A Pakistani travels through India as the world’s biggest democracy votes in the national elections. Follow his journey to know what happens and all the people that he meets on the way.
Day 1: From Lahore to Ludhiana
Barren borders: Pakistan's population is around 200 million and that of India over 1200 million. They collectively make a quarter of the world. Wagah-Attari is the main point of entry for the two on land. When I crossed the line, besides myself there was only one more passenger present there at that hour. The empty halls of the border post seemed like it was situated somewhere in the barren lands of Siberia or may be of the Sahara desert. I felt like a lone voyager.
Road from Amritsar to Ludhiana, my first stop, is lined with sprawling banquet halls and resorts. You can expect any and all world renowned brand of luxury cars zoom past you on this road. Audi has a show room in Ludhiana, so does Porsche. Punjabis are known in India for a lavish and wasteful lifestyle but I was content with a cup of tea at a mid-way spot.
Punjab is one of the richest Indian states. It is flushed with foreign remittances, agricultural riches and a reasonably large manufacturing sector. Ludhiana is its biggest urban centre, a quarter of Lahore in population with a good number of plush markets and malls. The 1947 migrants from Pakistani Punjab who settled in Ludhiana made big as industrialists here. They are now India's biggest motorbike makers.
Standup posters to grab the attention of motorists at one of Ludhiana's main crossings, Aarti chowk. I asked one of them, "what do you for living?" "I am a daily wager," he quipped. "How much do you make in a day?" He readjusted his Modi mask to find a better view of me through the eye-holes, "They haven't told us yet about how much we will be paid." Ooops ... wrong question, right answer.
Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is the main Sikh religious party that has ruled Punjab over much of the recent past. It is allied with the Bharatiya Janta Party at the centre and in the province. Of the 13 national seats of Punjab, SAD supports BJP candidates for three and on the remaining 10, it is vice versa. Under this arrangement, the BJP has fielded its leader Arun Jaitley for the Amritsar seat while in Ludhiana SAD's Manpreet Singh Ayali is contesting on the alliance's behalf.
Agriculture in Indian Punjab suffers from a chronic shortage of labour. People generally like to blame it on Punjabis shirking on hard labour but that may be only partly true. The demand for labour in agriculture is seasonal while local workers here have better options including working in factories. The poor migrants from Utter Pradesh and Bihar thus perform the farm chores. You can find speakers of northern Indian languages in every village and this is in some ways influencing the politics here as well.
My taxi driver for the Amritsar to Ludhiana lap stopped to offer me a glass of sugarcane juice. This vendor has improvised his vehicle that runs on an engine which also works the sugarcane mill. I later noticed many such local ingenious vehicles but hardly saw an animal cart. I asked a friend where have all the donkeys gone. "We have yet to fully assess what we lost in the Partition," he quipped. I didn't like the comment but couldn't help appreciating his sense of humour.
I met these men at Ghumer Mandi, a main bazaar in Ludhiana, collecting nazrana
(donation). They told me that they were on a pilgrimage to Ajmer Sharif and had started their journey from Delhi on foot. A friend dismissed their claim saying they are just roving beggars. I also met a Hindu devotee carrying an idol soaked in oil and asking for some daan
(donation) in the same bazaar and this time it was another friend who had similar views about this man.
The only impressive shop in this rural locality of Ludhiana was the one selling liquor. Though many Punjabis are said to love indulging in drinking, it is clearly identified as the root cause of 'a million evils' in the local social discourse. I also met people who advocated for a ban on the open sale of liquor.