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Nihal Chauhan

When I think about my time in Pakistan, I still feel dazed. The trip was hectic, with moments bordering on excruciating suspense to experiences filled with adventure, excitement and, finally, a touch of sadness.

It seems like yesterday -- actually it was in June 2003 -- when events unfolded leading to the road to Pakistan. I was in my final year at the Mahindra United World College of India, a residential school, completing my two-year International Baccalaureate programme.

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After a gruelling chemistry examination, I walked down to the administration wing, a building which houses the offices of the headmaster, the director of studies and the director of guidance -- it was definitely not somewhere one goes to chill. But this was the nearest place that offered comfort from the scorching heat.

Once inside the building, a notice caught my eye. It said something like 'Exciting summer option for Indians: Youth Initiative for Peace, an organisation enabling interaction between the youth of two enemy countries.' This seemed like a valid excuse to put off studying for the physics examination that was still to take place. Moreover, the idea of going to Pakistan spelt adventure -- a far cry from mechanics, electrostatics and their complexities.

A minute later, without thinking about what my Army officer father would have to say about it, I was in front of Nikki, the headmaster's secretary, who gave me the application form. A couple of friends filled out the routine details while I wrote essays on topics that gauged my interest in neighbourly feelings. Within an hour and a half, I was done.

I ran to my room, fetched Rs 100 for the courier and rushed back only to be told couriering to Pakistan would cost a couple of hundreds more, which is how much it would cost me if I wanted to courier the same package to the US! This, apparently, was because Pakistan and India did not permit flying over each other's territories. The package would go to Karachi, its destination, via Dubai.

I told my parents about the trip when I phoned home that night. They were surprised and, I could sense, worried.

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By the beginning of June, I would know if I was selected for the trip, which was scheduled for July 1. College closed at the end of May and I returned to Delhi where I had ample time to research into Youth Initiative for Peace, an organisation that came into being at an Initiative for Peace conference held in Singapore in June 2002. YIP's goal was to create permanent conflict management programmes and facilitate initiatives for peace by linking young people across the globe. It had grown from an organisation limited to India and Pakistan and now included youth from 15 other countries in South Asia.

The 'Youth Without Borders' convention I hoped to be part of involved a 12-day peace camp in Karachi to be attended by 15 Indian students, between the ages of 16 and 19, and 15 of their counterparts from Pakistan. The camp would provide an opportunity for the participants to interact with each other and with a group of internationally recognised experts in the fields of filmmaking, photography, journalism, social justice, peace and conflict management.

The convention aimed to improve communication and create a better understanding among a diverse group of future peace builders from India and Pakistan as well as to train them in the practical skills and tools of effective conflict management. Besides, the participants would collaborate in dance, music, film and arts projects. The documentary film made during the workshop would be released on July 12 and would highlight the cultural richness of the two countries. All of which sounded very purposeful. I badly wanted to be a part of it.

Part II: Visiting a hostile country
Part III: Assalamu Alikum
Part IV: Pakistan: A new perspective

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

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