18 July, 2008

Delhi. Before the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, my maternal ancestors lived not very far from here. My grandmother loves to tell stories of the splendor and joy of life in rural India and dilli.

After World War II the British left behind an independent India but also a hastily established Pakistan where the Muslims of India could “practice their religion without persecution.” It was a result of the Two Nation Theory which had matured over the years and according to which Hinduism and Islam were so different (for example, while Hindus consider cows sacred, Muslims slaughter cows as a religious sacrament!) that they could be considered two separate nations. The same people who had lived together for centuries were now thrown into chaos. It resulted in the largest migration of people in all history. Hindus fled the new Pakistan and a large number of Muslims migrated into it, leaving their friends and property behind. Today there are still more Muslims in India than in Pakistan. In 1971, there was civil war in Pakistan, and East Pakistan fought for and gained independence to become Bangladesh. Indira Gandhi said: “Today we have sunk the two nation theory in the Bay of Bengal.”

I land at the airport and I am scared they will think I am some terrorist for Pakistan. The immigration officer is extremely friendly, helps me out with the extra forms I have to fill out, and gives me information about where to register myself the next day. Pakistanis have to go and report to a special office when they enter India. The last two times I came to India as part of official delegations and was exempted from that.

Now I was in this “enemy” country on my own. I must say though that I can really blend in. I look like an Indian, I speak Hindi, I know the customs, etiquettes, slang, everything. So in a way it is very much like home. It is only when someone asks me where I am from that I hesitate a little. This is because many Indians, like many Pakistanis, are taught in schools and at home to hate the enemy beyond the border. However, I have had so many pleasant experiences even in one day that I will now stop being shocked every time someone is nice to me. (Stephanie had said that Parisians, who are infamous for being rude, were nice to me because I was just a nice person. Maybe that’s true here too!)

The hotel is inexpensive and yet there is cable TV, a fridge and an AC, which is very convenient. There is no internet, however. They have a computer in the lobby with internet but that’s it. So I will embark upon the quest of an “internet café” like Andy did a year ago in Bombay.

In fact I went out last night but it was closed. On my way back I got lost in the web of dark, narrow streets, with stray dogs around me, and a few people that didn’t seem very friendly. A big, black dog started following me and kept barking. And though my heart pounded with fear, I maintained a calm façade, pretended to ignore the dog, and kept walking at the same slow pace. It works on people, would it work on this creature? Thankfully it did.

I was in a poor neighborhood near the hotel. I knew the hotel was at most a five-minute walk away. I didn’t know what direction though because here there is no grid, there are no street signs, and now there were few lights. It’s exactly like its counterpart neighborhood in Pakistan. I kept asking for directions in Hindu, pretending I knew exactly where I was, and eventually found it.

This morning I went and registered at a special office. I used an auto to get there. An auto is a small vehicle with three wheels. They’re very cool. I used the Delhi Metro to get back. The metro is very impressive, and in it I no longer feel like I am in Pakistan, because it is really modern and, for me, a symbol of India’s development, flourishing economy, and progressive mindset.

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