• Wali Muhammad

Lahore, Mumbai, Waterloo...

Updated: Jan 21, 2019

My attention was reflexively drawn to Arlene the moment Nadia (my wife) and I entered the German Gospel Church in Waterloo. An instant and typically passionate Indian or Pakistani hug, actually there is no difference between them, and Arlene led us to pews.

“You guys would sit with me!” she declared. She reminded me of the Bollywood heroines of the classical Indian cinema that I continue to be in love with. Arlene was in a fit of laughter when I told her their names.

I was born and raised in Lahore, the Pakistani City bordering with the Indian City of Amritsar. Late seventies were a time of state-owned television channels. Doordarshan was the only Indian and PTV the only Pakistani national television channel. The proximity allowed residents of both cities to catch the transmission from both countries by setting the direction of TV antennas. The daily TV transmission in both countries lasted from early evening till midnight.

Spinning the antenna between India and Pakistan, at least, three times every evening and over a dozen times on a windy day, used to be our exciting recreation routine. The Bollywood movies, songs, the kathak dance programs, and evening news were the most-watched Indian programs in my family.

Pastor Klaus Sonnenberg had kindly invited us to the Advent Fellowship Meal at the Church when we were introduced for the first time a week before. He came to attend my workshop, Our Stories, Let's Connect, at the Victoria Hills Community Centre. “When I reflect on it, I believe that God by His Spirit orchestrated these connections,” Pastor Klaus e-mailed me later.

We were some instant objects of curiosity when Pastor Klaus (as everyone addresses him) announced some new fellows in the church that Sunday. We were showered with warm handshakes, loving hugs, and kind blessings– within no time, strangers were transformed into family members.

When Pastor Klaus picked up his guitar and announced the singing of hymns, Arlene brought us the hymns books, showed us the pages and the sequence to read them. Pastor Klaus was obviously a gifted musician!

We could not help talking like little kids. Beetween Arlene, Nadia, and I, there was simply so much to talk about. "We are the Lahoris and it takes a Lahori to understand a Lahori!" Arlene chuckled.

Arlene was born in Lahore and only seven years old when the partition of India and Pakistan struck in 1947. The announcement of the separation ensued one of the greatest mass migrations in history. Fourteen million Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims were displaced. Millions of Muslims struggled to move to the West and the East Pakistan, and millions of Hindus and Sikhs to what was now India. Hundreds of thousands never made it.

The riots claimed 300,000-500,000 precious lives. Lahore in the Pakistani Punjab and Amritsar in the Indian Punjab were the epicentres of violence. Arlene and her family had to cross through a river of fire to make it from Lahore to Bombay in India.. “I like Bombay more than its new name, Mumbai,” Arlene winkd. “me too,” I smiled in agreement.

She was keen to learn about Lahore where her childhood home was at the Empress Road; I grew up not far from there. We wanted to know her story of migrating to India, was she a Bollywood star, how did she end up in Canada… She wanted to know simply everything about us. We were like some impatient little kids setting the antenna direction for a clear transmission. Our bond was instant and profound.

At lunch, Nadia and I had Arlene sitting between us. “German desserts are the best in the world,” she whispered, "I'll tell you the best things to have when they'll serve them," she winked. Our excitement over the Indian-Pakistani stories of the past started to spread around. Mary was the first one to be infected with a reminiscent mood.

“My original name is Maria,” she smiled. “but when I came to Canada, Mary sounded more local, so I changed it.” “I was a very hardworking farmer back in Germany. When I came to Canada, I found out that farmers were very well-respected here,” Mary laughed.

At some point , John also joined in, and we learned about his specialization in the now extinct languages.

Soon, a small group of people began to form around us. Our cultural backgrounds varied, we were from one religion or another, or from none, and we spoke many languages. The laughter rose right from our hearts, and there was not a moment of worry during those blessed moments at the Gospel Church that Sunday as we shared our stories to connect!

Wali Muhammad

Wali imagines happy, creative, and productive workplaces. He designs and implements learning and development interventions to create them. Realizing that today’s globally-connected, exceedingly multicultural, and millennials-rich workforces and markets demand new approaches to organizational capacity building, Wali founded Behavioural Skills Company in 2015.


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