Friendship beyond borders

It has always been my dream to visit Pakistan and Bangladesh — the two countries which were part of India before 1947. I could visit Bangladesh twice on business trips in 2019. But my desire to visit Pakistan remained a dream till recently when I got an invitation from my batchmate TRF trustee Aziz Memon to attend his son Sinan’s wedding in Karachi.

PDG Rajendra Rai (second from L) at the artificial limb section of the Pakistan Society for Rehabilitation of the Differently Abled in Lahore.

I landed in Karachi on Nov 18, 2023, where I was received by young Haseeb who whisked me quickly through the immigration. I cannot imagine something like that happening in India. That was the magic of my host PDG Aziz.

He hosted me at the Karachi ­Gymkhana which was established in 1886. During my three days stay in Karachi, apart from attending the Shandee (shaadi+mehandi) and Sinan’s wedding reception, I was escorted by Rtn Noaman Abdul Masjid who took me around on a tour to visit the Mohatta Palace, Mazar-e-Quaid-e-Azam, Hazrat Syed Abdulla Shaha Ghazi shrine, St Patrick’s Cathedral, Farers Hall and the Empress Market. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay here as the hospitality of our Pakistani friends was fantastic.

Qunoot and Haseeb from Pakistan at the Jayadeva Hospital in Bengaluru, where they were treated for heart ailments, in January 2011.

The icing on the cake of my visit was meeting Qunoot and her father Mirza Afzal Baig after a gap of 12 years. Qunoot was treated for a complex heart surgery (transition of arteries and suturing of four holes in her heart) in 2011, thanks to Rotary, at the Jayadeva Hospital, Bengaluru. Dr Devananda, a well-known cardiac surgeon of Manipal Hospital and also a Rotary GSE alumni from 2000, had performed the surgery.

In response to a Facebook post a few days before my trip, Qunoot contacted me and, along with her father, met me in Karachi after a three-hour bus ride from Hyderabad (Pakistan). I was overwhelmed to meet them and equally happy to note that she is doing fine. She has completed her graduation and is looking forward to pursue a Masters degree and become a teacher. I connected them with Dr Devananda over phone. Qunoot thanked him and took his medical advice for her heart care. What touched me the most was the note she sent to me after her meeting with me in Karachi: “Rajendra Rai uncle, it was very nice meeting you after 12 years. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the members of the Rotary club. Indeed, I got the gift of life and am here because of the prayers of my parents and the hard work of all of you. I’d also like to thank Dr Devananda. He gave me a new life; if he hadn’t accepted the challenge, I might not be here with you all. Thank you all for your love.”

PDG Rai meets Qunoot and her father Mirza Afzal Baig during his recent visit to Pakistan.

This note was the most valuable gift I have got in a long time and it will stay with me for years to come.

My next stop was Lahore, the second largest city in Pakistan, with a population of over 13 million. Called the ‘City of Gardens,’ after the significant rich heritage of the Mughal Empire, Lahore has always been a seat of learning and knowledge with many prestigious universities. I had the glimpse of the new and old Lahore, thanks to my new Pakistani Rotarian friends Dr Ali Arshad and Usman. We visited the ­Badshahi Mosque (built during 1671–1676), Minar–e-Pakistan, built during 1960 and 1968, on the site where the All-India Muslim League passed the Lahore Resolution, the Shahi Hammam, a Turkish bath house (built in 1635 during Shah Jahan’s reign), the Patli Gali, the narrowest lane (2.5ft width) of Old Lahore and the spice market.

During my week-long stay in ­Pakistan, I attended the meetings of the two oldest Rotary clubs in the ­subcontinent — RC Karachi, chartered in 1933, and RC Lahore, chartered in 1927. I also visited two schools — Kulsoom School supported by RC Karachi, and Aabroo School in Lahore, supported by RC Lahore Garrison Club.

With students at the Kulsoom School run by Hijaz Foundation and supported by RC Karachi.

This memorable visit to Pakistan was a revelation in many ways as I could see many similarities in how Rotary clubs in India and Pakistan have been helping the underprivileged by addressing their needs in the focused areas of literacy, mother and child care, and health. This trip not only fulfilled my dream of seeing that part of the subcontinent which has always remained an enigma to many of us in India, but it also made me experience the love and affection of Rotarian friends in Pakistan.

I am convinced that Rotary and Rotarians can do what the governments of the two countries cannot do — promote peace and amity through our good deeds.

The writer is a past district governor of RID 3191


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