2005, a new round of “cricket diplomacy”, two series, one in India and one in Pakistan, thousands of visas issued to people on both sides of the border.
All excited, my friend gets the visa to go watch the match in Chandigarh.

Quite apart from the mela and the incredible hospitality he experienced there as just another anonymous Pakistani, what marked him most was his visit to his ancestral village. He’d never been there before, nor, it seems had his parents. It was his grandparents who, in the early 1900s, had migrated from the eastern doabas to the new canal colonies in western Punjab. Due to an aversion to marrying outside pre-migration sub-castes, they still retain certain distinctive features and even a specific dialect. So, the approximate directions of his relatives were enough to get him to the village deep in the countryside in East Punjab.

When they realised that he was Pakistani and that his ancestors were probably from that village, they took him to the elders and two and two were rapidly put together – even though, thanks to the two migrations, there was not a single Muslim family left. But his features, the shared accent, vocabulary and expressions, some names his grandparents had given him as references were enough. Their childhood memories came flooding back, of former neighbours and playmates, of people and local legends their parents had told them about.

They then took him to the village mosque, maintained in perfect condition, even better than if it were in regular use! They said, “We said to ourselves, ‘One day, some of our friends might visit us or move back. So, we wanted to be able to say that we had kept up your place of worship in good condition, that we had not forgotten you.’”

(I wish he’d taken some photos for me to post here! In my mind, I see it in this off-white/very pale pink shade with the mini-minarets topped with blue or maybe green. The paint is new, the walls sparkling in the bright sun, the covered section deep in shadow, cool, the open courtyard with the prayer mats deserted at 11 in the morning. The door is wooden, light brown, not painted, upright in its hinges, fits correctly in its frame. In other words, a typical village mosque of the kind I’ve seen thousands of times traveling in the countryside on our side of the border. Just that it would be in picture-perfect condition 🙂 )

He loves trekking, hiking, has even done a little rock-climbing. That is to say, he’s connected with nature. And hates littering. None of his friends got it, mocked him for what appeared to them to be his obsessive urge to avoid littering the trails in the Margalla hills he would take them up. They just didn’t get it. I guess it’s one of those many cases where feigning ignorance is so much more convenient than the alternative – making the effort to understand an issue.

One hot day, coming down a trail, merrily bantering away and munching on chocolates (or maybe it was chips), they passed an Australian who saw his friends throwing empty wrappers down the hillside. They didn’t notice it, but he turned around and went right down all the way till he located the offending wrappers – and then brought them back up to the group. He handed them back to the surprised young macho men, saying only, “This is your country.”

It was one of those “I told you so” moments for my friend, and though it took a white person to get through to them (via our mental slavery to all things white), he remains grateful that the message did get through!

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