Nirupama Subramanian

Pakistani villager and Manmohan studied together in Gah primary school

Because of this one man, we have all facilities in village, says Raja Mohammed Ali

He plans to give Dr. Singh handful of earth from Gah

ISLAMABAD: When Raja Mohammed Ali applied for a visa to visit India, in the column where applicants have to write the name of the person they are planning to visit, the 75-year-old native of Gah simply wrote: Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, New Delhi.

Several of his pre-Partition classmates live in Ambala and Amritsar, and he is planning to visit them too, but he is making the trip mainly to catch up with the most famous of them all, Dr. Singh.

“I am going to New Delhi to meet the Indian Prime Minister. He was my classfellow. I want to meet his wife and the rest of his family. I want to personally invite him to visit Gah whenever he comes on a visit to Pakistan, and when he comes, I will feed him our traditional food, bajre ki roti, with my own hands,” Mr. Ali told this correspondent, who ran into him as he was applying for his visa on Thursday.

Dr. Singh, who was born in Gah in Chakwal district, and Mr. Ali studied in the village primary school from class 1 to 4. After that Dr. Singh schooled in the nearby Chakwal town until his family migrated to the Indian side of Punjab at the time of Partition.

In 2004, when Dr. Singh became Prime Minister, the Punjab provincial Government declared that in his honour, it would develop Gah as a model village and named the local school after him.

“Because of this one man, we now have a double road, streetlights powered by solar electricity, two schools, one for girls and the other for boys, and two hospitals. The lanes are pucca, the masjid gets hot water, and all due to him,” said Mr. Ali, a Capstan-smoking six-footer who politely asked for permission before lighting up.

Punjab Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi, ruling party president Chaudhary Shujat Hussain, President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz had all taken a lot of interest in developing Gah, he said.

Supporting document

As a document in support of his visa application, he was carrying a letter he received from Dr. Singh in September 2004, thanking him for sending a pair of traditionally embroidered shoes. Dr. Singh wrote that the shoes brought back memories of his childhood. Mr. Ali was also carrying copies of the school register, which had Dr. Singh’s name, to show to visa officials.

He does know yet where he will stay while in New Delhi. “I will stay with Manmohan or wherever he puts me up, or I can stay with any of these people, they are all friends,” he said, displaying a ton of visiting cards of Indian journalists who had come to Gah since Dr. Singh became Prime Minster. Mr. Ali plans to travel alone and wants to cross over the Wagah border. He is confident that the Indians who have made contact with him over the last three years will help him get to New Delhi, where he also wants to get his eyes checked by a good doctor.

But his main pre-occupation these days is choosing a gift for his old classmate. “For his wife I have a traditional silk cloth which I will place on her head as dupatta when I see her. For him, I think I will take Gah ki mitti, a handful of earth from our village.”

An Indian High Commission official said on Friday that Mr. Ali’s visa application was being processed.