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Karzai rekindles affair with Shimla
Onkar Singh in Shimla | March 08, 2003 04:15 IST
While Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai leaves no opportunity to express his love for Shimla, the people of Himachal Pradesh are equally enamoured of him.
An impressive number turned up on Friday to watch Governor Suraj Bhan confer a doctorate of literature on Karzai at a simple ceremony in the Darbar Hall of Raj Bhavan in Shimla.
"The honour is in recognition of his invaluable services to the cause of international peace and harmony," vice-chancellor S D Sharma said while reading out the citation.
Karzai obtained his masters in political science from the university in 1984.
"I have not come as the president of Afghanistan, but as a former student of the university, and as one who continues to love Shimla," Karzai told the distinguished audience amidst thunderous applause.
"Eighteen years ago, when I came to Shimla along with my cousin for studies, I fell in love with the place at the first sight and I told my cousin that I was not going back. I said I would study in this very university and got myself enrolled in the SDA College for the masters in political science course," he said.
He recalled the long walks from his dwelling to the university.
"These long walks kept me in good shape. Initially, I took a room in a property that belonged to Rajkumari Amrit Kaur. Three months later, I shifted to the YMCA."
"I would have my meals at a road side stall. I can see some of my friends and professors among those sitting in this hall. I recall everything as if it was yesterday," he said.
He recalled how the university had initially refused to recognise his school education and his degree.
"They enrolled me. I took my first year, second year and third year exams, but authorities would not tell me whether I passed or not. Finally, the vice-chancellor called a special session of the academic council and decided to recognise my degree."
"One day, while strolling on the Mall, I saw the vice-chancellor and the registrar running towards me. I thought I would be pulled up for loitering around the Mall all the time."
Instead, he said that the academic council had decided to wave the rules and recognise his degree. He also gave the good news about his having passed all the exams.
"That sums up my stay in Shimla," he said to a thundering roar from the audience.
Karzai told rediff.com Indo-Afghan relations were improving and would continue to grow.
"As far as reconstruction of Afghanistan is concerned, work is going on," he said. He ruled out the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan.
After the function, Karzai's cavalcade stopped at the Ridge on its way to Hotel Cecil, where he is putting up.
"I cannot see the wooden benches near Mahatma Gandhi's statue," he noted as he went around the Ridge.
After taking a look at the valley from the Ridge, Karzai headed for Gaindamal and Sons, a general store, and talked to the owner.
"He is a old client who used to buy his provisions from us. He was very impressed with the way we have expanded. He said that our store now looks like an international chain of stores. He autographed an old picture of Shimla for me," the owner said.
The Afghan president then had a cup of coffee at Fascination, a popular restaurant.
Strolling on the Mall, hopping in and out of shops on the city's main commercial thoroughfare, Karzai said it felt good to be back in Shimla.
Shyam Khanna, an old friend, who was present at the Darbar Hall earlier in the day, was moved by the fact that Karzai recognised him in the crowd.
A proud Professor Gopal Singh was happy to see his old student again. On his last visit to India, Singh was among the professors of the university who met Karzai over tea, at the latter's invitation, at Hyderabad House in Delhi.
Karzai has delayed his departure from Shimla by a couple of hours on Saturday morning and would now leave only in the afternoon.
More reports from Himachal Pradesh