The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sunny, not Advani, villain in Lahore
- Gadar hero finds no admirers, conscience-keeper Arundhati is a hit

Lahore, July 14: Here’s news for all those who think that deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani heads the list of people unlikely to be called home for dinner in Pakistan. Just a few days in Lahore will tell you that it’s not the so-called wrecker of the Agra summit who is Pakistan’s villain numero uno, but actor Sunny Deol.

Dark thoughts about Deol dominated informal discussions at a gathering at the Punjab governor’s residence for visiting Indian journalists last evening.

“Just tell me one thing,” Pakistani fiction writer Neelam Basheer said, “why does Sunny Deol say such horrible things about Pakistan'”

The reference was to Deol’s no-holds-barred Pakistan-bashing in films like Border and Gadar — Ek Prem Katha. Basheer was particularly upset that in one such film, Deol referred to the people of Lahore as canines.

“Can’t you ask him not to say such things'” asked Basheer, who clearly holds a glorified view of a journalist’s role and reach. “When you meet him, please tell him that his language is one complaint I have about India.”

But if Deol is the season’s blackguard, India’s unofficial ambassador to Pakistan is arguably Arundhati Roy. Many of the governor’s guests, including journalists, writers and filmmakers, were ecstatic about India’s most read — and certainly best looking — conscience-keeper.

“It was such a pleasure listening to her,” said novelist Parveen, referring to a recent lecture tour by Roy of Pakistan. “We admire her a lot here.”

India — villains, heroines, et al — is a topic that Lahore’s people seldom tire of. Governor Khaled Maqbool spoke of the need for a serious dialogue between India and Pakistan on core issues, but for many at the gathering, the dialogue had already begun.

Somebody wanted to know the percentage of Indians who spoke Hindi in India and how many knew Urdu. Somebody else sought details on the number of Indian states.

But the question most often asked was about the visitors’ impressions of Lahore. “What do you think of Lahore'” each journalist was asked at least a dozen times. “What kind of an impression did you have of Pakistan' What do you think now'”

India, undoubtedly, is more on a Pakistani’s radar than the other way round. This, perhaps, was most evident at the Wagah border when the bus carrying the Indian journalists travelled from Delhi to Lahore last week.

On the Indian side of the border, there was a smattering of people, looking curiously at the passengers. The huge crowd of people on the other side clapped unabashedly the moment the bus crossed over.

Doors open up in Lahore if you are an Indian. Strangers stop you on the road and ask you about your stay in the city, Pakistani journalists spend time interviewing their Indian counterparts and local newspapers cover the visiting scribes like they would an official Indian delegation.

The sense of hospitality in Lahore is of epic proportions. Occasionally, of course, the burden of meeting courtesy with courtesy can be backbreaking, as a journalist found out after spending some hours saying “jee” and “shukriya” to a polite Pakistani host. “Can’t wait to get back to rude old Delhi,” said another scribe.

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