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The Rediff Special/Dev Anand

'You have to make a beginning somewhere'

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I was born in Gurdaspur in our part of Punjab. And, I used to study in the Government College of Lahore, which was only half an hour distance from my home in Gurdaspur.

I remember that it was in 1943 that I finished my graduation in English honours and left for Bombay by the Frontier Mail from Lahore. The train used to run from Peshawar in the North West Frontier Province to Bombay in those days.

I had a lot of hopes and expectations to make it big in Bombay and then to go back to Lahore and visit my college. Little did I realise that our country will be partitioned and I will never be able to see Lahore again.

So imagine my luck when I received a call from Prime Minister A B Vajpayee's office requesting me to be on the bus which was going to Pakistan last weekend. I was overjoyed and could not refuse the offer.

I immediately cancelled all my appointments for my next film Censor and left for Lahore. The last time I visited this city was 56 years ago. And, I just could not believe that I was actually visiting that city of my dreams, a dream which I had completely given up hopes of realising in my lifetime.

The cutting across the Wagah border was one of the most wonderful experiences I ever had in my life. There were lots of people on the border and lot of hopes and aspirations from people on both the sides. When we reached the Wagah border, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief welcomed us and introduced us to his cabinet ministers and other dignitaries. There was so much of a common factor between them and us, I just can't express that in words.

There were many children and adults across the border, waving and welcoming us to Pakistan. It was something which I have not witnessed in my life earlier.

The only regret I had was that I could not meet any of my friends who studied with me in Lahore Government College due to lack of time. We were there for only two days and were surrounded by so many people and the press that I just could not find the time to meet any of my pre-Partition friends.

A lot of my friends telephoned me but I just could not meet them. I came away with a promise to meet them the next time I visit Lahore.

Luckily, I was able to go to my college, and I was amazed to see that its structure was just as it was, in the same Gothic style as I knew it in 1943. However, there was one little change, they had constructed a new building adjacent to our college, probably to occupy more students.

Interestingly, even Sharief studied in the same college. It was so good to discuss with him about our college.

I also had the opportunity to meet Sharief in a one-to-one meeting. He had seen my films and was impressed. And, you know, we were talking in Punjabi most of the time. There is not much difference between their dialect of Punjabi and ours. But of course, we also spoke in English and Hindustani at the same time.

Nawaz knew I was not a political person but still he gave me time and spoke a lot of things on various issues, including a bit of politics. And, I congratulated him for taking this bold step of encouraging the bus tour to Pakistan.

I think India and Pakistan can be good, friendly neighbours if they want to. You see, even East Germany and West Germany united for the good of the people. In the same manner, we need to have stronger ties with Pakistan so that it benefits people from both the sides.

There are so many things that happened in these two days that I am thinking of making a film about it. I am planning to write a script and only then decide about the kind of film I will make. But everything is there in my mind, even though no concrete plan has materialised so far.

You say, isn't it true we fought three wars, so how can we be friends? No, we must not talk of the past, as there is no point in discussing those things when you are trying to build a new relationship. You have to make a beginning somewhere and this bus trip was a really good beginning.

What about the nuclear tests, you say? Now, again, there is no point in harping on this issue too. If you want to build a trustful and concrete relationship, we have to trust each other. And, I am happy that the move has begun. And the day we start talking about our past, we will never be able to have a concrete relationship.

About Kashmir, I think the politicians and people of both the countries must come to a common understanding and permanent settlement. It is a very important issue between the two countries, it is the only bone of contention between us.

You see, when we were in Pakistan 11 people were killed in Kashmir. These are really disturbing events which could derail the peace process. Of course, these problems cannot be solved overnight but we must make an attempt to solve them. In every country there are voices of dissent but we must always try to bring the people of both countries together and build a good relation with our neighbours.

Similarly, there were protests in Pakistan during our visit. But we did not see those protestors because we were cordoned off. You see, people from both the sides must forget the past and build a new relationship as we are entering the 21st century. We cannot keep petty things on our mind, as coming together serves both India and Pakistan's interests. So, let's pray for this new beginning.

The Rediff Specials

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