Pakistanis and I

In uniform or otherwise, soldiers are forbidden from fraternising with adversaries but occasions do necessitate meetings. Here are a few.  

Towards the end of September 1965, though operations were over, the bitterness continued; but the stalemate thawed it a bit. On the occasion of Diwali on October 24, the Pakistani soldiers from Sialkot came up to us with sweets. As a forward observation officer, I accompanied the CO of the infantry battalion. A brief meeting and exchange of sweets later, we were back. This was repeated by us with a meeting on Eid.

In 1971, amidst intense battles, as the Brigade Major, I was informed of the capture of the second-in-command of a Pak-Occupied-Kashmir (POK) battalion. He was arrogant and had to be kept under restraint till he was handed over to the Division headquarters. In March 1988, as an instructor in the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, I was detailed as Liaison Officer with a Saudi Military Delegation. On arrival in Wellington from the Coimbatore airport, I found the same arrogant major-POW, now a Brigadier and military attache in Delhi to boot, accompanying them as the Liaison Officer from the Pakistan Army!

Being Friday, they all offered namaz before lunch on their own prayer mats but that fellow wanted a white sheet. I couldn’t tell him that his arrogance had increased, but arranged a fresh white sheet. In a few months, he was declared persona-non-grata for espionage and evicted!

For the next 33 years, there was no contact with any Pakistani, until July 6, 2004 in Amsterdam. Just across the Central Station, I went to a vegetarian salad bar, ‘Maoz’ (meaning a fortress), run by a person from Karachi for over 20 years! The bar was only playing Hindi film music and the owner spoke reasonably good Hindustani welcoming me with: “Aap kya pasand karengey” (What will be your pleasure, sir?) I had my salad and soup, conversed with him, thanked and left.

No meetings thereafter till my Scandinavian trip this July, where I crossed paths with three Pakistanis in five days. The first was on July 11. My 4G connectivity stopped working just when I needed it badly. While walking to Roskilde Cathedral (outside Copenhagen), I saw a Telia shop which was the Nordic partner for my service-provider. I walked in and found Mr Shahbaz, a Pakistani settled in Copenhagen for a decade. He couldn’t help me but very sweetly gave access to free WiFi for one hour.

The very next evening, I was in Oslo Central and couldn’t find a place to buy a day-pass for next day’s transport. I saw an Indian-looking security person and requested his help in English. He, a Khan from Lyallpur, immediately asked in Punjabi: “Twannu Punjabi aandi ye?” (Do you know Punjabi?) I replied in Punjabi and he took me to a shop right next door, run by a Pakistani-Sindhi who spoke Punjabi, too. My problem was not only solved but I got 50% off as a senior (above 67 years)!

The third was on my Stockholm-Dubai flight on July 15. Next to me was a pleasant-looking Asian (with a British wife), who requested my help in choosing in-flight Hindi movies. I suggested Newton and one other. Being from POK, he said, he would go to Rawalpindi and reach home in three hours by the Chinese-built super-highway. Now you know why Pakistanis eat out of Chinese hands!  

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