As dawn broke on 15th August, India’s Independence Day, I landed at the Lahore airport. A few hours earlier, Pakistan had celebrated its Independence Day, and the entire place was bedecked with green flags carrying the crescent.
One could sense hope and excitement in the atmosphere even at that early hour.
I reached the immigration counter, preparing myself to be grilled by an officer, whom I imagined would be looking like a headmaster about to discipline an errant school boy. My feet came to an abrupt halt. Behind the desk sat a young lady wearing a black hijab.
She shattered my perception that most Pakistani women were burqa-clad, like the ones we see in Bhopal and Lucknow.
I handed my passport, both my cataract-operated eyes keen to watch how her comely face would look when she twitched her nose – that’s just what a bearded co-passenger had once done upon spotting the logo of the three lions on my passport.
She leafed through it, stamped it, and returned it with a smile, “Happy Independence Day to you, Sir.”
Her words shattered my second perception: That every Pakistani was as hostile to India as those elderly Pakistani guests in our TV debates.
In the following three days, I came to understand the people of Pakistan even further, and discovered that basically, we are more alike than different.
The average Pakistani has the same anxieties as we do in India – price hikes, children’s safety and education, the impact of saas-bahu TV serials on our family life, and a deep concern for the future.
My tryst with Pakistan had commenced on a rainy June morning, when I opened the Facebook page of my novel, and out popped a message from a stranger – Dr Shahid Ahmad Rajput, Professor at COMSATS Institute in Islamabad.
He informed me about an international conference, referred me to his Facebook wall, and asked if I would be interested in participating. He also added, “I’m intrigued by the title Trade winds to Meluhha.”
Trade winds to Meluhha is my novel, set in the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation and Mesopotamia. Failing to interest any of the big six publishers, I had published it as an e-book on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. One-fifth of its demand generates in Pakistan, and therefore I was very keen to visit the country.
I sought clarification on few queries from Dr. Rajput, and to address his interest in my novel, sent links leading to my guest-posts in historical blogs. Not only did he answer in detail, but he also invited me to speak at the Harappa International Conference, whose theme was, ‘To achieve a visible change in the protection of the national heritage of Harappa archaeological site.’
In my paper, “Novelising the ancient Indus Valley,” I referred to World Travel and Tourism Council’s 2015 report, which said that the sector contributed 10 per cent to GDP, and supported one in every 11 jobs. Narrating how the UK, Hong Kong and Jordan used fiction to attract tourists, I suggested that Pakistan and India could reap immense economic benefit by promoting Harappa, Mohen-jo-Daro, Lothal and Dholavira through fiction.
Thus, I made a case that Indus Valley fiction could indirectly help both the governments in creating more jobs and wealth in their respective economies, and they could be better equipped to invest on preserving their Bronze Age heritage.
Dr Qasid Mallah told us how his team had salvaged Lakhan-jo-Daro mound, 90 per cent of which had been destroyed by brick thieves, antique hunters, land mafia and factories. I could not help nodding, because that is exactly what happened to Rangpur, an Indus Valley culture site in India.
Overall, my experience of the Pakistani people was extremely positive.
Inshallah, as my Pakistani friends would say, after next year’s conference, I hope to visit Harappa and Mohen-jo-Daro, the two most famous Indus Valley Civilisation sites located in Pakistan.
—All photos by author
Vasant Davé was born in East Africa to immigrant parents. He provided Industrial Market Research services to clients in Australia, China, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Singapore, the UK and the USA. His work requiring extensive tours helped him address an interest in archaeological sites. After retirement in 2008, he took up writing Trade winds to Meluhha.
This article was originally published in Dawn.com. It has been reprinted with permission.