M A I N   N E W S

Airport dazzles, Lahore doesn’t
A.J. Philip
Tribune News Service

Lahore, November 22
From the Indira Gandhi International airport in New Delhi to Allama Iqbal International airport in Lahore was a flight from the 20th century to the 21st century.

It was a refreshing change from the general state of disrepair that one witnessed in New Delhi to the ultramodern look that the gateway to Lahore provided. “It was never like this,” responded an Indian visitor who first came to Lahore five years ago.

He was as much surprised as we were as we took the escalator to reach the immigration counter. The girl at the counter was courteous but efficiency was certainly not her forte. She took her own time to feed the visa details into the computer which failed to register as she did not feed the “surname” properly. She had to do it again much to the annoyance of those who stood behind us.

Outside the airport, the situation was more or less the same as at New Delhi railway station on any given day. The floor was littered with rose petals. Why so much of crowd? A friendly constable explained that they had come to receive the pilgrims returning from the Haj. I remembered reading on the 45-minute flight from New Delhi a newspaper report about the harrowing experience of some Pakistani pilgrims in Saudi Arabia.

It is verily said that the best introduction to the city comes from the taxi driver. Rasheed (name changed), who drives the equivalent of Maruti Esteem, was a little taken aback when he was told that the Indian rupee was slightly stronger than the Pakistani vis-à-vis the dollar. Perhaps, it could have been a shrewd attempt to get a few more rupees from us.

“The airport is two years and two months old” said Rasheed, who needed just a provocation to turn garrulous. He turned out to be a bitter critic of the entire system in Pakistan. “Look at these magnificent buildings on both sides of the road. They all belong to the Army people, who rule the country. From where do they get the money to build such palaces?”

It was a 16-km drive to the hotel. The road was excellent and so was Rasheed’s running commentary. “On the left hand side you find the Corps Commander’s house. Why does he need such a large estate to live? There must be at least 250 persons to guard his fortress. Don’t be dazzled by the bright lights and fountains here. These are provided to keep our army people in style.

“On the right, you see an airconditioned mosque. It was bequeathed to the nation by General Zia-ul-Haq. He liked to have certain comforts even when he prayed. His brethren in the Army find it very comfortable too.

“We are on the Mall Road where the British stayed in grandeur. Today the rich and the beautiful of Lahore stay here. Do you know what they do in their spare time? They either go to the Gymkhana Club which you can find on the left or the McDonald’s you find on the right. But nothing right happens there. You can find young couples cavorting in public.

“We are now on the Upper Mall Road where the aristocrats and the landed gentry lived in the past. Today only those who piled their pockets while serving the Army can stay here. You can find the Governor’s house on the right side. It is not a house. It is so large that half of Lahore’s population can stay there without causing any discomfort to one another. The Governor too is an army man. He must be a friend of the President.”

Rasheed has definite views on Pakistan-India relations. He finds it incongruous that the two countries have to strive for peace. “In Pakistan, a majority of the people watch Indian television programmes and discuss them in social gatherings. They want to listen to only Indian songs while pirated copies of Indian films reach the market as soon as they are released in India.

“Films are not an exception. Try selling pan leaves from Karachi. The customer will insist on Indian leaves. You can find all sorts of motor vehicles in Pakistan. But have a close look at their tyres. They come from India via Dubai. All motor spare parts come from India. So do medicines. If we import them directly from India, it would be cheaper. But then how would those in power make their pile?

Rasheed finds it funny India and Pakistan fighting over Kashmir. “India says a mad dog has entered its territory. Pakistan also says a mad dog has entered its territory. Both countries have been running after the mad dogs. Why can’t they leave the mad dogs to themselves and do better things?”

We have reached the hotel where the security guard stops us. He wants Rasheed to open the car’s bonnet and dickey, which he tries in vain from inside the car. Reluctantly he comes out to tell the guard, “My dear brother. I have not brought bombs. They are more expensive than your hotel”.

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