Archive for the ‘Identity’ Category

In Search of Diwali in Lahore

November 9, 2013

Diwali was on our minds. We were tossing around ideas on how to celebrate the first ever festival of lights on the campus of the Lahore University of Management Sciences. For some, it was too radical a proposition, for others something that just had to be done. It was in that context that a participant produced a newspaper clipping claiming there were only about 50 Hindus in Lahore and that some of them had celebrated Diwali at a private location for fear of being attacked.

“That’s just not true,” said a member of the team indignantly adjusting her hijab. Then and there, it was decided to locate a public celebration of Diwali in the city and to go ahead with our own event. The evening light was fading; the timing was right for lamps to be lit if they were going to be lit anywhere. A few phone calls identified three mandirs that might offer what we were looking for – in Model Town, on Ravi Road, and at Neela Gumbad, the latter two in some proximity to each other. We decided to head in their direction to maximize our chances.

Our guide suggested we take a rickshaw to the Ghazi Station on the Metrobus and ride it to Bhati Gate in the old city. There we were to ask for directions to either one of the two mandirs. We did as told and were informed with much confidence that there was a mandir close by and another some distance further off. Delighted, we boarded a rickshaw for the nearer one and were soon dropped off at the entrance to the lane headed towards the Badshahi mosque with a gesture that our destination was in the general direction. Having been there a number of times before, we all concluded simultaneously that the rickshaw driver had mistaken a gurdwara for a mandir.

Disappointed but undeterred, we engaged another rickshaw with instructions to take us to the other location that was now even further away. Much turning and twisting later, we were asked to disembark in front of a mandir that was in fact a church – the signboard said so quite plainly. We realized that the popular culture had erased the distinctions between mandirs, gurdwaras and girjas in Lahore.

Nonetheless, we were at Neela Gumbud and if there were a mandir there, we were determined to find it. Our best bet appeared to be a sleepy policeman with gun across his lap guarding the entrance to a narrow street. Sure enough he knew the location to a mandir and pointed us deeper into the lane while eyeing us with some suspicion.

The policeman, whose specific duty must have been to guard places of worship, turned out to be right. We found ourselves in front of a nondescript red gate which announced the entrance to the mandir. Another policeman frisked us and without much more hassle, we were past the gate.

Inside, Diwali was in full swing. Our protracted search had made us miss the puja but we were in time for the fireworks, the prasad and the music. There were certainly many more than 50 people in the compound and none of them looked afraid. Ominous, gun-toting policemen were stationed on adjacent roofs but that did not appear to cast any kind of shadow on the festivities.

It was Diwali alright, but, when all was said and done, it was Diwali in an alien soil. Half-way through the proceedings everything came to a halt and a prolonged round of speeches ensued. Muslims of various stripes came on stage to profess love for all religions and, for some odd reason, insisted the participants join them in full-throated renditions of Pakistan Zindabad. For many, the response was not good enough and the audience was exhorted to be more vociferous. The celebration of Diwali had turned into a test of loyalty, something that would be no part of a ceremony unencumbered with the need to prove anything to anyone.

Ordinary people, however, expressed a curiosity quite at odds with the certainties of the community leaders. My neighbor, sitting on the floor, was quite clearly a Muslim who took me for a Hindu and had questions about the similarities and differences between the two faiths. I answered as best I could and the conversation extended to the relationship of Sikhism to both and whether some Sikhs revered Muslim saints. It occurred to me how badly we needed to teach comparative religion in our schools.

Our mission accomplished, we strolled leisurely down the Mall treating ourselves to a congratulatory stop at Bundu Khan’s in the block where the rounded façade of E. Plomer and Sons still exists at the intersection across from Fane Road. At the Alhamra, we took a rickshaw and headed home.

Back on campus, we plunged into the Diwali preparations with renewed vigor. The student response was incredible. Within a day, Diwali was celebrated with great enthusiasm and fervor. There were no speeches, no talk of erasing differences, no tests of loyalty. It was an occasion for festivity and everyone went about the business of feeling good and enjoying themselves. We sensed at the end that some of the spirit of Diwali had been restored – there was hope that light could triumph over darkness if we set our minds to it.

 Diwali at LUMS

http://lums.edu.pk/news-detail/aahang-celebrates-diwali-at-lums-2132

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Violence Has No Borders

October 26, 2011

By Urvashi Butalia

Imagine a large hall in a major city in Punjab. It’s packed with people, mostly women, from Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka. On the stage are two men, one a long-haired bearded, hairy-chested sardar, the other a clean shaven smooth-chested younger man. They’re engaged in a languorous, erotic, sometimes passionate, sometimes tender, rendering of the story of Heer Ranjha. In the background Madan Gopal’s wonderfully resonant voice sings the story. Tragedy hangs in the air, for most of the people in the hall are familiar with this beautiful story of star- crossed lovers, and after the initial hesitation at seeing two men, they now ‘believe’ that the bearded Navtej Johar is actually Heer, and the supple Anil is Ranjha. Such is the power of their dance.

We’re in Islamabad, attending a dance performance that marks the end of a day of conferencing, and of an award ceremony in the memory of a young woman, Meeto Bhasin Malik, whose untimely death remains one of the great losses of the women’s movement in India. (more…)

Induced Nostalgia

September 6, 2011

By Hasan Altaf         

The first time I heard the word “Gandhara” was when I was maybe eight or ten, and, driving from Islamabad to Peshawar with my father, brother, and grandparents, stopped in a town I’d never heard of to visit a museum that was equally unfamiliar. The little town was Taxila, and the museum was the Taxila Museum. I’m sure at the time someone, most likely my father, explained to me the significance, the historic and artistic value, of the objects presented there, but it seems I must have glazed over and ignored it. To the eight- or ten-year-old I was, none of the statues and relics, the Buddhas and bodhisattvas, were particularly memorable. We left Taxila and continued our drive, leaving the museum behind, and until recently, I never thought about them again.

Many of us who grow up outside Pakistan have Pakistan always in the back of our minds, but that Pakistan is an imagined one that is different for each of us, and mine, at least, did not encompass Gandhara. (more…)

Ten Thoughts on Afridi’s Remarks about Indians

April 9, 2011

By Anjum Altaf

Shahid Afridi’s perceptions of Indians and India are now common knowledge. On the way out of the airport returning from Mohali, he said: “I can’t understand the approach of people, why we are against India? Why there is so much hate for India when we have Indian dramas played in every home, our marriage celebrations are done in Indian style, we watch all Indian movies then why to hate them?” A couple of days later, he said: “In my opinion, if I have to tell the truth, they will never have hearts like Muslims and Pakistanis. I don’t think they have the large and clean hearts that Allah has given us.”

Given the short half-life of such episodes much of the hullabaloo has disappeared. It is time now to move beyond scoring points and to see if some more interesting aspects can be uncovered. In that spirit we present ten thoughts for comments and discussion. (more…)

Our Neighborhood

January 2, 2011

A friend introduced me to the notion of a ‘chewing-gum’ concept – one that has the flexibility to be stretched or shrunk as needed to suit the context. This immediately solved a problem that had been vexing me for months.

The problem was the following: I had been toying with launching local language versions of this blog but had found myself stymied by the challenge of translating meaningfully its name – The South Asian Idea. What had come so naturally in English turned into an impossible task in, say, Hindi or Urdu. There were two questions here: why was the task proving to be difficult and what was to do be done about it? (more…)

India, Pakistan and Survival

September 25, 2010

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall / Who is the Fittest of Us All?

The question, starkly posed, could be the following: Which country, India or Pakistan, has the better chance of survival, and why?

In fact, the question is just an artifact to extend a discussion we have been having on this blog about the relationship of tolerance to survival. Our engagement with the issue has been at the very basic level of understanding but the very fact that we have been debating it leads us on to better and more sophisticated arguments. This, I strongly believe, is the beneficial outcome of discussions and conversations on a blog like this. (more…)

The Indo-Persian Synthesis

September 1, 2010

By Vijay Vikram

It’s been a while since I wrote on this blog. And a very good piece by a chap called Ahmed Kamran on The South Asian Idea has pushed me into rectifying that.

One of the themes that I love ruminating on is the synthesis of Indic and Persian cultures that emerged after India’s encounter with Islam. What is equally fascinating is how this culture has fractured and is in a state of war after the Partition of India – probably one of the most under-rated and under-appreciated of world-historical events. Intellectuals, both Subcontinental and Western tend to treat Partition as a localised event. A horrific event, worthy of intellectual analysis and monograph upon dry academic monograph but in essence, a tragedy restricted to and contained by the Indian Subcontinent. In actuality, the Partition of India is a world-historical event whose consequences shall be felt on the continuum of civilisations for generations. (more…)

Neighbours: Private Dosti, Political Demarcations

June 8, 2010

Islamabad Diary, December 2007

By Sakuntala Narasimhan

The flight from Bangalore to Delhi takes over two and a half hours, while the flight from Delhi to Lahore takes less than an hour. And yet, how little we get to know about the day-to-day lives of the people just across the border, their preoccupations, aspirations and lifestyles! We get media reports, to be sure, about the emergency, about political pronouncements by politicians in Pakistan, and about the forthcoming elections. But that does not portray the lives of the Aam Admi of Pakistan; just as the controversy over the   Indo-US nuclear agreement does not reflect anything about the daily lives of the average citizen of our country. What is it like, to be a resident of Karachi or Lahore, what do the people think, about their “big brother’ next door, or even about the political decisions on either side? We seldom get to know, because getting through the border is not exactly the easiest of exercises in international travel. (more…)

Yehudi Menuhin: On Nationalism

August 28, 2009

By Anjum Altaf

I am reading Yehudi Menuhin’s autobiography (Unfinished Journey) and sharing with readers what appeals to me. These thoughts on nationalism I feel are particularly meaningful for South Asians.

As a musician, well aware that art must have local roots if it is to convey universal meaning, I view evidences of cultural difference, even the perhaps insignificant ones I have cited, with approval as well as interest. The yearning to preserve a distinctive culture which sets the Basque against Madrid, the Scot against Westminster, the American Indian against Washington (however vastly these examples differ in degree), wins my sympathy. Undeniably the aspiration is legitimate and worthy. But is it possible, given human nature, to separate good from bad, the wish for cultural autonomy from the wish to impose one’s way of life on one’s neighbours? (more…)

Sri Lanka, Pakistan, South Asia

July 14, 2009

A Pakistani journalist has recorded his observations from a visit to Sri Lanka. He has asked a lot of questions but not provided too many answers; and some of the answers can be debated. I am extracting parts of the article that are of interest to us and hoping that readers would enrich the arguments and fill in the gaps.

On the regional bond: Everything told me this was still South Asia, that Colombo was not very different from Lahore, that somehow our regional bond held. Yet, something was very different, and I was struggling to pinpoint it.

Note: Why do we feel this regional bond in Colombo but not in Bangkok or Teheran? (more…)


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