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'I am from Pakistan. Do you speak Urdu?'

May 02, 2005 16:30 IST

At times, it is difficult to bear diplomatic dialogue. Especially when it comes to India and Pakistan.

While Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh shook hands in New Delhi, representatives of the two neighbours threw tantrums at each other at the United Nations 61st session on Human Rights in Geneva. What else could be the topic? Kashmir.

Pakistan did not miss a chance to raise the Kashmir issue at almost every discussion. India had to reply.

Getting bored of the oft-repeated speeches, I chose to walk out of Room No XVII of the Plaise des Nations, where the deliberations took place.

I saw an elderly woman in a salwar kurta walk along the corridor.

I rushed to ask her if she was Indian. I spoke in Hindustani. A smile spread all over her face, she said, "Main Pakistan se hun. Aap Urdu bolte hain? (I am from Pakistan. Do you speak Urdu?)''

Getting an affirmative answer, she said in a Punjabi accent, "Main Mrs Rasool. Hum log mission mein aye huye hain. Mere husband wazarat-e-kharja mein hain (I am Mrs Rasool. We are here at the (Pakistan) mission. My husband is in the foreign ministry).''

Mrs Rasool is from Lahore. Within minutes she started counting her relatives in Delhi as I told her about mine in Karachi. She explained how she enjoyed shopping at Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi during her visit there some years back. "India is my favourite country," she said.

The conversation went on for about half an hour. She spoke about her two sons studying engineering in the United States and daughter going to college in Geneva.

The discussion seemed endless when a United Nations employee called her. She had to leave. Before leaving, she said she worked part time at the UN. She was bored of speaking French and was looking for someone to speak in Urdu. "My husband is always busy. My daughter speaks more French than Urdu. I am feeling so good after talking to you in Urdu."

She invited me home, hurriedly writing her address and telephone numbers on a piece of paper.
Language, no doubt, is a binding force.
Gandhi and alcohol
At the upscale Rue de Zurich in Geneva, there stands a beautiful church. Next to the church is the Indian restaurant Café Gandhi.

Among the handful of Indian restaurants, Gandhi's is the best.

It is always full. One needs to reserve a seat at least 30 minutes in advance. They serve everything Indian. The flavour has not been adjusted according to local tastes. It is pure Punjabi. The café owner is Ajit, who has a ponytail and French beard. He speaks Hindi or French. No English, please.
As you enter Café Gandhi, you will find a series of wine and beer bottles placed neatly in the bar. But Mahatma Gandhi was strictly against alcohol. He once said alcohol destroys the soul and body.
I asked Ludhiana-born Ajit why he named his café Gandhi though he sells wine. "I don't know. We never thought of it. When we wanted to start an Indian restaurant, the word Gandhi came instantaneously. The world knows Gandhi more than India."
Acid attack on visitors
Switzerland is heaven for honeymooners and Bollywood producers. Geneva is the second most visited city of Switzerland after Zurich. But the brazen incidents of robbery and assault in broad daylight in Geneva will score over lawless Delhi.

My Sri Lankan friend N Kandasamy went to the railway station in Geneva to get a ticket for Zurich. As he looked for the appropriate counter, a young man came from behind and threw acid on his back. Before he knew what was happening, another man snatched his bag and ran away. It was afternoon and the area was crowded with passengers and passersby.

Kandasamy lost his passport, money and documents. Thankfully, the acid did not penetrate through his jacket. He is a human rights activist based in Colombo and had come to attend the annual 61st session of the Commission on Human Rights.

The two robbers ran away on foot. The Geneva police with walkie-talkies and cars could not catch them. It was not an isolated case.

Kandasamy said when he reached the police station to lodge a complaint, he saw another tourist who had been robbed. The man's face was deformed as the robbers had thrown acid on him. The police were taking him to hospital.

The next day, when I accompanied Kandasamy to the railway station, I met a media professional Syed Akhter from Mumbai. He too was robbed in a similar fashion a few minutes before. He lost his passport and money.

It appears the robbers mostly target tourists.

Ehtasham Khan in Geneva