Meeting Oneself in Pakistan

By Vipul Rikhi


Towards the end of September 2014, the Kabir Project team went to Lahore to take part in the Kabir Festival organised by Aahang, a student body in the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). Our visas hadn’t come through till the last minute and we hadn’t been sure of being able to go at all. But we finally made it. When we crossed the border at Wagah, we found bright, young students from LUMS waiting to receive us.

It was a wonderful one week that we spent there. We were overwhelmed by the love and warmth with which we were taken care of by the student volunteers. The air in Pakistan felt very alive with political and religious churning (Imran Khan was leading a massive protest rally against Nawaz Sharif while we were still there). We set up a photo and video exhibit of our work at the intersection of mystic poetry and folk music, showed films, participated in some classes, and sang the Kabir and Bhakti songs that we’ve learnt during the course of our own journeys.

The moment I wish to describe is the last evening of the festival, on October 2, when Dr Anjum Altaf, Dean of Humanities, took to the mike to thank us for our visit. He described in beautiful words how our relationship took shape. He said that we arrived as guests, became friends by the next day, and partners by the day after that, and now, by the last day, they were us and we were them. Truly, in that moment, as through the whole duration of our visit, all differences seemed artificial and arbitrary. We mingled together to form one stream. It felt appropriate that a Hindu bhajnik mandali from the Cholistan desert in Pakistan was invited to sing with us on that final evening. As Kabir says, “Ham sab maahin, sab ham maahin / Ham hain bahuri akela” (I’m in all, all are in me / I am many and alone).

Vipul Rikhi is a member of the celebrated Kabir Project in Bangalore. This comment was published in Aalaap magazine in Chennai and is reproduced with permission of the author.

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3 Responses to “Meeting Oneself in Pakistan”

  1. KHATAU mal Says:


  2. Anil Kala Says:

    Reaction in controlled encounters does not reflect true nature of our relationships. When I was college in seventies Indira Gandhi was the prime minister and most of the students were put off by her autocratic ways. In fact there was a kind of intellectual snobbishness in us, we regarding all politicians as lesser mortals. So when we came to know that Indira Gandhi was visiting our college to inaugurate some facility nobody showed any interest in her visit. She was to pass by our hostel after landing in a helicopter. So some of us went up the stairs to the terrace to have a look at her after all she was the prime minister. When her cavalcade consisting of a three four cars passed by our hostel she saw us on the terrace, craned her head out of the window and waved at us. Suddenly all of us were overwhelmed and waved back at her forgetting our scornful indifference. We talked about it for some time and then in a few days we were back to our old attitude towards her …….

    Our relationships are fickle, any maverick leader can alter it or an important event can influence it. The point is we are individuals but when we talk about other individuals not face to face we equate them with collective character of their group, community or nation.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Anil: The crux of your comment is the necessity for face-to-face interaction. When that happens there is the chance of breaking through the stereotype. In my view that is the reason both countries make it so incredibly difficult to obtain visas to visit across borders. That is also why this should be a major demand by civil society. Let us meet and we can decide for ourselves whether we can live in peace or not.

      The first part of your observation does not pertain to relations between equals, e.g., citizens. It relates to hierarchical relations as between a manager and an employee. It is quite possible for a manager to be very nice as a human being but very poor as a supervisor. That makes the relationship more complicated.

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