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Wednesday, February 5, 2014
When we meet, friendships happen
Dastangoi in Karachi
By Ras H. Siddiqui
Journey from anti-India Pakistani ‘nationalist’ to India-Pakistan peacemaker, and why Aman ki Asha makes so much sense today
his journey called life takes many interesting paths. This thought was sparked by the “Google Search: Reunion” ad of 2013, which now has over 11 million views and counting. It was not just I; my friends from both sides of the India-Pakistan divide now residing in America broke down in tears after watching this three-minute long promotion for the online search engine. And they were all born long after 1947. One reason for this emotional response could be that we grew up on similar stories from our parents of the partition generation, about their “good old days” across the border which they remembered with such fondness that we sometimes silently asked “Why did you ever move?” For me personally the transition from Pakistani nationalist to IndiaPakistan peacemaker was not on the cards before I arrived in America as a student in 1974. There was no love lost between me and then dushman (enemy) Indians especially since my father had been their forced “guest” between 1972 and 1973, a civilian engineer caught in the birth of Bangladesh. Ironically he was housed in a P .O.W. camp for almost two years located less than 100 kilometers from where he was born. His sister and various cousins unsuccessfully tried to visit him there. Ours is a partition divided family and my last visit to India before 1974 was as a young kid in 1962, a visit I have very little memory of except for fading images of my grandparents. I admit that I was once full of national pride, which carried with it a great deal of anti-Indian feelings. But that all began to change after I landed in northern California, wearing a checkered three piece suit when I arrived on campus at San Jose State University. On my first day I actually stopped a Mexican-American and asked where he was from, hoping that he was a desi! Mind you this was the world long before the Internet era and the global information
revolution or social media. The first day I entered the Students Union cafeteria, being somewhat of an introvert I nervously looked around and finally approached someone who could potentially have been another Mexican. He turned out to be an Indian called SJ. After purchasing a cup of tea and struggling to figure out how to get the hot water from a machine into my cup, I asked if I could sit at his table. He was a few years older and
about a hundred Indian students at San Jose State. Many of us just got to know each other because we were all struggling to make ends meet, trying to get an education at the same time. Our medium of communication was primarily our commonality of culture. And even today I stand by that statement. We Pakistanis in America have Persian and Arab friends but when it comes to appreciating a good Punjabi beat or a soothing, sad Urdu-Hindi Ghazal no other people besides In-
efforts like Aman ki Asha (Hope For Peace) and Milne Do (Let People Meet) make much more sense to me today. I sometimes still disagree with Indians on Kashmir. But my warrior days are long gone. I visited India in the year 2004 with my mother and was welcomed by many members of my long lost family. I cherish that visit but want to share some of the consequences of my developing affection for that country. I also wanted to write some choice Punjabi expletives here for
Kites in the air; photo: Paul Chapman
across the border. Divided up by one of history’s strange turns. ‘Looks as if there is a wind,’ Rasool said, hurriedly changing the mood. ‘Shall we try and fly it, just once?’ Together they crept up the stairs, Zaheera stifling her giggles as she remembered a time when they were young and she had often climbed up to the terrace to meet Rasool. On the terrace, the wind had risen to a frenzy. It tried to prise Zaheera’s fingers away from the kite. Careful, careful... Rasool warned. The kite swivelled and twisted, its bells tingling in alarm but the wind proved stronger. The cold became a thick cloudy foam as the fog crept in from the desert, and they could see the kite no more, its protests stifled by the swift desert wind. It’s gone, just like our son, Zaheera wept herself to sleep. In the morning, the children flew kites outside, their kites fought other kites, the weaker ones fluttering, breaking into paper tears before falling groundwards. And Rasool tried to cheer Zaheera up. ‘Id is nearly here, I will get you a kid goat, the best in the market.’ But Zaheera’s face was an empty mask. A week before Id, they heard te door knock one night. The terror returned to Zaheera’s eyes. ‘Relax, it can’t be riots. Elections are near,’ Rasool whispered. Three-four uniformed men stood outside. ‘Is this yours?’ And in the torchlight, he saw his lost kite. Its body had an ugly tear, all its bells were gone but the eyes Zaheera had painted still shone. ‘We found it across the border.’ And they pushed someone forward. Someone who looked very hungry with traces of an unkempt beard on his face. Zaheera fell to her knees sobbing, thanking Allah at the same time. ‘We found him very ill, your son. He could not remember a thing but the moment he saw this kite…’ The men laughed, shaking their heads, ‘He began talking about his village, the kite festival and begged us to take him home.’ ‘Come in.. ‘Rasool remembered his manners, ‘For tea...” ‘No… we must go. Didn’t take permission to cross over. Id Mubarak.’ Anu Kumar sent her short story 'The Kitemaker' to Aman ki Asha (Commonwealth Short Story Competition 2004, special prize; reprinted by OUP in its international bookworm series). Website: www.anukumar.org
By Anu Kumar
A short story for Utraan, Basant, spring in the air, along with kites
eeks before utraan, the annual kite-flying festival, Ahmed Rasool sat up nights, determined to make the finest kite he had ever made. He was kept company by an old kerosene lamp. Zaheera, his wife, no longer stayed up with him as in the old days for recent events had left her terribly distressed. Their village had been torn apart by riots, their son had vanished without leaving a note, and Zaheera had lost her previous zest for life. She now mocked Rasool for his plans. ‘When there is so much hate, do you think people will fly kites?’ Rasool worked on, with Zaheera’s words reverberating in his ears. He consoled himself, dredging up lost words of sanity, ‘It’s temporary madness. It can’t go on. People can’t live in a state of war for too long.’ Rasool refused to lose hope, ‘The kite I make will be for peace. It will fly high into the skies and even the gods will listen to our prayers.’ Later, Zaheera agreed it was the finest kite he had ever made. Shaped like a dove, its beak held the olive branch of peace. Rasool had even fixed silver bells on its anklets so it would sing with the breeze. ‘It won’t fly very far,’ everyone else said. ‘It’s heavy and look, the wind has yet to pick up.’ The night before utraan, Zaheera painted eyes on both sides of the paper, white in brilliant black. ‘Do they really have eyes like that,’ Rasool teased, ‘I think they rather look like a peacock’s.’ ‘Be off,’ she said half-scolding, ‘In my grandfather’s house, he bred doves and pigeons. I know, I looked after them.’ An old pain returned with that, Zaheera’s grandfather’s house was
The Google ad: Over 11 million views, and counting much wiser than me but we must have talked for about an hour that day. After almost four decades now we still keep in touch via email. SJ introduced me to the first Pakistanis I met in the America later that week. He also became my first roommate because I had nowhere else to go that summer. There is something about learning how to survive in a third country that brings Indians and Pakistanis together. That is exactly what happened for me because at in the 1970s, there were not too many of us here. If I remember correctly there were about ten Pakistanis and dians can relate. I did not change my mind about India without first changing my perception about the Indians I met in the 1970s and ‘80s. But old habits take time to change. I remained a Pakistani-American “cyber warrior” during the 1990’s and dueled with many Indians on the Internet during that decade. But I had lost my hostility long before then. You cannot dislike a people and generalise your feelings against them if some of them are your good friends! But for that transition to take place the first step is getting the opportunity to meet them as I had. This is why the people who carried out the attacks on Mumbai in 2008, but will instead inform them of the results of their terror. The last words my aunt said to me on the phone in the year 2011 were “Beta, tum kab aa rahey ho?” (Son, when are you coming?). She died soon after in India. I did not get to see her again because I could not get a visa -- the price of being an American of Pakistani origin. Ras lives in California. He has been writing for South Asian newspapers and magazines in America for over 20 years
KLF’s India connection
B R I E F S
he rising phenomenon of literary festivals offers another platform for Indians and Pakistanis to connect. It was wonderful to see that the recently concluded Karachi Literary Festival had so many panels featuring prominent Indians. They included scholars and academics Rajmohan Gandhi, Zoya Hasan, and Mushirul Hasan, lawyer and columnist A. G. Noorani, publisher Mandira Sen, as well as a Dastangoi (Urdu story telling) session by Danish Hussain, Darain Shahidi and Mahmood Farooqui.
Congrats Zinda Bhaag
akistani feature film Zinda Bhaag (Run for your Life), co-directed by Indian Meenu Gaur and Pakistani Farjad Nabi won the ‘Special Jury Award’ at the closing ceremony of the Jaipur International Film Festival. Zinda Bhaag was also honoured by being selected as the opening night film for the fiveday long festival.
Co-director Farjad Nabi with the award at the closing ceremony.
t is just a line. White paint brushed meticulously on the ground, to demarcate a boundary between two regions. I stood on it, motionless, trying to capture a moment that I so badly wanted to preserve. A sturdylooking Ranger brought me back to reality, gesturing me to move on. I stepped forward and made the magical transition from Wagah to Attari. This was my second time across, but my first crossing the border by foot. I stepped across into India, eyeing the strangely familiar surroundings around me. I shoved my luggage inside the border bus and got in. The others were already there. We were an eleven-member delegation from Aitchison College, Lahore, traveling with our staff advisor Mazher Pervaiz to Hyderabad to take part in the Harvard Model United Nations Conference 2013. The recent border tensions between the two countries had nearly led to our trip being cancelled. However, persistent efforts by school administrations on both sides made it possible. We cleared customs and met our host, an old
Crossing that white painted line
A Pakistani schoolboy on his second trip to India, for the Harvard Model United Nations Conference in Hyderabad, Deccan
Nizam era. And what a site it was. We took endless photographs and enjoyed the local, traditional bazaars. Bargaining, shortage of 100 rupee notes, souvenirs, gifts and then the famous Hyderabadi Biryani that met all expectations. Later, we treated ourselves with a visit to the modern day city including a fancy looking mall from which we emerged with many bags and big grins. The Harvard MUN Conference India is widely regarded as the biggest (over 1,500 delegates) and the toughest MUN Conference of Asia and even the world. The first day felt like hell. My committee had 300 delegates. Trust me, convincing 300 people is not an easy task. However we managed to adjust. The debate began, along with countless speeches, sessions of unmoderated lobbying, unofficial partnerships and agreesweaty and quite frankly scared of the dogs roaming around. As quickly as we could, we moved forward, with everyone eyeing us. Finally, we located the van, loaded our luggage and got in. The New Delhi airport felt welcoming that early morning. After a short plane ride, we were in Hyderabad, checked into our hotel, with two days to prepare ourselves before the conference. After unpacking, we started working for the toughest challenge in MUNs. Work was just one aspect of the trip. We were also excited to explore the biggest cultural hub of India, Hyderabad. Thoroughly fleeced by the taxi driver, we reached Chaar Minaar, an ancient relic of the ments, bloc formations and what not. There were also interactive sessions with prominent speakers, global village (the Pakistani stall was brilliantly put up), a dance, and an Indian Cultural Night in those three days full of action. The awards night was the toughest. We had traveled all these miles, taken all these risks and no one wanted to go back empty handed. To be the best dual delegation in my committee out of a possible 160 implied not-so-appealing odds. I closed my eyes as my committee was announced. Seconds later, I was on the podium, holding the coveted Harvard gavel, in India, in front of 1,500 people. It was surreal. Minutes later, Aitchison College was declared the best small delegation at the conference - the highest honour we could imagine. We went up, taking the Pakistan flag, and
That white line at Wagah friend of Mr Pervaiz. After lunch, we made our way to Amritsar to catch the Shatabdi Express to Delhi. We reached Delhi at about THE FIRST STEP LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK
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midnight, tired after having travelled all day. The van that had come to receive us was on the other side from where we got off. We felt agitated,
screamed as we got the team trophy. We had done it. Surprisingly, everyone in the hall was cheering and appreciating our efforts. It was truly a magical moment, one none of us would ever want to forget. We did not look forward to the journey back that involved a 22-hour train ride to Delhi, although it was on the famous Rajdhani Express. We caught up with our sleep on the train and reached Delhi reinvigorated. Our school's other MUN delegation was coming to Delhi from Dheradun and then we had the next two days to ourselves. We explored Delhi on countless rickshaw rides and I even managed to meet some old friends. The last day felt sad. No one wanted to leave. India had again played the role of a hospitable host to all of us. We had made new friends and eradicated many stereotypes. As I stepped over that white line at Wagah, I realised that the sensation I felt was… happiness. India was and will remain a home away from home. The writer is a student at Aitcheson College, Lahore
Not all work: Tourist time at Charminar
A peace initiative whose time has come... ‘Destination Peace’: A commitment by the Jang Group, Geo and The Times of India Group to create an enabling environment that brings the people of Pakistan and India closer together, contributing to genuine and durable peace with honour between our countries.