Posts Tagged ‘Identity’

Meeting Oneself in Pakistan

January 20, 2015

By Vipul Rikhi

Cropped

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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Fireflies in the Mist: An Exploration of Bengali Identity

July 21, 2012

By Kabir Altaf

Fireflies in the Mist, Qurratulain Hyder’s own translation of her Urdu novel Aakhir-e-Shab ke Hamsafar, spans the history of East Bengal from the time of the nationalist movement against the British, to the creation of East Pakistan, and finally to Bangladeshi independence. The novel centers around Deepali Sarkar, “a young middle-class Hindu who becomes drawn into the extreme left wing of the nationalist movement, and Rehan Ahmed, a Muslim radical with Marxist inclinations who introduces her to the life of the rural deprived. Their common political engagement draws them into a quietly doomed love affair.  Through their relationship, Hyder explores the growth of tensions between Bengal’s Hindus and Muslims, who had once shared a culture and a history.”

In his introduction to the novel, Pakistani writer Aamer Hussain notes that Fireflies can be seen as another chapter in Hyder’s epic history of the Muslim presence in the subcontinent, and particularly in the era of the Raj. (more…)

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…)

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…)

Them Versus Us

May 16, 2009

The first part of this thought experiment was intended to test if my perception of the ‘Other’ was a reflection of nothing more than my own prejudices. It had me revisit repeatedly the same set of objects arranged in different ways to see how my reactions varied in response to the arrangements.

In the second part of the experiment I want to see the picture from the other end. This time I imagine myself to be a member of the set of objects and try to sense how I would feel in the various scenarios.

The setting is still the same – a classroom of children being visited by an outsider. (more…)

Us Versus Them

May 13, 2009

I am perplexed by the Us versus Them phenomenon. Try as I might, I have not been able to explain why it has such a powerful hold on so many of us.

Let me try and work through it once again using a thought experiment. I would like you to stay with me as I do and to give me your feedback at the end.

I imagine that I am invited to speak to a class of high school students in a city that I have never visited before.

I arrive at the school and walk through a corridor into the class. In front to me I find 60 students of both genders wearing the school uniform and no other marks of identification seated in random order. (more…)