By Saba Naqvi
September 27, 2016
I was invited in February 2013 to the Karachi literature festival with my book on India’s popular religion and syncretistic practices. I was surprised and touched to see that the opening ceremony of the festival included a dance-drama called “Tagore”. Gurudev’s poem “Where the Mind is Without Fear” was recited to a dance, included in which was a rendition of Gandhiji’s favourite Bhajan, Raghupati Raghav Rajaram, Patita Paavana Sitaram, Ishwar Allah Tero Naam …
I later overheard some important citizens of Pakistan grumbling about the kind of projection being given to Indian visitors and the theme of the opening. But no matter: what that little event symbolised is people’s search for compassion even as doctrines of hate jolt their worlds. By the time the festival ended there was curfew in Karachi after a massacre in Quetta claiming over 80 lives. Many international visitors had to leave with security escort.
In the worst of times and places people always look for ideas that separate their sanity from their circumstances. Indian political thinkers, writers and poets have been evoked across the world for the sheer breadth and scale of the grand humanitarian visions they posited. Let’s not diminish ourselves because we have a consistent and real problem with our neighbouring country.
Certainly, we should develop strategies, diplomatic and/or military to deal with the Pakistan’s deep state and establishment. But surely we become smaller if we legitimise targeting of a couple of actors whom the Indian film industry has invested in (or the very talented musicians from Pakistan).
MNS demanding that Pakistani actors leave India in 48 hours is by itself par for the course. What is worrying is that in the atmospherics post-Uri, many influential citizens are saying that Pakistanis on valid visas should only be allowed to stay if they give some sort of undertaking that they are against the state where they were born and presumably their families live.
Throw them all out, they hate us, is the incantation. But asking citizens of any nation to give some kind of ‘dis-loyalty’ test against their country, is both a ridiculous proposition and an idea that lurks with dangers of violating civil liberties. Imagine the millions of NRIs across the globe, being asked to pass any kind of loyalty test in the event of relations deteriorating with India. Even if that’s farfetched, it’s not impossible to imagine in a Donald Trump presidency where the ethnic, religious, or national origins of individuals residing in the US are fore-grounded.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi conversely made a very skilled but hard-hitting speech at a rally that marked the beginning of a BJP national council meet in Kozhikode. In the midst of all the cries of war, Modi very significantly made a distinction between the Pakistani state and the Pakistani people and made it clear that his “strategic goals” are still to fight poverty. It was one of his finest turns as prime minister.
The idea of hating an entire people is small and reductionist. In 2006 my former editor, the late Vinod Mehta handed me an assignment of going to Pakistan at a time when the visa regime was tight after another series of blasts in Mumbai. I was to write about the birth village of then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh: Gah in Chakwal district in the heart of Pakistan’s Punjab, where Manmohan was raised till the age of 10. I have travelled to Pakistan before and after my 2006 trip but this was the only time my visa permitted travel outside cities.
It was fascinating. Gah village bore marks of the Partition and our troubled but interwoven history. An old register of students enrolled in the primary school in the decade before 1947 showed student no 187 as Manmohan – the primary school had been named after him, because a village lad had become a prime minister!
Mohammad Ali, a farmer and grain trader who was a playmate of the child Manmohan, told me with regret that half the population of Gah was once Sikh and Hindu (Manmohan’s family left some years before the 1947 bloodbath), then Partition took place, they left and many families were slaughtered during the journey to India. I remember the pucca house that was used as a community centre. It had arches and carved wooden doors, on top of the entrance, the words “Sat Sri Akal” were carved in Gurumukhi.
Manmohan presumably wanted to go to Pakistan but never could during his decade long reign. The villagers of Gah were however given visas to India, and two years after my trip they landed in Delhi, met Manmohan and carried gifts for me. I was touched at their warmth and sheer excitement at being in India.
So when i hear people talk of throwing out all Pakistanis, i wonder if they want to barricade their minds against poetry, literature and music too. I wonder if they should not be made to compulsorily read the works of Sadat Hasan Manto, who technically died a citizen of Pakistan but 60 years ago wrote prophetically of a Pakistan where mullahs would be armed to the teeth.
We have a painful history and a troubled present, but we must never give up on the high moral ground. We must remain the larger nation.