LAHORE: Abdul Haq Khan had been running a restaurant selling richly seasoned lamb curry for years when he got a new idea while watching the news last month in Rahim Yar Khan, the main Pakistani city in a district of sugarcane plantations and mango orchards along the Indus river.
The news bulletin showed a video released by the Pakistan army of an Indian pilot captured after an enemy jet was shot down.
“The officers of the Pakistani Army have looked after me well, they are thorough gentlemen,” the pilot said into the camera as he sipped tea from a white cup.
Tension between nuclear-armed neighbours and arch-rivals India and Pakistan escalated late last month as both countries engaged in aerial dogfights and carried out airstrikes against each other. The Pakistan army also captured Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, and after it released videos of the airman, he quickly became a social media sensation and was released two days later.
As Khan watched the story unfold on his TV screen, he decided to set up a tea stall at his restaurant and had a banner printed with the face of Indian Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman splashed across it, his signature horseshoe moustache on full display.
“I never knew the power of tea until I saw a cup in the hands of Indian pilot Abhinandan Vardhaman, singing praises of the Pakistan Army,” Khan told Arab News via phone from Sadiqabad district in southern Punjab. “It was the cup of tea offered to him by our military officers with love that changed his ideas completely. He came here as an enemy but left as a friend."
Khan said this gave him the idea for a slogan for his tea stall: “The kind of tea that turns an enemy into a friend.”
People first arrived at the stall just to look at the banner and laugh but soon, many began to place orders for tea.
“In the beginning the people looked at the banner and laughed but then they also ordered a cup of tea,” Khan said. “I had to explain to them that if tea can make an enemy pilot your friend it can also end all the bitterness in your life.”
Barbers in several cities in India reported receiving requests to copy Abhinandan’s distinctive facial hair, but in Pakistan, it is the videos of him sipping tea that have caught the public imagination.
“Offering a cup of tea to someone with love can change his thoughts and I learnt that from Abhinandan,” Khan said.
Muhammed Latif, a customer at Khan’s tea stall, said: “I am not fond of tea but this idea of Abhinandan, this picture, attracted me and now here I am, sitting with my friends and enjoying tea.”