Finally the plane arrives. Eighty 30-something men rush to the boarding gate. A Pakistani airlines representative barks at them, “This is not a bus! You have assigned seats. Step back!” These laborers are rushing to leave India for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, transiting through Lahore, trying to earn more money. I board the plane, smile at the anxious worker beside me and stroke my beard.
Fifty minutes later I’ve landed. It’s nighttime. The runway glistens with new rain. I disembark, board a coach, and am released onto a clean marble floor. Signs are big and bright. The airport glows. No stray cat. Already Pakistan defies my expectations. It is far more clean and orderly than the Indian airport I just left.
A few other things stand out, things more in line with my expectations. The flight attendant praised God when we landed. That seemed odd. In line I see there's a separate passport control counter for “Families” where only a man need appear on behalf of his wife and kids. And there’s a counter for “Children, Elderly and Unaccompanied Women.” I want to get in that line.
I stay where I belong, and without trouble pass through immigration control, get my bag, board a taxi, and go out into Lahore’s night. The roads are wide and quiet. We pass through a military cantonment. My driver, an old man in a grey kurta named Muhammad Javid strikes up a conversation; I ask about America.
I ask about Musharraf, expecting the driver to evade the question. When things get turbulent and violent, I expect ordinary people to duck out of political speak in fear. But he pounces. Musharraf consents! Javid exclaims. "I hate him....I can only afford one meal a day now. Musharraf’s ruined the country.” With that, he pulls smoothly up to my gleaming hotel.
So much for fear and disorder I expected from Lahore.
Maybe it’s time to shave too.