WITH the weariness of a kind that could be held off for a couple of more hours, we headed for Jinnah Super Market to thumb through and buy books at Saeed Book Bank, a three-storey building, with racks lining along, close enough for someone to walk by and turn around, on all the floors. We split between the racks and I finally found my way downstairs. Last time, I could not buy Platts’s A Dictionary of Urdu, Classical Hindi and English, a classic in its own right, although I found it in Variety Books in Liberty market area in Lahore; we were hard pressed for time. This time I did not let go of the chance and grabbed half a dozen other books. A salesman at the shop asked me whether I was from any area in Pakistan. I told him that we were from Dhaka, Bangladesh. On hearing my serviceable Urdu, the young man told me that I spoke Urdu quite well. Hardly were, and are, there any reasons to believe in what he said as a mark of high hospitality, yet it showed that I could get by. A dinner, hosted by the information ministry, at Khiva Restaurant, a few steps off Saeed Book Bank — discussion with journalists, tasty food and songs sung by a young musician — ended the day when it was almost midnight.
The next day, on March 23, we were scheduled to attend the National Day parade, the 77th to mark the presentation, in 1946, of the Lahore Resolution, at the 27th annual meeting of the All-India Muslim League. The resolution, which later came to be known as the Pakistan Resolution as is written on the wall of the Pakistan Tower, or Minar-e-Pakistan, in Iqbal Park in Lahore, was passed the next day. After the long-drawn parade ceremony, which was joined in by troops from China and Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh’s high commissioner in Islamabad, who had been a few steps farther from us in the Shakarparian Parade Ground, treated us to a lunch at a restaurant called Qishmisch in the area of F-7 Markaz. We told him about how we felt about Pakistan and talked about the state-to-state relationship with the high commissioner, who appeared a bit buttoned-up. The next destination was the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute, headed by Maria Sultan, well versed, and well-meaning too, in what she talked about — the importance and prospects of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Before calling it a day, we went to the Kashmir House to pay a courtesy call on the prime minister of the Pakistan-administered Kashmir, known as Azad Jammu and Kashmir, to Pakistanis and Kashmiris living on the Pakistan side. A little while after, we headed for a restaurant called Monal on the Margalla Hills, about 17km from Islamabad. Monal, at Pir Sohawa with an elevation of 3,000ft, offers a beautiful night-time view of the Islamabad city. The ISS chairman, who hosted the dinner, invited a number of researchers and journalists for lively interaction.
We began our last day in Islamabad, March 24, with a tour of the Pakistan-held Kashmir, with all living there, along with others on the other side of the border, still searching for peace through an international arbitration. We set out for the army heliport near the Islamabad Polo Club ground about 7:00am. We got on a helicopter, which took us to Muzaffarabad, the capital, offering a scope to enjoy the changing scenic beauty and the mountain valleys. From the heliport in Muzaffarabad, we headed for the parliament building and dashed, soon, for a place called Thotha Pool area, which houses refugees from Kashmir on the Indian side. We stayed for a few minutes in the house of one of the refugees and had tea. We came to know that 40,000 such people live in Pakistan.
We then drove to a place called Chakothi-Uri point on the Line of Control, 12km off Srinagar, the capital of India’s Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan and India have buses running from Chakothi to Uri three days a week and trucks, carrying products that are traded by barter, five days a week. Brigadier Akhtar Naz, who has memories of Bangladesh because of his father’s posting in pre-1971 days, said that the last time firing between the border guards happened was in 2013. We had our lunch in the sector headquarters, flanked by hills and large colourful trees and were then flown back to Islamabad in a few while as the weather could be rough.
Back in the capital, we drove around the city in the afternoon and visited a mall called Centaurus, for anyone to shop products of foreign brands. In an area, we noticed centres for private coaching for British curriculum education, crowded by cars with parents waiting outside and their children studying inside, as we can see here in Dhaka. We reached the Bangladesh high commission in the evening only to find a handful of people. But we could meet the demand of Humayun Kabir Bhuiyan, the other journalist in our team who was also a colleague of mine at New Age, of taking a photograph in front of the Bangladesh high commission. Preparations were going on for the observance of Genocide Day, based on a Bangladesh parliament resolution of March 11, in remembrance of the atrocities carried out by the Pakistani army in the erstwhile East Pakistan in the night of March 25, 1971.
We were then headed for Rose and Jasmine Garden for a dinner hosted by Rehan Ahmed, an official of Pakistan’s foreign affairs ministry, who had been with us, but for the time of our visit to Kashmir, since our first day in Islamabad. He had been in Dhaka being posted to Pakistan’s high commission and knew Dhaka’s geography and Bangladesh’s politics and history well. He also travelled with us to Lahore the next day and gave us company for the time we had been there. He invited a teacher of Quaid-e-Azam University, Sadia Mahmood, to the dinner as he thought that we should know someone from the academia. He also presented us with wallets, with our names embossed, from Jaffarjees, known for crafting the finest leather goods. A good discussion with Sadia Mahmood and a session of songs under the porch in the comfortable night-time chill of Islamabad that the eatery offered went very well.
The next morning, on March 25, it was a travel down to Lahore by the M2 Motorway, crossing four rivers — Dhanab, Jhelum, Chenab and Ravi — along the road with vast expanse of wheat field all around. By the time we reached Lahore, the day had already rolled into afternoon. After putting up at the Pearl Continental, as, again, our meeting with the governor of Punjab could not take place, we set out for the Wagah border. By the time we reached there, the retreat ceremony had all been over. We went around and could clearly see the stadium-like structure, similar to what there is on the Pakistan side, on the Indian side. We noticed a tall flagstaff a bit farther off on the Indian side. We were told that India flew a large flag there which a storm dismantled a few days ago. Rehan asked if the Pak Rangers would put up a similar flagstaff, the officials said that they would, much taller with a larger flag, an extension of faces, which Rehan also appeared to be thinking so, that the border guards make every sundown.
We spent a couple of hours shopping before the dinner that we took at Sarhad Restaurant in Gulberg 2 area. The place was famous for Afghan karhai, meat of lamb cooked without oil and much of spices. Last time in Lahore, I could not visit Iqbal Park, not the park itself but the Pakistan Tower associated with the Lahore Resolution. After the dinner, Rehan Ahmed took us to Old Anarkali Street, in the other direction of Anarkali Street that I had visited last time. We walked for a while and then he took us to a shop called Riaz Faluda Shop. It was open, almost dark and not serving anything. But it was Rehan’s city and it was his show. He called someone who sat us in another shop, Yousaf Faluda Shop, on the other side of the street. As Riaz was being renovated, we were served the traditional Riaz faluda in Yousaf. When we started digging in, Rehan asked us to look at our watch and wished us a happy independence day. It was exactly 12 midnight, which begins our Independence Day. It was a good, welcome gesture. When we left the place, it was well past midnight. We headed towards Iqbal Park but only to find it closed.
He promised that he would take us there the next morning. I requested him to take me through the Walled City even for a few minutes. He agreed but that did not happen because of other engagements of our team members. The next morning, we first went to Badshahi Masjid, visited the corners that I could not do last time. But before entering the mosque, we had a short visit to the grave of Allama Iqbal, just beside the mosque. After a few minutes, we were in Iqbal Park, closed for renovation. But Rehan Ahmed came to the rescue. He asked security officials to open the gate and let us take photographs of the tower that they usually call Yadgar, or memorial.
The Lahore Resolution is written in three languages — English, Urdu and Bangla — all around the tower base, under the rubrique of Pakistan Resolution, then Lahore Resolution, with the text reading controversial ‘states’, and then Delhi Resolution. As I was reading the text, Rafiullah read out aloud the text in Urdu and then asked me if I could read the text in Hindi. I told him that it was in Bangla although I would have no difficulty if it had been in Hindi. It reminded me of the mention of Devanagari in the guide to Gali-e-Dastoor. A national deliberateness or an individual ignorance? A café caught my notice, Café 1947, aptly named, close to the park. Driving down beside the Walled City, we reached Dunya TV and newspaper offices, besides the Lahore station of Pakistan Television. We went around the newsrooms and studios, talked with journalists there and then headed for Alhamra, or Lahore Arts Council, an institution like the Shilpakala Academy in Dhaka. In the middle of the ground inside the premises, there is a statue of Allama Iqbal, seated in a chair, on a raised platform, with two lines from his Bal-e-Jibril: Rang ho ya khist-o-sang, chang ho ya harf-o-soot | Moajaza-e-fan ki hain khun-e-jigar se namood (Just the media these pigments, bricks and stones; this harp, these words and sounds, just the media. The miracle of art springs from the lifeblood of the artist).
Back at the hotel, we were ready to be packed for Karachi for a return flight from there to Dhaka. Rehan saw us off at Allama Iqbal International. I gave two mementos to Azhar and Amr, personnel from the police, who had driven our car and guarded us while we had been in Islamabad and Lahore. But what came striking from one of them is that he asked me what my isme girami, full name, was. As I extended my visiting card, he asked back why I spelt my name with a ‘j’ in Jar while it should spell with a ‘zee’, clearly an influence of American English, as in Perso-Arabic, there is a ‘zal’ there. I explained the mistakes, by way of how it spells in Bangla, that my father made, but his asking the question widened my thoughts. They also entertained us, all the while had been in the car, by playing songs of Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. The most played among the numbers was Takte rahte tujhko sanjh savere | nainon mein basiya jaise nain yeh tere (I keep looking at you from dawn to dusk | Your eyes have been united with mine). I met Rahat Fateh Ali Khan at the Hotel Serena, where he also stayed, before attending Pakistan’s National Day parade. He composed the music that was played on the parade ground.
As the flight was delayed, we landed in Karachi late and on way to Marriott again, we had our dinner in Biryani Centre, famous for the dish, in Tariq Road area, just before midnight. We checked in at Marriott an hour and a half after midnight and checked out 4:00am to reach Jinnah International to fly to Dhaka. The delay in flight, however, came of use — Manto Numa, a compilation of Saadat Hasan Manto’s writing, and Shahabnama, the famous autobiographical classic of Qudrat Ullah Shahab that I could buy — as we went around the book shops inside the airport.
Abu Jar M Akkas is deputy editor at New Age.
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