Drama across border

How could I not understand what the sarge really meant by all that fuss?

The bus journey from Delhi to Lahore gave me an idea of what could being a VIP mean.

 But as we came out of Lahore’s Gulberg bus terminal we (me, my wife) were again the same common people, just as much as the teeming crowd all around. The feeling deepened further when in the morning we went to report our arrival at foreigners’ registration office at police head quarters. 

The desk in-charge, a plump uniformed sergeant, till then engrossed in a hearty chit-chat with his colleagues, wore a very grim look the moment he saw us. Having checked our papers he looked around and then demanded where our host was. We knew the presence of host was desirable but really not necessary.

Our host was an 80-year-old sickly uncle who really wanted to come but seeing his precarious position we had stopped him. We tried to make the sergeant understand. He just shut us up. “Bring him immediately. At 1 we close,” he said. It was already twelve. With traffic at its peak and his home in a distant suburb, we didn’t know how he would make it. Getting registered within 24 hours of arrival was a must, we were told, or else. But what else, he didn’t tell.

However, I phoned the uncle, very nervously and without any hope. Mother of all miracles; he made it. He made it 15 minutes still left. Huffing and coughing just as he took out his papers,  I grabbed them from him and spread at the sarge’s table. He checked them and declared all right; the papers proved him to be a Pakistani but as far we the two Indians were concerned that was not enough. What could be enough then, he didn’t agree to enlighten us. 

We all-me, wife, uncle, even the driver- pleaded hard but nothing succeeded in softening him. No emotional appeal could touch his heart. Desperate and exasperated, I declared at last, “Ok sir, I give up, and we are going. Thank you for your sincere co-operation.” “Going? Where? And how come?” He was confused. “We still have our own country, sir,” I said. “But why?” Suddenly he was looking pathetic. “Simply because you will not allow us to stay here.”

“How come?” he again repeated. He looked at me, my wife, uncle, and the driver. “Don't you know, sir, you are our guests?” “That’s what we had guessed,” I said. “Why guess? You ARE our guests.” Now he looked genuinely hurt. “We can’t let you go like that. Matter of prestige, sir,” His Punjabi accented Urdu became heavier. Then he thought, and went deeper. “Sir, why don’t you go with OUR guests and have some rest in your car? And leave the driver behind,” He said to uncle. He was looking a true son. We waited in our car. 

After 20 anxious minutes the driver appeared grinning like a victor. Done, he said. How much, asked uncle. 150. Damn cheap. Around 90 Indian rupees. A feeling of great relief mixed with a sigh! How could I not think of it at the outset? Poor uncle was badly coughing in the polluted city air. Foolish of me. How could I not understand what the sarge really meant by all that fuss? After all we hadn’t come from a different world. We only had crossed a political border.

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