Published: Times of India – Marc 30, 2011
CHANDIGARH: They were nine of them: lawyers, filmmakers, software engineers and professional peaceniks from the other side of the border — all part of a people-to-people peace offensive that has found renewed vigour following Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s diplomatic initiative. Their hosts here had sent them their prized stadium tickets so that they could watch the World Cup semifinal on Wednesday.
But Saeeda Diep, leader of the delegation, felt the occasion required sharing, not sacrifice. ‘We’d like to share the ticket. Our hosts can watch one half of the game and we can watch the other. That would be in the best way to promote friendship between the people of both countries,” said Diep, chairperson, Institute for Peace and Secular Studies, Lahore.
Diep was overwhelmed by the reception she got and it took four-and-half-hours before her group got to proceed. “I feel like a Prime Minister,” she said as TV cameras captured every move she made.
The delegation’s said the match should be viewed as part of a competition, not combat. Filmmaker Ayesha Arif, who’s making a Bollywood film ‘Dillogical’, said, “People-to-people contact is the best way to build better relationship. We need to know that we are the same people in order to remove antagonism between peoples. Some of my Pakistani friends who came here last year were disappointed to find that people were much the same,” said Arif, whose documentary, ‘Zonked’, was first noticed in an Indore film festival.
After the Chandigarh administration cleared a proposal, locals can host Pakistani fans. The group will be staying at different homes with people they have never met before. Arif felt that staying with strangers is a fabulous idea. “After spending time with them, you begin to understand that they could well have been your neighbours in Lahore,” she said.
S K Sethia is determined to offer a taste of the big, fat Punjabi hospitality to his guests. It won’t be for long though.
The guests need to cross Wagah border before midnight April 2. But Sethia,
who works in Haryana’s election department, is determined they leave with a positive impression. He went to Pakistan last year and has pleasant memories of his visit. “In Pakistan, you forget that you are in another country,” he said. His wife Nitu said, “We’ve prepared chicken curry, koftas, kheer and lots of other things for our guests. We also plan to serve them South Indian food.”
Another likely host, Lakhwinder Kaur Bhatia, said her family had emotionally satisfying memories of their visit to Pakistan. “My parents went to their village in Gujranwala about 10 years ago. The villagers showed them their house. It was nicely maintained,” she said, and added, “I’ve no problems offering hospitality to people from Pakistan even if they are strangers.”
Lahore-based young lawyer Marianne Arif said such interactions help promote solidarity. Usman Gill (25), a law student and a Shoaib Akhtar fan, said such initiatives were needed. ”They help build relations and act as bridges between the two countries,” he said.