Sunday, December 11, 2016

Like the Prime Minister of Pakistan

When I applied for a visa to Delhi this January, everyone warned that it would be rejected. "These are volatile times," they argued. But despite the volatility, my visa was approved.

We walked across Wagah on the Indian Republic Day, January 26 -- when India got its Constitution. I was relieved that it wasn't some war victory celebration.
Richly dressed soldiers, including women received us, did a special march, pooja and gave us laddu as prasad. A police vehicle escorted us throughout the journey, with its hooter on. You could easily imagine yourself as the prime minister of Pakistan.

On the morning of the three-day long Model UN conference in Delhi, Lady Shri Ram College's representative thanked us for making it there. Afterwards we, the delegates, reached our committee rooms, where our country cards were placed in alphabetical order. Model UNs pursue the same procedures internationally. Some things were delightful, like the content of the debate. We were allowed to raise points for factual corrections and this proved to be a torrid affair, which sometimes led to aggression, with the conference director yelling and the male delegates going berserk. Some of our unmediated caucuses were comparable to kabaddi matches.

The female delegates wore skirts, which was a pleasant sight. The different colors and combination reminded me of Condoleeza Rice. One very encouraging feature for students and institutions was the affordable conference fee which integrated the tea and meals. The limited number of delegates (almost 200) was also pleasing since we have had awful experiences in over-sized, under-provided conferences in Pakistan.

The first debating topic was CEDAW -- Conference for the Elimination of Discriminatory Laws against Women -- and its reformation to help female employment and education. We passed a constructive resolution with innovative solutions and progressed on to the "promotion of human rights, while countering terrorism with special emphasis on extrajudicial, arbitrary and summary executions."

Emergency was declared to solve a disaster. In all the Model UNs I have attended, the crisis-struck nation was always Pakistan. It was the same here -- the Taliban took over Waziristan and its surrounding areas. Eventually, Zardari was abducted and Islamabad fell. It was an ambassadorial test to solve a hypothetical yet realistic problem. For me it was odd to sit in India and imagine Islamabad's fall. Although we were stimulating at the UNHCR, the focus shifted to the political drama. The terror spread worldwide and blasts happened in London and Washington. The US was persuaded to negotiate with the terrorists to quit destroying them. For me, it became so wild that I slowly felt myself drifting away into unreality…

After the first day at Conference, I went to see Ghalib, Ameer Khusro and Nizamuddin Auliya, who are neighbors in death. Ghalib's tomb was a square, marble mount. The emperor of poetry, rested in a plain grave. Unlike Iqbal, they assured that Ghalib doesn't sleep unaccompanied and many graves encircle him. A few feet from his tomb was a three-storey building. The top window of the building would have a close peek of his grave. What a blessing to live by a window that opens at Ghalib's eternal cradle. Dear, Mr. Ghalib, my people made your darling "rekhta" their national language. We often drift away with the pop culture, but you remain our unsurpassed therapist after a heart-break.

We reached Nizamuddin's Dargah on a Thursday -- the qawali night. Television cannot rival the intoxication of a live qawali, that too a free one. Ignore the beggars and greet the magnificent poet Amir Khusro.

Women were not allowed inside, so I stood gazing through the glass wall. A man offered to pray for me if I paid him and registered my name in his catalogue. Now, since when did we start purchasing prayers?

The conference ended in three days, and the last two days were free. A few years back, I had stopped at Qutub Minar for five minutes, clicked a picture and left. This year I planned to do some justice to it. The Qutub Minar is a huge pillar-like structure; almost every ruler of Delhi had some interaction with. We got a telephone-like listening device with recorded lectures. You find the number on the map; reach the actual place, click that number on the phone. A voice lectures you, on the past of the spot. With the device in hand, sunglasses and ear phones on, it appeared as if I was about to board a space shuttle to Mars. Many school children were reluctant to come close, fearing I might emit lethal radiations.

India Gate was decorated with an Indian flag to celebrate the Republic Day. The gate is etched with the martyr's names, during the British Raj to commemorate the Indian deaths in World War I and onwards. My great-grandfather also fought WWI, so technically he was also being honored. Rashtrapati Bhavan (Presidential Palace) was also adorned with lights, as if fire-flies were embedded on it.

The same night we went to the Shankar Doll Museum, which is located amidst the offices of all the major Indian newspapers. Every Indian state has a corner reserved, where its traditional dresses, dances, activity, festivals, brides etc are depicted. It portrays Gandhi during the Gandhi March, Lord Krishna teasing the Gopis, the classical dancers of India in their typical apparel. They had a display for foreign countries too, and the Pakistani corner is rather downtrodden so please donate some dolls there.

It is a sin for a bibliophile to miss the Delhi World Book Festival. Some twenty huge halls, having hundreds of stalls each are a better treat then the Oscars on our last day. There were stalls presenting the Indian states, language associations, foreign and local publishers, even departments like the Haryana Police and Punjab University Chandigarh Law Department. Children and young adults flocked the regional languages stalls like Kennada, Tamil, Bengali etc. The Indian language heritage still preserved since their government, through organizations like Sahitya Akademi etc, are promoting literature by translations, subsidized prices etc. I bought a Tagore anthology and happily carried it across the city. After all, how many people have the credit of carrying Tagore?

One of the beauties of Delhi is that after every few miles, a new culture emerges. From the skirt-clad students in Lady Shri Ram College, to women in bright saris in old Delhi and Islamic attire near Juma Mosque, every place is a hybrid of diverse social classes and cultures.

Delhi is a foodie's heaven. Kakori Kebabs sold near Nizammudin's shrine are exalted strips of spiced up meat that melt in one's mouth. From Chaney Pathurey in Bengali Market to the Paan in Khan Market, South Indian food at Sagar Ratna and the grainy Raagi Idlee at Delhi Haat, the food reverie is painfully locked in my taste buds, now.

I collected all these memories of the colorful dolls, aroma of the south Indian cuisines and Kathakali dancers, the sufi melodies at the Nizamuddin's darga and Tagore, packed them in my luggage and boarded the Samjhota bus. While, I drifted back in the eventful week I had, the police escort again made me feel like the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

This article was first published in The News on Sunday. 

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