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A little bit of Pakistan in Kolkata
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
By Ruchhita Kazaria
provide us the
ome January and my heart begins to sing. That is when
Kolkata puts on its thinking
cap and throws open its doors
to the intelligentsia. It's time
for the literary festivals that
have become an integral part
of the city's cultural landscape.
The Kolkata Literary Festival (Kalam) and the Apeejay
Kolkata Literary Festival
(AKLF) also provide the opportunity to meet scintillating
minds from Pakistan – not just
panellists but also at least
some Pakistanis who manage
to get visas to attend these
Pakistani delegates at
Kalam 2014 included personalities like Farida Khanum, Salima Hashmi, and Ali Sethi. The
famed historian Ayesha Jalal is
expected this year.
Last week's AKLF 2015
brought us the well-known
journalist and novelist Mohammed Hanif and Razi
Ahmed, director of the Lahore
On January 17, 2015, day
four of AKLF 2015, I sat amidst
a jostling crowd for an afternoon session titled, 'A Case of
Exploding Ideas: A Literary
Conversation', featuring Mohammed Hanif in conversation
with Indian writer and filmmaker Ruchir Joshi.
Hanif, a man of few words
and a boyish grin, confessed
he often feels "homeless" and
"homesick". Transporting the
audience to Pakistan, he recounted his childhood: "Ours
was a Punjabi rural household.
In our village you had small
landlords or farmers. It was a
rather oppressive life with no
One day, he saw "this newspaper advertisement of a pilot;
a rather glamorous looking
man. That day, I decided that I
would become that man."
His other dream that became a reality was to develop
into a writer. "Young men have
vague notions …like writing
books. Books, with really cool
covers. I wanted to write a
book but drifted into journalism."
My friend Saira Shah Halim
asked him about his views on
visa restrictions between India
and Pakistan and if he sees
peace between the countries.
"Well, not in my lifetime!"
came his prompt response. "I
don't see anything changing
between our countries. But
yes, if we have a lot of retired
generals hugging each other
from across the border …we
could still have hope for reconciliation."
He couldn't have known
that Saira's father is Lt. Gen.
Zameer-ud-din Shah, India. As
the audience applauded, he
added, "Visa is a routine process but has become a thriller
in these two countries. Till the
last minute you don't know if
you will get your visa for
India. It is very idiotic."
As he spoke,
the Aman ki Asha
logo of "Milne Do"
(let people meet)
flashed across my
Ruchir Joshi articulated an
interesting take on the issue:
"We are battling with the environment with no green projects. I believe that day is not
too far when some environmental issue will force us to
get together. Some flood,
something …will wipe away
the boundaries." I felt quite
choked up at the implication
(What will happen, what will
We don't know what will
happen) Turning to Ruchir, he
winked and added, "I can be
the next not-so-expensive lyricist for your next movie".
Hanif has a way with
words. He can amuse you with
his wit. His eyes brood one
moment and chuckle the next.
"Nobody pays when you write
a novel in Urdu. So I write in
English," he said. "Though I do
write articles in Urdu."
On the situation in
Pakistan, he said, "The
people who attack other
people don't read novels. I was wondering
why any Pakistani author hasn't gone to
jail in the last 20
years. But well, 23 Pakistani
journalists did get killed last
year. It's amazing to stay alive
and still be relevant isn't it?"
What an intense thought.
Clutching copies of both his
novels, I walked up to him and
introduced myself as an Aman
Ki Asha member. He responded, grinning, "A thinker,
a peace thinker. Not a member."
Book signing for him is op-
Saira Shah Halim, Mohammed Hanif and Ruchhita Kazaria: after
the book signing
of his words. The discussion
moved on to stage and music.
Besides being a writer and
journalist, Hanif is also a lyricist, poet and playwright
known for his sardonic wit.
When the audience insisted
that he recite a poem, he refused. And then obliged by
reciting the nonsensical:
"Kya hoga, kya hoga Ab
pata nahin … kya hoga"
portunity for a chat. As we
posed for a photograph, he
asked, "Do you like the picture
or must we take another one?"
Later, my friends and I sat
neatly in the front row seats at
the iconic Victoria Memorial,
for a session moderated by
Razi Ahmed, Director of the
Lahore Literary Festival. Titled
Crossings: Across the Lan-
Border Crossings: Across the Language Divide, with Mohammed Hanif, K. Anis Ahmed and Florence Noiville, moderated by Razi Ahmed, Director
Lahore Literary Festival. Photos: Abhishek Chamaria
guage Divide" it featured Mohammed Hanif, Florence
Noiville from France, and K.
Anis Ahmed from Bangladesh.
Saira and I realised that
Razi Ahmed looked familiar
because we had seen him at
last year's Kolkata Literary
Meet (Kalam) with Farida
Khanum at the same venue.
Speaking of languages,
Hanif recounted, "In Punjab
(Pakistan), we have a really
weird education system. Families speak in Punjabi at home
and so, by the time you are
five years old, you have a language, a vocabulary. Then you
go to school where the
medium of instruction is Urdu.
So the vocabulary you have
becomes redundant and a new
language takes over. Then in
college, Urdu is no good. So
you begin learning English. It's
basically juggling between languages… I've been through
"If you can't make a living
out of a language, it doesn't
make sense. If a language cannot fetch you a job, is delinked
from the economy, is no
longer used even in schools
…it obviously doesn't make
sense," he added, making a
dire prediction. "Thirty years
from now, only a few freaks in
Lahore will speak Punjabi.
This is the tragic reality!"
During the discussion session I asked about the future
of ghazals in India, given that
Urdu, though it is a Hindustani
language has been conveniently dubbed as a 'Muslim'
language and is dying a fast
death in India.
"Urdu is just 300 years old
and ever since it came into existence, people have been saying that it's dying," responded
Hanif. "In Pakistan, people still
listen to Jagjit Singh all the
time. The more discerning
ones listen to Pankaj Udhas."
"Well, in the absence of
Urdu. I think the Indians will
borrow Ghazal couplets from
Pakistan and sing," I ventured.
Mohammed Hanif: "Aha! So
that's nice! Borrowing is nice
… when you are borrowing
Mention of Aman ki Asha
came up, drawing warm applause from those present.
Saira Shah Halim asked
about Hanif's point that a language should pay. "What happens to people who want to
write in vernacular? Do they
A last minute gift, Katasraj and Khewra Y
A retired banker in Haryana reminisces about a 2006 visit to his birthplace across the border
By Yash Pal Sethi
n our last evening
strolling in the
local market, I
asked our host
Ahmed about the availability of
ready-made shalwar kamiz. He
said that the tailor normally
takes a week to stitch the outfit,
and I dropped the idea of getting the outfit I had regularly
worn until Partition.
Back at the house later, despite my resistance he took me
to a tailor who measured me.
Mrs Ahmed had already given
the cloth for stitching me a suit.
Very late that night a shalwar
kamiz was gifted to me.
I was surprised when Ahmed
told me that he follows Swami
Ramdev's yoga on on Astha
Channel and practices it. He
told me that a senior retired official in his locality also taught
yoga, charging Rs. 5000 per student.
Early the next morning, after
a hearty breakfast and an emotional send-off -- after all we had
been living with them like family members -- we set out for
via Chakwal. Our host, concerned about our safe passage
to Wagah, had arranged a taxi
with his regular driver. He
three men arrived to whitewash
the temple in preparation for a
Jatha from India due to arrive
soon. At Khewra, we stopped at
a lonely shop where the owner
was chiselling rock-salt into figures.
Someone greeted me with a
'Salam Janab'. I replied automatically, 'Walekum Salam'.
It was late evening by the
time we reached Lahore, where
Katasraj: I could read the signboard in Urdu explaining its history
THE FIRST STEP
LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK
Feedback, contributions, photos, letters:
Post: aman ki asha c/o The News,
I.I. Chundrigar Road, Karachi
Akram Khan, a friend of Ahmed,
would look after us. He received me in the Indian way by
touching my feet. He had
booked a hotel room for us in
his own name.
The next morning he was
with us before dawn and took
us for breakfast. Due to disturbances, the city wore a deserted
look. We went around some
places including Anarkali but
didn't feel like we really saw Lahore. In the afternoon Khan
took us to Wagah border where
we said goodbye to Pakistan
The writer is a former
journalist with The Asian
Age and Times of India. She
lives in Kolkata.
B R I E F S
outh groups from
India and Pakistan
have jointly launched
a 'Calendar for Peace and
Love' for the third consecutive year featuring selected
paintings by Indian and Pakistan students.
"The calendar is a collection of shared dreams and
hopes for friendship which
we will be reminded of Marvi Sirmed and Khushal Khattak: let people meet
every day," say the convenors of Aaghaz-e-Dosti, a joint Indo-Pak initiative of two youth groups -- Mission Bhartiyam in India, and The Catalyst in Pakistan. The calendar was launched
on December 28, 2014 in New Delhi, and in Islamabad on January 15, 2015.
The calendar launch events are accompanied by seminars addressed by prominent speakers.
Various Indian and Pakistani organisations have collaborated with Aaghaz-eDosti to make the 2015 calendars and their launch events -- Justice, Aid, and Development Foundation, Social Awareness Media and Art Junction, South Asian
Writers and Artists Network from Pakistan, and Indian Council for Talent Search
and Competitions and Yuvsatta from India.
Asad Shoaib of Aaghaz-e-Dosti moderated the Islamabad launch seminar "Sharing hopes for a peaceful co-existence". Featured speaker at the seminar Marvi
Sirmed, a noted columnist and activist, pointed out that civil society members in
both countries have been pushing for peace since the 1990s, despite setbacks like
the 2008 attacks in Mumbai. She criticised hurdles placed in the way of people-topeople communication, particularly for ordinary people. She emphasized the need
to structure peace and friendship initiatives at all levels.
Political activist Khushal Khattak who studied at Jawaharlal Nehru University
(JNU) in New Delhi, India, shared his experiences as a student at JNU. He said
that people went out of their way to make him feel at home. It is at the state level
that barriers are formed from monthly police reporting to visa limitations.
Similar calendar launch events and seminars are planned in Chandigarh,
Nashik, Panipat, Ajmer, Chennai and Lahore.
Outside Taxila Museum
(spring festival) with my parents as a primary student at
Malakwal. The roses (desigulab) and trees of locat on either side of the road that used
to emit a soothing fragrance
were now missing. We reached
Katasraj around 11 am. It
looked deserted. We washed
our face and hands in the holy
pond and drank the water.
Around us was loose barbed
wire and ruins of the ancient
We walked about and took
some photos. As we were left,
borders; they exist more
within each country … on one
side rest words and on the
other side, rests silence. The
silence needs to be penetrated. We will need to consciously keep in touch, almost
romance our vernaculars till
the forthcoming generations
too, fall in love with them."
After the scintillating session, we made our way to Razi
Ahmed and reminded him of
our meeting last year. What a
delight to speak to this intelligent, informed, inquisitive and
invigorating young man. As we
exchanged contact details and
took a photograph together, he
invited us to visit the Lahore
Literary Festival. We are
thrilled at the possibility. But
will we get visas?
In the end, I believe peace
with Pakistan is possible
through poetry and prose. And
visas. The writer is a former
journalist with the Times of
India and Asian Age, Kolkata.
Indo Pak calendar Islamabad launch
planned to monitor our movement at regular intervals via the
driver's mobile phone.
We wanted to reach Lahore
before evening as my son
Rakesh was anxious to see Lahore. He knew our saying 'Jine
Lahore nhi dekia uss ne kuchh
nhi dekia' (he who hasn't seen
Lahore has seen nothing).
Long ago, I had visited
Katasraj twice at Basakhi
have a market?"
"People are born with the
need to write. It's like a personality disorder," responded
"The question is how do we
create readers… not writers."
Quoting George Bernard
Shaw, he added, "A language is
an army with a dictionary".
"Languages survive with state
patronage, people's affinity or
economic reasons. I think we
should ask the armies on either side to start educating
children and spreading the
love for vernacular."
"I speak in the Marwari dialect at home with my grandmother," said our friend Abhishek Chamaria. "But when I
see my two-year old daughter,
I know for sure she is not
going to adapt to it … maybe
because she won't have
friends who will know the dialect by the time she's five
years old. How do we ensure
that our vernaculars live on?"
The Bangladeshi publisher,
author and translator K. Anis
Ahmed took up this one. "The
key is to have softer resources
to sustain languages. What we
need is a cultural consumption. We talk about outside
At Katasraj: The writer with his son Rakesh
and its hospitable people.
School, Rawalpindi. He lives in
The writer is a retired
Yamuna Nagar (Haryana), India.
banker born in Rawalpindi in
This series was adapted from
1931. He studied in Murree,
his posts to the Aman ki Asha
Malakwal and at DAV High
The writer is a retired banker born in Rawalpindi in 1931. He
studied in Murree, Malakwal and at DAV High School, Rawalpindi.
He lives in Yamuna Nagar (Haryana), India. This three part series
is adapted from his posts to the Aman ki Asha Facebook group.
Journey for peace
ondon based Pakistan origin entrepreneur "Star"
Malik, "Peace and Friendship Envoy for Pakistan
and India", is reaching the end of the peace journey
he started three years ago.
Starting in London on 12-12-12, at 12:12:12, he has
driven through 21 countries to promote peaceful relations
between Pakistan and India. He travelled through 13 countries in the European Union for the first phase. The second
involved driving through six Gulf states. The last part of the
journey will be in Pakistan and India The determined
peacenik has released video trailers of his peace journey
through Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia.
Supporters around the world have appreciated his commitment and passion for promoting peace. Details at his
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.