By Anupreet Sandhu Bhamra
Benazir Bhutto assassinated.
Governments and media pulled together pieces, and all I could think of was – Food Street in Lahore.
Sounds bizarre to think of a street that sells kebabs and Pakistani delicacies when a nation is embroiled in political turmoil, but the Food Street means more than a vending street to me.
As an Indian who grew up listening to political rhetoric and Bollywood movies spewing hatred at the nuclear-armed nation, Pakistan was the “neighbour” I was told to be wary of.
I kept that in mind.
A reporter with The Hindustan Times newspaper in India, I entered Pakistan for the first time in the spring of 2001 to cover a cultural conference in Lahore.In the evening came the trip to Food Street. Open to traffic during the day, the street is closed at both ends in the evening and sells Pakistani treats late into the night.
Reminding myself of being on the “neighbour’s soil”, I was taken aback when a group of women surrounded me. The word of “guests from India” had spread around town as media had run stories complete with my photograph. I had a mini-celebrity status.
And then came a request that still haunts me. “Baaji [sister] can I touch you?” asked a woman dressed in black. “Well, yes,” I hesitantly replied.
She stroked my arm, emotion overpowering her and then managing between gasps of joy and surprise, she said, “You are just like us,”and between tears, we hugged.
In that one powerful hug, I forgot where I stood.
I don’t remember her name or what she did but I remember her as the face in Food Street that helped me discover a nation and my self.
I am now a Canadian citizen, but every time I hear of political strife in Pakistan, the fresh aroma of spices, warm chatter of people, women posing for photographs with me, vendors not charging me, all come haunting back.
There is a pulse that beats beneath the bomb blasts and is ready to stroke arms and hug you back.