Year 2004, It all started with one of those coffee chats somewhere right next to the Okhla vegetable market. Me and my two other colleagues Noel and Srinivas were working with you guessed it right, a *software development company* called Induslogic and we were discussing the media hype created over the upcoming cricket series between Pakistan and India and the madness that’s been happening around grabbing a Pakistan “Cricket” visa. Yes, there was this special 3 day Visa being issued by Pakistan Embassy. Thanks to a dormant Laalu ji and some other news makers like Mallika Sherawat’s vacation from their quest for attention, we discussed the cricket visa daily for a week. And then this one day, Noel suggested that we should give it a try. Since we were doing nothing important in life and just working on some software projects, we had nothing much to lose. My then Project Manager, Rakesh Gupta, wasn’t my best buddy then, so getting a couple of days off during a tough schedule was a big issue. I rang up Mr. Gupta in the evening and said that we are planning to go to Pakistan and needed a couple of days off. Surprisingly, he said yes and even better he got nostalgic about him missing the India Pakistan hockey(he preferred to call it Haaaki for reasons unknown to me) test match in Delhi . So, we were good to go. We only needed to do a few things in little time, we had the tickets booked on the web and there was a special train(Cricket Special) running for the series to Lahore(Wow!).
Chapter One(Pakistan Embassy, Chanakya Puri)
Fill the form, stand in a queue of 1000, submit it to a rude official(now when a guy from Delhi calls someone rude, he must be RUDE), come back and collect it later. Except for the waking up and reaching embassy at 6 part, which was a challenge, all you had to do was just stand in a long line for hours to submit the application. There were three options to travel from which we had to choose: Road, Rail and Air. Just to be on the safer side, I decided to have a plan B and checked with the official if we could cross Wagah by road. He just said, “Aapke mulk ki sarkaar agar aapko jaane de to chale jaiye”. 3 days later we got the Visa(my first visa stamp on the passport)
Chapter Two(Old Delhi Rly Station)
It is always not my favourite railway station to go but when I entered the long platform where they usually have two trains facing opposite directions, I could see a lot of Indian flags at a distance. While I walked towards the train cursing the political activists for the day they picked for this rally, I realized that those were the cricket fans heading to Lahore like me. There were people wearing kurtas that were made of an Indian flag, and I found that other than the three of us, and probably a few more, everyone else had an Indian flag. They were shouting slogans, “Jeetega bhai jeetega, Hindustan Jeetega”. We decided to join the party and the moment we entered a crowd circled around a media reporter, she fired a question at my friend Noel, “Aap kya kehna chahenge, India 2-1 peechhe hai”. Noel shouted in the crowd, “Nikle hain sar par baandhe kafan, ab to Lahore mein manaayenge jeet ka jashan”. I was wrong, I think it were just the remaining two of us who weren’t prepared. Noel had rehearsed his moves. We boarded the cricket special, the train was supposed to reach Atari, the last railway station on Indian side near Amritsar.
Chapter Three(Atari Station)
We woke up to a platform in Atari station. This one was different. This was a twin sided platform with a wall of grills in between. You get down, go to an emigration official, get your visa stamped and cross the gate to reach the other platform and you are officially in Pakistan now :). This is a heavily guarded station with BSF officials on either side. Before we emigrated to the other platform, we decided to go to the State Bank of India counter to convert our currency to Pakistani rupee. They gave around 122 pakistani rupees for every 100 Indian Rupees, probably one of those rare moments in an Indian’s life where we get back more than what we pay :). We were on the other side now. And wait began, for the train that was supposed to come from Lahore to pick us.
After waiting for a few hours, I could see a green diesel engine at a distance. That my friend, was my first train to Pakistan(To be continued…)