Reporter's diary: Pakistan International Airlines or Please Inform Allah?
PIA, the carrier that connects India with Pakistan, is often referred to, in jest, as the short form of 'please inform Allah' by domestic flyers.
After my recent trip, I know why! The PIA flight from Delhi to Lahore got delayed by hours. The media team missed the onward connection to Islamabad and had to spend the night in the capital of Pakistani Punjab even though they did not have the visa to be there.
The delay also meant that they missed the first day of the Indo-Pak home secretary level talks, the very purpose of their visit. Thankfully, I wasn't on that flight. But I was not so lucky on my way back. My flight from Islamabad to Lahore was cancelled. And yes, we missed our Lahore-Delhi flight.
The adventure that followed perhaps is a tale worthy of narrating to my grandchildren and possibly my great grandchildren.
One of our colleagues had a visa only till that particular day, so the mad dash from Islamabad to Lahore started with the hope that the men guarding the Wagah border would let us cross over into India. To be fair to PIA, one of their officers arranged the cab for us and, throughout the journey, kept calling to make sure we were fine.
Islamabad to Lahore is a four to four and a half hours' journey and Wagah is another 20 to 25 minutes from Lahore. By the time we could cancel our tickets at Islamabad airport and hit the road, it was 12:15 pm. The border, we were told, shuts at 4:00 pm.
Frantic calls to the Indian High Commission followed only to learn that even the diplomatic staff had fallen prey to the PIA's vagaries. The High Commission staff had a morning 7 am flight from Islamabad to Lahore which finally took off at 11 am. It meant that there was no one to attend to the Indian home secretary-level delegation which had reached Lahore on their way back home.
But coming back to our story, the Indian High Commission staff assured us that Federal Investigation Agency, Pakistan, had been informed and that Pak agencies would let us cross over even if we were late by a few minutes.
The cab driver rode at 120 km per hour when the speed limit was 60. Honking, swerving, hitting the brake every few minutes, the drive was nothing short of an adventure. But, in spite of the best efforts of our well-meaning driver, we could make it to Wagah only by 4:30 pm. Much to our horror, the immigration authorities at the check post had no information from the authorities and we learnt that the border shuts its gates at 3:30 pm.
"Do you have a diplomatic passport," asked the immigration officer. "There is no way you can cross," he said once he knew I did not have one. Three members of the media team had arrived by air. Rules, we were told, were that if you come by air, you have to fly back. You can't take the road route. None of our mobiles worked and there was no way we could reach the Indian High Commission. Going back to Lahore for the night was not an option as none of us had a visa for Lahore.
As desperation mounted, a customs official came to our rescue. The door to his office and our hearts opened. He offered us his landline phone. Frantic calls to the High Commission for one hour, pleading with the Pakistani rangers with folded hands - and finally we reached the famous border gate.
Amidst chants of 'Bharat Maata ki jai' beyond the closed gates and the 'jeewe jeewe Pakistan' on the side, our hopes of getting back home rose. But the adventure was far from over. The Pakistan Rangers told us that the Indian side would not accept us since the parade was about to begin. Our passports were with them and we were almost sent back when the gates opened. My counterpart from NDTV waved and screamed from the crack in the gate to the Indian side and finally a BSF commandant pulled us across.
"Allah had been informed."