I was told by a colleague that whenever you cross the Wagah/Attari border into India you should halt for a cup of tasty masala chai at Balay Balay Restaurant, which is about three miles from the frontier.
I was in a hurry so I didn’t take his advice but on my return trip, when I had enough time before the closure of gates at 4pm our time and 3.30 Indian Standard Time, I stopped for a while. The tea was good but the setting, not to speak of the toilet, left much to be desired.
About a couple of miles from the border I saw the bazaar of the border village Attari and had a good look at what was on sale. It was unmistakably like the bazaars in our small towns, with just three differences – the signboards were in Devnagri scripts, there were cycle rickshaws and a generous sprinkling of turbaned and bearded Sikhs.
I bought a kg of ginger, of all items, since there was some purity about it. The ginger we get in Karachi these days is ‘cleaned’ by a chemical, which makes it ‘smooth’ and heavier. I buried the bulbs of ginger in my flower pots and am thrilled to see their leaves sprouting.
I boarded the cab once again and much to my surprise, a mile later, I found a couple of mini vans embellished with Pakistani truck art, parked in a place appropriately named Sarhad. It was billed as ‘the food and culture park’, but what was not mentioned was the term ‘architecture’. Built of red bricks, the main building is in line with the architecture of the walled cities of Lahore and Amritsar. It is appropriately named ‘The Museum of Peace’.
The 3-dimensional marble flooring of the Golden Temple in Amritsar was recreated in the forecourt of Sarhard, while the floor design of Gurdwara Dera Sahib in Lahore was reproduced on the main entrance to Sarhad. The eminent Lahore-based architect Nayar Ali Dada was consulted when Sarhad was being designed.
The young man behind Sarhad is 32-year old Aman Bir Singh. The clean shaven and turban-less Sikh is more commonly known as Aman Jaspal. He holds a Master’s in Economics from a Norwegian University. He is married to a young lady from New Zealand and just to please her perhaps he clapped for the winning team.
Young people on both sides, according to Aman Jaspal, have different perceptions about the other side. They don’t carry the baggage of Partition.
“When I went to Pakistan I was impressed with the cuisine, fashion, art and music and was fascinated by the similarities between the two Punjabs. I attend the fashion shows and import Pakistani shalwar qameez,” he said as he led me to a smaller building where a good number of dresses from across the border were on sale.
Jaspal is in touch with the Pakistan Designers’ Council and some fashion designers to increase his imports as he plans to open an outlet for Pakistani dresses initially in Chandigarh, where he is settled with his family, and later in Amritsar, Jullundur and Ludhiana. He also loves Khaleefa’s Nankhatai, which is made in the walled city of Lahore, and wonders if he could import that as well.
The vans, he told me, were painted by Haider Ali, an expert from Pakistan.
“I saw his work at the Smithsonian Institution in the US and was highly impressed, which was why I got him to paint these vehicles,” he told me.
As for the food served in the restaurant on the premises, one must particularly mention the vegetarian fare served in a thali under the name of Amritsari thali, and the non-veg food which is billed as Lahori thali. I didn’t taste any food because I had had a heavy breakfast.
The walls, call them murals, if you like, were brightly painted by young men and women from Amritsar on the theme of peace.
The museum on the upper floor of the main building displayed copies of Tribune published from Lahore in June and July 1947. One may like to recall that after Partition, the daily moved to Ambala, while its premises and its press were allotted to the new daily Pakistan Times under the editorship of Faiz Ahmed Faiz.
What interested me most was a photograph of the border being demarcated through empty oil barrels in Wagah in 1947. Bus and train tickets from Lahore to Amritsar, issued when the two cities belonged to one country, will also be exhibited in due course.
Aman Jaspal started working on Sarhad in 2012 and has ambitious plans of making his brainchild, a symbol of peace and brotherhood, a counter move against the jingoistic drama staged every evening at the flag-lowering time, merely a mile away from Sarhad.
Those interested in keeping in touch with the developments in Sarhad can go to the website, www.sarhadindia.com.