has made significant impact with the Japanese brands not being able to match the Chinese prices. The Chinese bikes sell under brand-names like Qingqi and Pak-Hero, etc. The few riders that I spoke to told me that the Chinese bikes' quality is nowhere near that of the Japanese products and price is the main criterion for sales volumes.

I came across no motorbikes in the power-bike category (12bhp and upwards, though by world standards even that might not amount to much I presume!). I suppose that beyond the 4-stroke commuters, there are the super-bikes owned by the super-rich in Pakistan.

And what merits a special mention here are the unique, phat-phat-sewa-like motorcycle rickshaws that use 100cc, 2-stroke motorbike engines and, in fact, a part of the bike's chassis as well. The brand names that I came across were Qingqi and Suzuki. Of all the places that I visited in the Pakistani Punjab I noticed the kind of auto-rickshaws that we see in India only at Lahore. The number was quite small though as compared to the motorcyle rickshaws and the ones that I saw had been produced by Piaggio.

Though these can not be classified under automobiles, I must mention that I came across no cycle rickshaws at all in Pakistan's Punjab.

Moving on to the largest automobile specimen, those who have watched the Hindi movie 'Gaddar' would know what I mean when I state that West Punjabis tend to work very hard at doing up their trucks. Well, the makes are Nissan, Mitsubishi, Mazda, Hino, etc., instead of the Bedfords and Dodges of yore, but the trucks look just as gorgeous. Even some of the privately-run buses are done up in the same element.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Pakistan Visit (Part 1)

We received the visa confirmation just one day ahead of the scheduled date for departure (April 10) and left for Amritsar the same evening, from where we were meant to board the train to Pakistan. The visa was for a duration of 15 days and would allow us to visit Hasan Abdal (Gurdwara Punja Sahib), Nankana Sahib, Chuharkhana Mandi (Gurdwara Sucha Sauda), Lahore (Gurdwara Dera Sahib), Kartarpur. Ultimately, we were also able to visit places like Eimanabad (where there are historical Gurdwaras and which was one of the towns we had to pass through, on the way to Kartarpur by road).

All the places that we visited and all the places that we journeyed through in Pakistan, lay in the province of the Punjab.

Pakistan Railway plied 'Sikh Pilgrim Special' trains that took us from Amritsar to Hasan Abdal, on to Nankana Sahib (which has now been designated as a separate district) and Lahore and finally back to Amritsar.

We visited Sucha Sauda and Kartarpur by road in local buses, under police escort.

In fact, the provincial government literally pulled out all stops while providing security and there was heavy police presence wherever the pilgrim 'jatha' (group) went. We were guarded by elite units of the Punjab Police (Pakistani) even while we were on the trains.

And I was really impressed by how well-equipped the Punjab Police on the other side of the border are. They had MP5 machine pistols (some with foldable butts), besides others who had the regular 9 mm semi-automatics. Of course there was the odd bolt-action rifle visible here and there, besides the odd revolver. According to the young off-duty cops I made friends with, it is even possible to shoot down an airliner if you point and shoot straight upwards with the G3 rifles that they have acquired recently from the Pakistani army.

And then there were these small sized Toyota Landcruisers that they had besides the neat little pick-ups..., all purchased before American regulations played havoc with the off-road driving capabilities of such vehicles by disallowing high ground-clearance.

The fitness levels of the Punjab Police on the other side of the border also appear to be much higher than their counterparts in India, which was evident in terms of far fewer pot-bellies. I suppose the kukkad-daaru (chicken and alchohol) routine of the Indian Punjab Police must be responsible for that in large measure.

Then they were also a lot less rude to the local populace as compared to the Punjab Police this side of the border. People joked with policemen far more freely than anyone would dare to in the Indian Punjab. I wonder what that could be attributed to. Does their better level of physical fitness make them more jovial as well? I do not have a definite answer.