My return trip to Pakistan on the famous Delhi-Lahore bus was once again very memorable. This time for all the right reasons!
Pakistani authorities took note of the complaint that I had lodged against the Special Branch guy who flung my personal belongings in all directions on the pretext of checking my baggage. The Pakistani media too reported the incident of my family and I being robbed and harassed while crossing the Wagah border.
Soon enough several people who matter called my husband to say how sorry they were about our unpleasant experience. The Indian media too carried stories about our mistreatment at Attari.
It took me quite a few days to get over the incident. I dreaded taking the bus again and requested for permission to fly back. My plea was turned down because, according to rules, I cannot change my port of immigration.
I braced myself up for another eventful journey on the bus even as my 15-year-old niece, who is visiting us, would fly the same day to Lahore. The real plan was if I was unable to cross the border for some reason she was not to board the flight.
When I went to buy the bus ticket, I was told that the visa stamp on my passport had become faint and therefore a ticket cannot be issued to me. I was told that I would be offloaded at Attari. I convinced the officials to issue me a ticket even though they thought it would go waste!
I spent my last day in Delhi getting a letter from the Ministry of External Affairs (much thanks to a colleague) to facilitate my travel. The letter was faxed to the immigration in-charge at Attari and I was carrying a copy.
I reported a little before 4 am at the bus terminal in Delhi. I asked my sister who had come to drop me to stay on till I was cleared. After my baggage was hand-checked, about half-a-dozen officials scrutinised me. As expected they objected to my visa stamp.
“Is mein to kuch padhne mein nahin aa raha,” an official remarked. I read out the dates for his benefit, but he would still not clear me. I saw my passport being tossed around. My heart sank. I decided to show him the letters from the MEA. He cleared me.
It was a smooth ride till Attari, with friends, family and my husband, everyone calling to find out if I was doing okay. I hit Attari at about 2.30 pm, with my sister by now on her way to Delhi airport to drop my niece.
As we were stepping off the bus, the supervisor announced that he had caught a South African woman with drugs a week ago and if we had anything to confess we should do so now. As I wondered what a South African was doing on the bus, a Pakistani woman from behind made me smile with her loud, “Not me!”
I sent up a little prayer, hoping for the best, and preparing for the worst.
I hit the immigration counter. The officer at the desk asked a woman who was ahead of me in the queue to step aside and took my passport.
He stamped my passport in less than a minute, and when I handed him the letters from MEA and a photocopy of my passport he said he didn’t need them.
Another officer, who was by now parked behind me, directed me towards the customs and I was cleared in the next minute without even my baggage being checked.
I was happy to notice that I was the first one to be cleared and in a record five minutes (compared to 90 minutes the last time around). The officer, who was with me, asked me if I wanted chai-paani. I had a glass of water and then he was gracious enough to apologise for what had happened earlier.
I asked him casually when would the bus reach Lahore, and he introduced me to the bus supervisor who announced it could reach early if I wanted!
As I boarded the bus again my next worry was crossing the Wagah border. We were there in the next 10 minutes. I got into a longish queue and then I noticed the Pakistani officer at the immigration counter leave his seat and come towards me. “Pehle baaji ka karenge!” he announced.
I was amused. He even filled out a form for me and took me to a customs officer to clear me. The customs officer, whom I had interacted with on my way to India, looked at my passport and said, “Bahut zyada idhar se udhar jaya jaa raha hai.”
“Don’t you remember me?” I asked him. He looked up and said loudly, “Arrey yeh woh lady hain jinhonein complaint ki thi….jinki chori hui thee.”
I exited conscious that everyone was looking at me. I made the all-important call to my sister to let my niece board the plane.
I also made a call to a friend to pick me up at Lahore by 5 pm. To my surprise the bus hit the terminal at 4.30 pm, with the bus supervisor calling out loudly, “We’ve come early for you.”
I sat at the terminal for the next 30 minutes waiting for the friend to show up. We drove to the airport, much ahead of my niece’s scheduled landing at 6.10 pm.