Nothing but hospitality for a Sikh in Lahore

The next morning, I visit Nankana Sahib. I am very impressed by the care that has been lavished on the gurdwara.

Asalaamualaikum”, the young immigration officer mumbles, as he slides into his chair. I am the first traveller at the Atari border crossing that day. The immigration counter is deserted and my elderly porter has to knock on the door behind the counter to roust the officer.

My “Walaikum Salam” has barely left my lips when the officer springs up from his chair, breaks into a wide smile, grasps my hand warmly and says, welcome to Pakistan!

His welcome sets the tone for the days that I am to spend in Pakistan. I am in Lahore to attend the Afkar-e-Taza Think­fest, where I am to speak about my book, The Camel Merchant of Philadelphia, set in the Lahore court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

My Sikh friends who have visited Pakistan have told me of the love and respect they received during their travels; yet, I am humbled by the reception I receive. Within a few hours of my arrival, I visit the Lahore Fort, which I am very eager to see as it features prominently in my book. The fort, a popular tourist site, is teeming with visitors, mostly Pakistani.

I am completely unprepared for what happens next. I am mobbed like a celebrity! Every few steps, strangers come up to me with broad smiles thrusting out their hands. Many greet me in Punjabi. Sat Sri Akal Sardar Ji! I am asked to pose for countless photographs and bombarded with friendly questions. Where are you from Sardar Ji? Is this your first time in Lahore Uncle Ji? My parents came from Jalandhar! My grandparents were from Amritsar! Have you visited Kartarpur yet? Have you been to Nankana Sahib?

I take it all in and wonder. Are these the people who are so vilified in the country of my birth?

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