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The assassination of Osama bin Laden notwithstanding, it’s been – dare I say it? – a typical month for Indo-Pak relations.

Over the past few weeks, fishermen who strayed past invisible maritime boundaries have been released as well as arrested. Ballistic missiles have been test-fired, harsh words exchanged, allegations hurled, stale postures adopted. As always, trust deficit governed the exchanges. It’s all been way too familiar.

In 2005, I had promised myself that I’d remember the Narayana Hrudayalaya whenever I felt depressed about Indo-Pak relations.  Here is an excerpt of that story , as it appeared in my book Bangalored: The Expat Story.

On the day I visit the Narayana Hrudayalaya (NH), two contrasting items in the newspaper catch my eye. One: 101 Indians are arrested in Karachi for fishing in Pakistani waters. Two: the Pakistani cricket team lands on Indian soil to play the home team in an honour-or-death series. Strangely, one doesn’t feel the irony. India and Pakistan have starred in such thrilling comedies for five and a half decades. They are known to brand the other’s back with a hot iron while smiling for Western cameras; and to make visible preparations for war while furtively seeking diplomatic solutions. Hence it is natural for the fishermen soap opera to go through another dull rerun while star sportsmen hone their skills in a strikingly different “net session”.

What takes me to NH, I ask myself? Oh yes, the innocent face of Noor Fatima. In 2004, this two-year-old Pakistani girl mesmerised the Indian media the moment she crossed the Wagah border. From there, she travelled south for a cardiac operation at the Narayana Hrudayalaya in Bangalore. And the city went berserk.  Every cameraman with ambition clicked her and every scribe recorded her repetitive heart murmur for eager readers. No exaggeration. Legend has it that a few days after his arrival at NH, Noor’s father, finding the hospital’s PRO waiting at the gates for a VIP, is reported to have asked in all earnestness:

‘You mean someone other than me?’

Why wouldn’t he ask that question? People recognised and stopped him on the streets for a salaam. Hoteliers fed him free biryanis. National politicians sent his daughter bouquets, local ones came visiting for a photo-op. And school children wrote her a boxful of greeting cards.


Fairytales are like that. This one has an ingenious plot. An innocent Pakistani girl will die unless a skilled Indian doctor takes a scalpel and patches her heart. At the right moment, the diplomatic skies open and the sun shines for her all the way to Bangalore. Add a few songs, a comedian and racy dialogues and you are ready to threaten Bollywood records.

‘Noor was the beginning of a new era,’ says Vasuki. ‘in the sense that before then, patients had to fly via Dubai and lose precious time, not to mention money. With improved relations between the two countries, flights, buses and even trains are operational. And Noor ushered in a new era in NH too. We got 62 patients from Pakistan before her and 212 since.’

Revisiting this story now, I find that some things have changed for the worse. Since 2009, the Narayana Hrudayalaya has received only around 25 patients from Pakistan, all of them for cardiac surgeries. Perhaps this drop in numbers can partly be explained by the fact that many more Indian hospitals – such as Apollo, Fortis, CNC, Medanta, Moolchand, Artemis, Max Healthcare etc – are actively focusing on medical tourism, which is a major growth segment in India. Indeed, given its low cost and high quality propositions, India is fast catching up with Thailand, the current global leader in medical tourism. An ever-increasing number of patients visit India from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. While an extensive study needs to be conducted to ascertain ground realities, I daresay Pakistan hasn’t contributed to this upward spiral.

Consider this: the Narayana Hrudayalaya still receives 5-6 queries a week from Pakistan. Most of these potential clients query multiple hospitals to identify the best package deal. Even accounting for a uniform distribution of patients to all hospitals, one would expect more than 25 patients to land up in NH in the past 2.5 years. One possible explanation is that a significant number of Pakistani patients choose to travel to places like Thailand and Singapore, even if it means spending more money.

Why? One can hazard a guess: visa. Trust deficit at play. A manifestation of the political reality. Those Pakistanis who have tried visiting India will tell you that getting a visa is no walk in the park. I personally know an eminent Pakistani journalist who couldn’t attend a family wedding in India. Even when visas are given, they’re valid for specific cities and, usually, the short term – around two weeks. This means that Pakistanis will find it difficult come to India for medical conditions that take longer to treat.

Here, right here, is the biggest victory attained by the gun-wielders – they’ve managed to sabotage positive opportunities to a great extent, and in doing so, impacted people-to-people interactions. This reduces the possibility of somebody like Mohammad Ilyas, a newsagent in Lahore, making friends in the Shivajinagar area of Bangalore. Or of a Naheed Jamshed from Rawalpindi exchanging rajma recipes with a Gurmeet Kaur in the general ward of a sanitised hospital.

In these diminished times, we have to keep counting the few stories of hope available to us, as if they were prayer beads. Maybe we can seek inspiration from celebrity models – pairings such as Shoaib-Sania, Bopanna-Qureshi, Rehman-Adnan and even Veena-Big Boss – to keep the idea alive.

Today, the Indo-Pak border is porous to terrorists and almost impermeable to the aam aadmi. The solution lies in turning it the other way around.

After all, what the bullet has lost, the biryani can easily win back.


Eshwar Sundaresan is a Bangalore-based writer, freelance journalist, ideator and entrepreneur. His works are Googlable.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Eshwar Sundaresan is a Bangalore-based writer, Life Skills trainer and counsellor. He has just finished writing a romantic comedy screenplay for the Kannada film industry.

He tweets @eshwars

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (18) Closed

Manvendra May 13, 2011 01:34pm
The moment there is lot of contact between these two countries , hostility goes dramatically down but i dont had hope that it will happen may be after 50 years
Himanshu May 13, 2011 07:30pm
With the growing economic differences between the two countries , the hostility ll never go :(
Desi May 13, 2011 09:39pm
Wonderful .. this is the kind of news I would love to read every day! Its shame we cannot work together when the whole world is working without borders.
Thuyclides May 13, 2011 11:34pm
Well, Singapore is better anyways.
sharma May 14, 2011 02:39am
Its a real shame thaat same people have divide themselves over false pretences. actually very foolish.
AMIT May 14, 2011 11:22am
even Lots and LOTS of contact between people will not yield anything till political peace is achieved.
Hamza May 14, 2011 01:23pm
Loved it.
Ramachander nanduri May 14, 2011 01:30pm
This is a wonderfull moving column by ES and for u publishing this very touching,tender true story speaks volumes about mutual regard by ordinary people caring one another like Padosan,I thank Dawn for publishing as it promotes mutual respect and regard in this harsh,distrustfull world we live.
Obama May 14, 2011 02:14pm
Okay so I didnt get this... Are Pakistani doctors that incompetent that Pakistanis are going elsewhere for medical procedure??
Naveed Nawaz May 14, 2011 05:43pm
my take on this post is something not unusual. i assume that the responsibility fall on the shoulders of the elite of both the countries, including security establishments, that they take such measures that could facilitate the people of both sides.
Rajan May 14, 2011 07:47pm
I sincerely pray for Pakistani brother and sisters when they will get equal and even opportunities to grow in fearless environment and make their future brighter.
Mustafa May 14, 2011 10:40pm
I think the west doesn't want India and Pakistan to work together, as its very detrimental to them. Look at North America today, they are in a recession and China and India are booming, what a contrast
sharma May 15, 2011 12:13am
When will Indians and Pakistanis realise the truth that dawned upon Europe after WW2????We have even less differences as compared to say French and English or English and Germans. come on folks move on.
Usman Malik May 15, 2011 07:48am
India is moving towards cost effective procedures which reduces the cost. But also we are lacking serious facilities and technical expertise - for example I am aware that liver transplant is not being done in Pakistan and people have to go to India for that.
Peter May 15, 2011 02:46pm
The short answer is yes. Pakistani's survive on overhyped patriotism and false delusions.
Satori May 15, 2011 06:41pm
That would be nice, but it is simply not in the interest of the Pakistani military establishment to encourage close people-to-people ties with India. The last thing they want is an outbreak of peace. What happened in Tunisia and Egypt and is happening in Yemen, Bahrain and Syria is the result of ordinary people (but principally the middle classes) shaking off the fear of their security services and seeing through the lies they've been told for years. Would love to see that happening in Pakistan.
SKD May 15, 2011 09:40pm
All the 'good ideas' are directed at the 'aam aadami' as if filling his mind more and more with such good ideas will create more friendly relations between the two countries. And then there comes a 26/11 in Mumbai or the discovery of Osama within Pakistan and vitiates the atmosphere. Such incidents inevitably lead to a consolidation of the populations of the two countries into two warring groups supporting their country and attacking the other in a sort of 'patriotic fervor' that refuses to see the faults of one's own compatriots. Until each one of us learns to recognise and condemn evil wherever it is --- whether on their side or ours --- the situations will not improve.
Khan Wali May 17, 2011 04:53pm
I surprised to know that our peoples are so unaware of facilities in our country, we have facilities of heart surgery in almost all the major cities, lever transplant is also carried out, even cancer hospitals are also serving the nation, actually we are in inferiority complex against our neighbour. the 60% population of whom living far under poverty