Friday, March 09, 2007

Wagah Photo Essay - Spying in Pakistan

When an Indian, armed with a secret digicam, crossed into Pakistan.

[By Mayank Austen Soofi]

Wagah post, a road crossing dividing India and Pakistan, is one of the most-watched high-security border zones in the world. It falls between the historical city of Lahore in Pakistan and the Sikh holy town of Amritsar in India. The distance between the two cities is a mere 35 miles.

With both the countries pretending peace-talks, Wagah is becoming a tourist destination where people flock to see the comical performance of a particularly hostile ceremony between the Indian and Pakistani soldiers. This entertaining ritual, where the guards of both the nations express mock disgust for each other, takes place every evening just before the gates are to be shut down for the day.

Interestingly, the climactic scenes of Veer Zaara, a 2005 Bollywood blockbuster about a love affair between an Indian boy and a Pakistani girl, were shot at this border post.

View From the Indian Side - Looking at the 'Enemy'

Pakistan Paindabad

Both Indians and Pakistanis flock to the border gates and wonder what lies on the other side. One Lahore gentleman joked to this photographer that the border gates were actually doing a good deed since it tempts people from both sides to travel into each other's country. In the absence of the border gates, the gentleman confessed, the secret that there is hardly any difference between the two nations would be out and then nobody would care to travel.

Coolies Employed in the International Business

Pakistan Paindabad

Despite volatile relations between the two traditional rivals, which have led to abysmal business relations, some items are still legally imported and exported. In the above picture, crates of tomatoes are being taken into Pakistan and packages of raisins are being shipped to India.

Heavy Stuff, Cheap Labor

Pakistan Paindabad

Blue uniforms are for Indian coolies while green is for the Pakistanis. These coolies work hard under the harsh glare of the sun and are not paid handsomely for their labors, a trait not uncommon in both the nations.

The Face of India; The Pride of India

Pakistan Paindabad

It is a source of heated debate as to which country's border guards are more handsome, well-built, and virile. Pakistanis claim the honor since they boast of being great meat-eaters. They feel superior to the 'grass-eating Hindu vegetarians' of India. Indians do not agree.

Entering Pakistan - Checked by their Border Guards

Pakistan Paindabad

Both Pakistani and Indian guards stationed at the border gates who record the passport details of the travelers are polite, smiling, and well-groomed. These personnel are rigorous in their duties, professional in their attitude, and do not bother themselves with the more eager promptings of their respective countrymen.

If Indian guards are particularly nice to children, Pakistanis do not fail to offer water and chairs, especially to older people.

Doorway to the Land of the Holy

Pakistan Paindabad

This imposing entrance is called Bab-e-Azadi - 'Gateway to Freedom' in Urdu. This is ironic since Pakistan happens to be ruled by a dictator. Note that the entrance has a unique Islamic design in contrast to the Indian gate which is so secular in architecture that it is quite dull and unimpressionable.

The First Greetings

Pakistan Paindabad

This is a hoarding by the Pakistan Tourist Development Corporation. PTDC runs a restaurant in Wagah, a charming relic from the British times. With gentle comforts of cushioned chairs and ceiling fans, it relaxes the weary traveler with tea and cookies served by uniformed waiters.

Interestingly, the Indian side of the border, though more entrepreneurial with its Sikh cabbies and cheap eateries, has no equally comfortable resting place. Pakistan wins here.

Long Live Pakistan

Pakistan Paindabad

The Pakistani flag flies valiantly in the afternoon wind, atop the custom office. The flag was designed by Mr Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of the nation. The green color symbolizes Islam, while the white strip represents non-Muslim and other minority groups of the country.

Unfortunately, in spite of Mr Jinnah's commitment to establishing a modern secular nation, and despite the narrow white strip in the flag, Pakistan has failed to respect and protect its minority. In a Pakistani court of law, a Christian man's testimony is worth half of a Muslim man's and a Christian woman's testimony is worth only a quarter.

The Mysteries Inside a Custom Office

Pakistan Paindabad

Though both Indian and Pakistani customs offices radiate a gloomy and forlorn look in their own unique ways, the Pakistani customs office is decidedly more eerie. India's customs office is darkly lit but is modern and staffed with clerks wearing shirts and trousers.

The Pakistani office, on the other hand, appears to be older and is served by officials wearing gray shalwar kameeze. But it is brighter with open corridors, sun-lit rooms and a lush garden beyond.

If an Indian visitor looks harmless and is not carrying suspicious materials, chances are that the customs formalities would be processed quickly. If you are a white Westerner, the process is faster.

A Rare Sighting

Pakistan Paindabad

A lady walks without any male escort in a customs office corridor. She was one of the few women encountered on the Pakistani side of the border. Women dressed in shalwar kameeze, their heads covered with dupatta, are a common sight in Pakistan. They are not an uncommon sight in India, either.

It must be mentioned here that while these pictures were being clicked, the customs office was suffused with the fragrance of freshly cooked Mutton Biryani. Perhaps it was lunch time.

Inside Pakistan - First Impression

Pakistan Paindabad

There was a stark difference between the Indian and Pakistani sides of the border. India was more colorful and was crowded with smelly dhabas, irritating touts, and boisterous tourists - mostly from the surrounding villages.

Pakistani side looked abandoned. There was no business and no bargaining. Consequently,the military presence, in absence of the civilians, was quite overwhelming.

Spying the 'Enemy'

Pakistan Paindabad

The highway that connects Wagah to Lahore was littered with aggressive-looking and very visible army camps like these. This was not so in the Indian side where the army presence was more subdued. It was unmistakable one had entered in a military-ruled country. After all this was Pakistan - the cantonment of General Pervez Musharraf.

[The author traveled to Pakistan in September, 2006]


Anonymous said...

Not very happy after reading this, what is it all about? Randomly written sarcastic notes? An Indian in Pakistan? Is it Pakistan Paindabad?

Kamran Safdar

Mayank Austen Soofi said...

Dear Kamran,
This was what an Indian traveler noticed while traveling to the "other side" for the first time.

These are first-time thrills made more fascinating by opinions and prejudices of the traveler.
Pakistan Paindabad – Long live Pakistan.

Anonymous said...

This is just an example of the subtle jabs our Indian friend likes to take at Pakistan, and at Islam in his so called Pakistan Paindabad blog.

A very clever individual, he has befriended many Pakistanis and expatriate Pakistanis in order to gain their trust and access to their intellectual properties in the forms of photographs and opinions, and then use them in his his carefully crafted blogs.

In this excerpt from a so called interview with a Muslim woman in India, our friend takes a jab at the "backwardness of Muslims" in a very innocent, almost elementary-school style of writing:

>>Then why are Muslims so backward? Why are they so uneducated?

It is because they don't study much. Schools are there but they don't send their children there. They are also very poor. They are tempted to put their children into work for extra income. Since parents are not educated themselves, they do not realize that a good education could change the lives of their children.<<

Whether it's the captions of his pictures on flickr, or the ramblings in his various blogs, this so called author, behind the garb of his elementary school level Subcontinental English, continues to carry out psychological warfare against the culture, religion, and traditions of Pakistan. What's ingenious is that he does it with such subtlety that many of his new "friends" across the border hail him as some sort of savior, an Indian they can finally trust!

Why not? After all, how many Indians have they ever heard say "Long Live Pakistan?"

Ahmed R. Shah
Monterey, California

Mayank Austen Soofi said...

Mr. Ahmad R. Shah must have provided the link to both the interview and the flickr photo album where he claims that this author is conducting a "psychological warfare against the culture, religion, and traditions of Pakistan."

Here are the links:
Conversations With A Muslim Lady from Delhi

It was an amusing comment indeed. I cannot take Mr. Shah's perceptions seriously except the part where he talks about my "elementary school level Subcontinental English." That hurts!

Anonymous said...

Was there a point to this rather long jumble of words? Perhaps the author should leave the writing to professionals and stick to day dreaming.

Idreece ادریس said...


But really Mayank, what is the point of this article? I am trying to see it as objectively as possible and trying to find the head and tail of this.

Idreece ادریس said...

By the way,don't you think it is very undemocratic of you to "approve" of every comment on your blog before it can be published?

Mayank Austen Soofi said...

Dear Idreece,
The point (if you do need a point) was about an Indian traveling to the "other side" for the first time. What were his first impressions? Since he was going to Pakistan for the first time, and had never talked to Pakistanis before, what role his prejudices (which he was stuffed with all these years) played in shaping his initial perceptions? How do people feel when they venture into a foreign land? How do they compare this-and-that? Wagah crossing as a mental blockade is as thick and impenetrable as its iron-and-steel version. Isn't it fascinating to try to understand the power and influence commanded by such gates-and-borders?

بدبخت سعید said...

What say you to the other, rather serious comments/accusations above?

Are you really being sneaky my friend?

Anonymous said...

"The highway that connects Wagah to Lahore was littered with aggressive-looking and very visible army camps like these. This was not so in the Indian side where the army presence was more subdued. It was unmistakable one had entered in a military-ruled country. After all this was Pakistan - the cantonment of General Pervez Musharraf."

Perhaps Pakistan is more direct in addressing its enemies, whether they come across disguised as innocent gullible tourists armed with digicams or with the intent to stir up mischief. India on the other has has an 'image' to keep up, as the complacent victim of its aggressive neighbor. Your responses, content of the absurd article don't make sense for the purpose of this site. Perhaps that is why the commentators above have gently labeled you as a 'sneak'.


Anonymous said...

The point of the article is that it is pointless... It is simply observations of an Indian in Pakistan... good or bad.

I am one of those "unpatriotic" Pakistanis that consider this 'deceptive' Indian a friend.

First of all, this fellow gets more heat from fellow Indians than we Pakistanis could ever give him.

He is derided for being a Peace-nik and a "Pakistan-apologist" by fellow Indians on
He has been run out of Indian sites because of his percieved pro-pakistani stance.

Read his article about the mistreatment of muslims in India... he is critical of his own country and government.

I disagree with many of Mayank's posts about Pakistan but they are perceptions of someone that does not know us nor our country well enough. To that end, Pakistanis are welcome to counter his assertions with their own opinion.

There is no need to instinctively hurl insults at each other's mastery over the language of our collective colonial masters...

Let us not be frightened by a critique, an idea or an opinion.

- Usman
Islamabad, Pakistan

Mayank Austen Soofi said...

Idreece, you are right in a way. It is an undemocratic policy to "approve" of every comment on this blogsite before allowing it to be published.

Let me inform you I never delete any comment as long as it is not hateful towards any religion, community or country.

Anonymous said...

What a shame that people should think you have a hidden agenda! Why can't we trust each other? Why are we so cynical of others and so unsure of ourselves?

Anonymous said...

What a sweet young boy, trying to bridge the gulf of hatred with his message of love...
Don't let the antagonists dampen your spirit young man. Charge on! Your pen is mightier than the sword and the truth will prevail.

from TX, USA

Anonymous said...

Amazing how much ms. maryam above sounds just like our friend Mayank.


Anonymous said...

This post is bull shit & i can not see any interestingness in this which proove that you are writing for Pakistan and you wish "long live Pakistan".
I am a hindu & i have no problem living in Pakistan & i have same rights as my muslim friends do have. Your writing abilities are Bull shit Bull Shit Bull Shit

Shanti Narayan

Anonymous said...

Why on earth an Indian be writing for better image of Pakistan?

This artical shows it how Indian hate Pakistan and are always busy writing bad stuff about Pakistan.

anyway who cares to read such blogs writen by some dim witted smart ass lad.

Anonymous said...

"I disagree with many of Mayank's posts about Pakistan but they are perceptions of someone that does not know us nor our country well enough. To that end, Pakistanis are welcome to counter his assertions with their own opinion.

Let us not be frightened by a critique, an idea or an opinion."

- Usman
Islamabad, Pakistan

This person says it best.
As someone who is far removed from either cultures, I was disappointed to see the intolerance displayed in the comments.This behaviour will do nothing to harbour peace in this world.
I suspect that religion with all its fears,hate,judgement and condemnation might be behind this, so I will continue to be a good athiest, who is tolerant enough to be dating a Pakistani/Muslim.

Thanks for you brief insight on Pakistan, Mayank. I look forward to reading more about that country, especially how it compares to its neighbours.

Mayank Austen Soofi said...

"lover of life", this is a website on Pakistan, not India. You'll be disappointed if you want to see comparisons between Pakistan and its neighboring nations. There won't be many pieces with such themes here. Thanks for writing.

Anonymous said...

Pakistan, unfortunately is in its worst nightmare - political, economic, social, religious and cultural crossroads of a critical nature. How it crosses this junction, time could only tell.
In such times of complete and utter national disintegration and volatility, these 'subtle' literary thoughts and initiatives of this blog's 'indian' author are bound to receive such biased and pseudo-counter-patriotic remarks. It is however, rather unfortunate and sad to realise that such persons are merely exposing their own myopic perspectives whilst downplaying the author's observations.
All such issues concern me but also reinforce the need for change in this country. A change tough enough to fight this critical junction we're at. And the possibilities of which lie entirely and critically on the young and coming generations...

Anonymous said...

I would like to add that the sub-continent mistrust-reflex is not restricted to Pakistan or Pakistanis.

We would see a similar reaction from Indians to a Pakistani author even slightly critical of India.

Mayank, you should write a little introductory piece to your blog about yourself and your 'sinister' intentions. I think it would be beneficial to you, your message and your readers.

My two paisas...

Islamabad, Pakistan

Anonymous said...

I am an Indian guy and I live in New York city... and I don't know about much about pakistani people.. but I do love Gen. Parvez Musharaff... I think he's an amazing leader and will take Pakistan in the right direction... oh and I am really fascinated by Pakistan, its culture and history.. would love to visit someday...I also think that educated pakistani people are very sweet but yeah generally Indians even in the US are very hateful towards most pakistanis - its kinda sad...

Anonymous said...

I think pakistani men are DEFINITELY HOTTTTTTTTER than indian and I'm an Indian... and yes I'm gay.. luv u guys... hahahaha

Anonymous said...

my oh my! aren't these some hot tongued people! must be the food they eat, in india and in pakistan.

piyarapakistani said...

tari ma ko lun kisi hindu terrorist ki najiz fanatic hindu ulad.
apni okat dekha de na hindu nai bhagal main churii mun main ram .
lanat hindus pe lanat hindustanm gandustan pe.jahan babari mosque ur sikhon ka golden temple tak safe nahi.
islamic repulic of pakistan zindahbad.

Anonymous said...

Sara here.........
I think whoever you are whether paki or indian kindly use a reasonable language.............
And kindly stop blamng & abusing each other, this waz not such article in the way it iz going.........