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The Rediff Special/ George Iype

If Karachi is the heart of Pakistan, Lahore is the country's soul

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"Salaam Walekum," an Immigration Functionary at the Lahore International Airport greets you. An emblem of the Pakistan flag studded on his black suit with green shoulder stripes, he is curt, but polite.

But mark the difference. In India, we have immigration officers. In Pakistan, they have Immigration Functionaries. You get out of the airport to see buses of the Lahore Transport System plying on the roads. Photographs of Kajol and Madhuri Dixit adore the rear wind glasses of most buses. Some of them proudly announce that wedding bells are ringing for Kajol and Ajay Devgan.

But mark the difference. In Delhi you have the Delhi Transport Corporation. In Lahore, they have the Lahore Transport System. The hangover of military rule is still felt in Pakistan. "Democracy is here. But words like functionaries and system are still used in government establishment," says Faiza Hasan, a foreign ministry functionary in Lahore.

When Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee decided to take a ride to Lahore, it sent scribes in Delhi scurrying to the Ministry of External Affairs. The zest to see history being created by Vajpayee and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharief at the Wagah border overpowered the journalists covering mundane politics in Delhi. "We don't want to miss the bus to Lahore," some 250 odd scribes pleaded with the ministry. But as the wish list to accompany the prime minister in the bus shot up, the ministry issued an edict: The prime minister will travel by a bus to Wagah. All journalists will go by an Airbus to Lahore.

If Karachi is the heart of Pakistan, Lahore is the country's soul. Lahore's tree-lined roads, sleek buildings and forts and tombs belonging to the Mughal era make it a replica of Delhi. But the similarity ends there. Life in Lahore would better be compared to Bombay. If Bombay is India's Bollywood, Lahore is Pakistan's Lollywood. Street plays, art festivals, paintings exhibitions, ghazal evenings, educational retreats and almost one Punjabi film release every week, Lahore is brimming with cultural activity.

The city is said to have been founded by Loh, the son of Rama Chandra, the legendary hero of Ramayana. But Lahore reached its peak of glory during the reign of the Mughals especially during the time of Akbar the Great, who made it his provincial capital. Like Delhi, the Mughals endowed Lahore with some of the finest architecture that are preserved in their original grandeur. Delhi's Walled City looks similar to Lahore's Walled City. In both Old Delhi and in Old Lahore, the first attraction is a red-coloured railway station.

The British built New Delhi with double-lane roads, the imposing Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Parliament building and the North and South Block. The British, from 1940 to 1947, also built a modern Lahore by harmoniously combining Mughal, Gothic and Victorian styles of architecture. Thus there stands in Lahore as in New Delhi some majestic buildings like the High Court, Government College, Lahore Museum, National College of Art, Jinnah Library, Tollinton Market, the Old Campus of the Punjab University and the Provincial Assembly.

Drive on the tree-lined Mall Road in Lahore. Zamzama, the mighty cannon, is the most singular attraction on this busy road. Rudyard Kipling in his classic novel Kim immortalised Zamzama. The mighty cannon is still the pride of Pakistanis on this border city. Proof of it is seen in almost every gift shop across the city. Miniatures of this cannon are beautifully arranged in Pace, the huge shopping complex owned by former cricketer Imran Khan. Pace, a local shop-owner says, is the biggest shopping complex in Pakistan. No wonder, then, that Vajpayee's family --daughter Namita, husband Ranjan and grand-daughter Niharika -- chose to shop at Pace. Pace's manager says Niharika picked up a marble Zamzama to gift to Vajpayee.

In fact, Vajpayee had wanted his family wanted to shop at the most popular and busiest Anarkali market where he roamed about during his youth. But Lahore stood standstill during Vajpayee's visit, thanks to the hartal observed by militant Jamaat-e-Islami activists.

The right-wing Muslim fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan is similar to our Shiv Sena. But in aggressiveness and organisational skills, Jamaat activists are superior to Shiv Sainiks. While Shiv Sainiks are known for their militant threats which often go unfulfilled, Jamaat workers carry out their threats. Thus during Vajpayee's visit to Lahore, the city was under siege by Jamaat-e-Islami. Fierce clashes between the fundamentalist Muslims and the police left one policeman dead and hundreds injured. "No one fights for a cause as Jamaat leaders do in Pakistan," says Javad Muzaffar, a local journalist.

The Jamaat-e-Islami believes that in Pakistan's complex social system, religion is the essential ingredient of a political organisation. It says for Pakistan, the ideological, moral and political aspects of the Kashmir dispute are supreme and cannot be sacrificed for material gains. Therefore, unless Kashmir is liberated, Pakistan's plans for economic well being will be a mere illusion.

Some Indian journalists covering the historic Vajpayee-Sharief summit made it a point to go back to their family roots in Lahore. Ashwini Minna, former Ranji Trophy legspinner and now editor-in-chief of the Punjab Kesri group, arrived with a road map of Lahore to discover his old family home. Somewhere in the crowded Anarkali market lies the ancestral house where Minna's grandfather, the late Lala Jagat Narain, founder of the Punjab Kesri group, lived and ran his press. It also housed the Congress office in the undivided Punjab.

After searching at least in a dozen congested bylanes, local residents led Minna to a house, which no longer looks ancient. The huge house had been rebuilt and divided into several families; part of it still houses a government press. For Minna -- like it is for many Indians -- Lahore is home for an emotional reunion.

Across Pakistan's major cities -- Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore -- an exhibition to create communal harmony is taking place. Using photographs of people and buildings that make up Ayodhya where militant Hindus tore down the controversial Babri Masjid in December 1992, the exhibition tries to make Pakistanis understand that Ayodhya is a living city and not the religious battleground it had become. Organised by the New Delhi-based SAHMAT (Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust), the exhibition is titled Hum Sab Ayodhya The exhibition explores the multi-faceted life of ancient Ayodhya by showing pictures of medieval scrolls and statues of Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus.

It also reminds us that ancient Chinese traveller Fa Hien first documented and gave his account of the city of Ayodhya. As Vajpayee and Sharief strive for bilateral agreements to ease the 51-year old India-Pakistan tension over Kashmir, SAHMAT hopes the exhibition will promote solidarity and result in a moral and religious agreement between Muslims and Hindus and Indians and Pakistanis.

Though Pakistan is an Islamic country, many pious Muslims still keep Hindu traditions intact. One such Muslim is Masrur Sheik, managing director of Creative Technologies Pvt Ltd, a leading computer firm in Pakistan. His company has offices in Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore. But his head office still functions from the Sri Rama Building in Karachi. "My father bought this building before Partition. Even after Partition, he kept Sri Ram's name because we believe it was the Hindu god who gave us prosperity," says the young businessman. "I have more Hindu friends than Muslims in Pakistan," he adds. Masrur plans to take his 77-year-old father to Lucknow where some of his Hindu friends had migrated from Karachi in 1947.

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