Author Archives: aaghazedosti

Khushwant Singh: A Tribute: Few interesting facts to know

Khushwant Singh

15 August 1915 – 20 March 2014

Khushwant Singh is one of the most celebrated author of subcontinent.  His sensitive, courageous and frank writing has touched so many hearts; yet he himself was an amazing personality. People who met with him ever, remembered her forever. We are providing here few interesting facts about this legendary and loved writer:

Khushwant Singh born in Hadali, Khushab in Punjab Province. (now in Pakistan) and later moved to India during partition.

Khushwant Singh’s final posthumous journey to his beloved birthplace Hadali, Pakistan. DESIGN: SAMRA AAMIR

Pic: Express Tribune

Khushwant also practiced in Lahore High Court and later moved to Delhi during partition. His house in Delhi was an apartment in Sujan Singh Park. It is first apartment complex that was built by his father Sobha Singh in the year 1945 and named upon Khushwant’s grandfather Sujan Singh.

City Neighborhood - Sujan Singh Park, Central Delhi

Pic source: http://www.thedelhiwalla.com/2014/03/17/city-neighborhood-sujan-singh-park-central-delhi/ 

His punctuality for time was well known. He always felt happy meeting people, but only with prior appointment. His door bell was famous for the reason you can see in door bell pic.

City Neighborhood - Sujan Singh Park, Central Delhi

Pic Source: http://www.thedelhiwalla.com/2014/03/17/city-neighborhood-sujan-singh-park-central-delhi/ 

He did not join Foreign Service job for his passion of writing. Khushwant has served in All India Radio and later as founder-editor of Yojna. Later he also served in Illustrated Weekly, Hindustan Times and National Herald.

Pic source: Wikipedia Commons 

Once during his talk with Asim Awan who was a Pakistan and met with Khushwant during his India travel : He said he had been to Pakistan many times that he could not recount them all adding  “Whenever I planned a trip to Pakistan my mother would say don’t go there… these Muslims are very cruel… they will kill you and I would reply Mother, until now they have been killing me by feeding me very delicious meals and lots of Scotch! But in the same breath she would say please give my salaams to sister Asghari, do go to the house of so and so and give them my regards and don’t forget to take some gifts for them.” (Source: Express Tribune )

Pic: Express Tribune (https://tribune.com.pk/story/720360/khushwant-singh-the-final-homecoming/ )

He has been Member of Parliament (Upper House)in India during 1980 to 1986.

His famous novel ‘Train to Pakistan’ (written in 1956) was based upon his own experiences during partition 1947.

Train to Pakistan : Anniversary Edition

Khushwant Singh has written many books. Few are listed here:

  • The Mark of Vishnu and Other Stories, (Short Story) 1950
  • The History of Sikhs, 1953
  • Train to Pakistan, (Novel) 1956
  • The Voice of God and Other Stories, (Short Story) 1957
  • I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale, (Novel) 1959
  • The Sikhs Today, 1959
  • The Fall of the Kingdom of the Punjab, 1962
  • A History of the Sikhs, 1963
  • Ranjit Singh: The Maharaja of the Punjab, 1963
  • Ghadar 1915: India’s first armed revolution, 1966
  • A History of the Sikhs, 1966 (2nd edition)
  • A Bride for the Sahib and Other Stories, (Short Story) 1967
  • Black Jasmine, (Short Story) 1971
  • Tragedy of Punjab, 1984
  • The Collected Stories of Khushwant Singh, N.p., Ravi Dayal Publisher, 1989
  • Delhi: A Novel, (Novel) 1990
  • Not a Nice Man to Know: The Best of Khushwant Singh, 1993
  • We Indians, 1993
  • Women and Men in My Life, 1995
  • Declaring Love in Four Languages,by Khushwant Singh and Sharda Kaushik, 1997
  • India: An Introduction,by Khushwant Singh
  • The Company of Women, (Novel) 1999
  • Truth, Love and a Little Malice(an autobiography), 2002
  • With Malice towards One and All
  • The End of India, 2003
  • Burial at the Sea, 2004
  • Paradise and Other Stories, 2004
  • A History of the Sikhs: 1469–1838, 2004
  • Death at My Doorstep, 2005
  • A History of the Sikhs: 1839–2004, 2005
  • The Illustrated History of the Sikhs, 2006
  • Why I Supported the Emergency: Essays and Profiles, 2009
  • The Sunset Club, (Novel) 2010
  • Gods and Godmen of India, 2012 ISBN 978-9-350-29244-0
  • Agnostic Khushwant: There is no God, 2012 ISBN 978-9-381-43111-5
  • The Good, the Bad and the Ridiculous, 2013 (Co-authored with Humra Qureshi)
  • More Malicious Gossip1989 – Collection of Writings
  • Sex, Scotch & Scholarship,1992 Collection of Writings
  • Big Book of Malice,2000, Collection of Writings
  • Khushwantnama, The Lessons Of My Life,2013
  • The Freethinker’s Prayer Book and Some Words To Live By,2012

Khushwant left this world at the age of 99 on 20 March 2014. He was cremated at Lodhi Crematorium.

Pic Source: https://www.outlookindia.com/blog/story/khushwant-singh-tributes-on-twitter/3205

During his lifetime, Khushwant Singh was keen on burial because he believed that with a burial we give back to the earth what we have taken. He had requested the management of the Bahá’í Faith if he could be buried in their cemetery. After initial agreement, they had proposed some conditions which were unacceptable to Singh, and hence the idea was later abandoned.He was born in Hadali, Khushab District in the Punjab Province of modern Pakistan, in 1915. According to his wishes, some of his ashes were brought and scattered in Hadali. One may see the memorial plate in Hdali:

Pic source: Express Tribune (https://tribune.com.pk/story/720360/khushwant-singh-the-final-homecoming/

He also prepared an epitaph for himself, which runs:

Here lies one who spared neither man nor God;

Waste not your tears on him, he was a sod;

Writing nasty things he regarded as great fun;

Thank the Lord he is dead, this son of a gun

Pic source : https://www.inmemoryglobal.com/remembrance/2015/03/khushwant-singh/  

A famous quote from ‘Train to Pakistan’

“Not forever does the bulbul sing

In balmy shades of bowers,

Not forever lasts the spring

Nor ever blossom the flowers.

Not forever reigneth joy,

Sets the sun on days of bliss,

Friendships not forever last,

They know not life, who know not this.”

— Train to Pakistan

 

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Aaghaz-e-Dosti appeals for peace over escalation in ceasefire violations

PRESS RELEASE

Aaghaz-e-Dosti appeals for peace over escalation in ceasefire violations

The youth led voluntary initiative for Indo-Pak Friendship, Aaghaz-e-Dosti (li. Beginning of friendship) expresses concern over increased incidents of ceasefire violations between the two countries across Line of Control.

‘’We believe that governments of the two countries are capable enough to engage in dialogue with each other and should do their best efforts to reduce these incidents of violations and cross border firings till the extent that it should not happen at all. Such cross border firings often result as fatal to soldiers and civilians on both sides and both countries must understand the pain and suffering of these soldiers and civilians who are human being. ‘’

For countries like India and Pakistan where there is glorification of war and where common people love their country and its soldiers beyond all limits, such ceasefire violations are more dangerous. However, it is the responsibility of respective governments that without compromising to any glory or honor; dialogues, negotiations and diplomatic steps should be taken to avoid any loss to lives of soldiers on both sides.

Another constituency of affected people is of those who live in border areas. There are media reports available that even children have been died as they got trapped in these firings. Many houses have been made damaged on both sides despite a considerable number of population live on both sides of line.

Aaghaz-e-Dosti highly appreciate governments’ initiative during 2003 when ceasefire violations were brought down through a mutually agreed agreement between the two governments and their armies and we are highly hopeful that the same should be done by the present governments on both sides. Aaghaz-e-Dosti express its hope with the leadership of both sides in Governments, Diplomatic Missions and Armed forces who can definitely bring down these violations through initiating and establishing dialogue process. Meetings of two NSAs also bring some hope to us for its positive results are yet to come on ground and most required on border where lives of innocent people are on stake.

Aaghaz-e-Dosti also appeals with Governments of India and Pakistan to resume meeting of DGMOs of both sides and to remove heavy casualty arms and ammunition from front lines from both sides as its immediate availability and use would only result in more casualties. Being a most volatile start in 2018, escalated incidents of ceasefire violations must be brought down with efforts of governments and people. 

We at Aaghaz-e-Dosti believe that our efforts in fostering people to people relations would continue. We are the youth group who believe in ideology of peace and love. On one side, we are deeply distressed upon the disappearance of our member Raza Khan in Pakistan, however our hope still remains with the Government of Pakistan as we feel that Government would do its best efforts to protect peace workers. However, our commitment to peace is undeterred and without any fear and we feel that being voice of youths, who are in majority in both countries, our voice will be heard by leaders on both sides and effective steps will be taken in welfare of humanity and with the vision of long lasting relations of two countries. Doing this would save much lives from both sides and will be a real service to people. 

Issued by

Aaghaz-e-Dosti Team 

https://aaghazedosti.wordpress.com

Press Released published on:

The Nation (Pakistan) https://nation.com.pk/02-Mar-2018/aaghaz-e-dosti-urges-pakistan-india-to-reopen-diplomatic-channels?show=preview?unique_ID=636504300008702949

Rising Kashmir http://risingkashmir.com/news/aaghaz-e-dosti-urges-india-pak-to-reduce-loc-tension

Kashmir Times http://www.kashmirtimes.in/newsdet.aspx?q=76867

Kashmir Pen http://www.kashmirpen.com/aaghaz-e-dosti-appeals-for-peace-over-escalation-in-ceasefire-violations/

Aaghaz-e-Dosti launches the 6th IndoPak Peace Calendar in India

Indo-Pak Peace Calendar 2018; Photo by Abhishek Shukla

New Delhi: Amid disappearance of its Convener in Pakistan since Dec 2, Aaghaz-e-Dosti continued its efforts on peace building and launched the 6th Indo-Pak Peace Calendar. Members of this young team are highly hopeful that Raza will return soon. Members informed that as a peace education group, our activities are not against anyone and therefore we think that we must keep working for our activities.

Indo-Pak Peace Calendar was launched in India International Centre, New Delhi on 13th January by voluntary youth initiative Aaghaz-e-Dosti that works on fostering people to people relations between India and Pakistan. This calendar is a collection of selected paintings of Pakistani and Indian school students along with messages from 12 renowned persons from both countries who favor Indo-Pak Peace. This year, peace calendar carries messages of Prof M S Swaminathan (Father of Green Revolution), Kamla Bhasin (Feminist and Peace Activist), Kapil Kak (Retd Air Vice Marshal), Rahul Jalali (Former President-Press Club of India), Nirupama Subramanian (Sr. Journalist and has been posted in Pakistan for few years) and Amardeep Singh (Author-Lost Heritage-Sikh Legacy in Pakistan) from India and of Dr. Mubarak Ali (Pakistani historian), Imtiaz Alam (Secretary General SAFMA), Anam Zakaria (Activist and author), Dr Anita M Weiss (Academician) and Farooq Tariq (Activist and spokesperson of Awami workers party) and Lt. Gen (retd) Mohd M. Alam.

Aaghaz-e-Dosti aims to create unwavering bonds of peace and friendship between India and Pakistan and seeks to become the medium to discover and recognise the misrepresented reality on the other side of the border. It is focused on citizen diplomacy and works primarily through peace education aimed at familiarising the people about the ‘other‘, countering stereotypes, homogenised and negative image of the other, educating them about the issues of conflict, the existence of diverse views and developing critical thinking and developing confidence in dialogue and peace building for conflict resolution.

This was the sixth year of the initiative and peace calendar. In earlier years, these calendars have been launched in several cities of India and Pakistan. A panel discussion on the topic ‘Sharing of Hopes for a Peaceful Co-existence’ was also organised by India International Centre and Aaghaz-e-Dosti jointly where speakers like Kapil Kak, O P Shah, Rahul Jalali, Jyoti Malhotra and Prof Jagmohan Singh participated and spoke upon various issues.

Air Vice Marshal (Retd) Kapil Kak

While speaking on the occasion, Retd Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak talked about the importance of peace building, specially through such people’s initiative. He quoted Faiz Ahmad Faiz to explain diplomatic engagements between India and Pakistan- “Dil se toh har mamlaa hal karne chale, saamne aaye toh har baat badal gayi”. Highlighting the efforts of Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh governments, he called the 2003-2007 phase as the ‘golden period in the India Pakistan dialogue process’, post which he said we suffered from a ‘famine of dialogue’. Referring to Narendra Modi’s 2015 visit to Pak as a ‘leap of faith’ and quoted Elliot alongside- “only those who risk going far can know how far one can go”. He stated the importance of *connectivity*- need of engaging people across the LoC, media, public engagements for building opinions on the need for peace. He also told that we all need to have patience- most critical virtue, for any resolution as it takes time. Voices from both sides must speak for peace.

Rahul Jalali

Senior journalist and former President of Press Club of India, Rahul Jalali said that there are much need to work on peace building these days to counter hatred and violence at every level. He also insisted that media groups may play a positive role in peacebuilding effectively. He appreciated Aaghaz-e-Dosti’s for peace in today’s disturbed times when there’s a dearth of those taking on or for peace between the two neighbors. Highlighting the role of social media in shaping public opinion he told that need of the hour is to present facts and not focus on myth building and hate mongering. He advocated to continue dialogue as the world desires peace between the two neighbors.

O P Shah

O.P. Shah who is founder of think tank Centre for Peace and Progress talked about the necessity of people coming forward and take a centre stage to decide policies of their own and demanding peace, harmony and development. Expressing hope for a much better things in future, he congratulated Aaghaz-e-Dosti peace building efforts. He talked of existence of ‘crisis of confidence’ between and among the neighbors.  He also emphasized that unless well meaning people work hard together and with honesty to create a climate of trust and confidence, we won’t get much. He highlighted the importance of a continuous dialogue and he quoted Mani Shankar Iyer’s line- “there’s a need of uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue with Pakistan”. He also advocated the need of positive, constructive and meaningful role of media and need of leadership like that of Gandhi.

Prof Jagmohan Singh

While speaking on the occasion, Prof Jagmohan Singh who is activist and author and nephew of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, talked about Bhagat Singh and Pakistan. He told about the place where Bhagat Singh was studied and hanged as it is in Pakistan. He told about his experiences on how Bhagat Singh still lives in so many hearts of Pakistanis and Indians and can be a connecting medium for peacebuilding. He distinguished between two layers of politics, emphasized on the role the lower level consisting of civil society and students engaged in peace can play. He told that there are two types of mindsets- fixed and growth and that Aaghaz-e-Dosti represents the later, with it’s efforts in trying to build the bridge it is building including the students at school level especially’

Jyoti Malhotra

Senior journalist and columnist Jyoti Malhotra emphasized that these paintings made by students are actually something we need to learn and understand about what these students, who are future generation of these countries, desire for. Lamenting the unnatural state of affairs between India-pakistan, she stated ‘it isn’t our responsibility to decide whether Pak is good or bad, what is needed instead is to hope for a more normalized relations with our neighbor, which given our geography cannot be ignored.  She referred to Aaghaz-e-Dosti’s engagements with school children across the borders as the ‘story of the future’, wherein technology has to be leveraged in the interest of the two countries.

Devika Mittal, Convener of Aaghaz-e-Dosti in India told that the importance of the calendar is that it is a collection of shared dreams and hopes for friendship which we will be reminded of every day. This calendar is one of our peace education activities in schools and colleges. The purpose of these activities is to enable the future leaders to forge the path to a better world by engaging them with aspects of critical thinking, civic engagement and dialogue as solution. She told that this year again Aaghaz-e-Dosti received many paintings from many schools of Pakistan and India. In these six years, Aaghaz-e-Dosti has been received paintings from school students from almost all states and provinces of India and Pakistan.

Madhulika V Narsimhan, Aaghaz-e-Dosti member during her moderation talked about important points raised by speakers and also about various other activities of the initiative during last six years.

Many eminent persons like educationist C. Raja Mohan, Supreme court advocate Ram Mohan Rai, Secretary General of South Asian Fraternity Satyapal, Activist Khurshid Reshi, NYP Coordinator Sanjay Rai, Youth activist Mushtaq ul Haq, Akhtar Hussain, Mubashir Malik, Suresh Yadav, Abhishek, Sanjana, Madhuri and others were present. Photography was done by Zephyr, a photography society of Delhi University students.

Talking more about Aaghaz-e-Dosti, Ravi Nitesh informed that Aaghaz-e-Dosti has given peace trainings to more than 6000 students and youngsters through 20 Aman Chaupals (peace session) across India and Pakistan and also uses video conferencing to connect classrooms of India and Pakistan in sessions called Indo-Pak Classroom Connect that facilitates interaction between students of India and Pakistan. Aaghaz-e-Dosti conducts regular Exchange of letters and cards between students of India and Pakistan and has recently exhibited these letters at the renowned Faiz Ghar (house of Faiz Ahmed Faiz) in Lahore.

Many students participated in the launch ceremony. They described and talked about their vision/thought guiding their art works. The teachers of the participating school also shared their experience.

On the disappearance of its Pakistan’s convener Raza Khan, Aaghaz-e-Dosti stands on its earlier statement that the whereabouts of Raza are still unknown but all members are highly hopeful that Raza will be back soon and will start working again. Group has not criticized Government of Pakistan or its agencies and instead maintains that being a voluntary peace group, we respect constitution, democratic values of both countries and our activities are not against any government or ideology. Emphasising its stand, group states that it doesn’t attach itself with any ideology except ideology of peace and harmony that is need of this world. Aaghaz-e-Dosti is not a funded project of any organization and never receives any governmental or foreign support for its activities. Group states that their members are mostly engaged in peacebuilding through their participation in peace education activities among school students in India and Pakistan.

In previous years for its peace calendars, Aaghaz-e-Dosti received messages/ participation from Dr S N Subbarao, Kamla Bhasin, Dr Syeda Hameed, Col Virender Sahai , Major General Ashok K Mehta , Dr Shashi Tharoor , Vishwajyoti Ghosh, Pankaj Chaturvedi, Dr Dhananjay Tripathi, Ram Mohan Rai, Dr Meenakshi Chhabra, Dr D S Rana, Javed Naqvi, Deepak Malviya, Dr Chaman Lal, Late Sh Pankaj Singh, Air Vice Marshall (Retd) Kapil Kak, Sudheendra Kulkarni, Dr Kavita Sharma, Kuldip Nayar ,  Shailja Kejriwal , Tara Gandhi, Admiral Ramdas,  Satyapal, Syed Salman Chishty, Ram Puniyani, Shirish Agarwal, Dr Pritam Rohilla, Pramod Sharma, Lalita Ramdas, Sadia Dehlvi, Manik Samajhdar, Deepak Malviya from India and  Dr. Pervez Hoodhboy, Raza Rumi,Beena Sarwar, Sheema Kermani, Dr Ayesha Siddiqa, Aamir Nawaz, Rahil Yasin, Awais Sheikh, Dr. Salima Hashmi, Lt. Gen Muhammad Masood Alam,  Dr I A Rehman, Khadim Hussain, Karamat Ali, B M Kutty, Anwar Jafri, Dr Ishtiaq Ahmad, Saeed Ahmed Rid, Nisar Ahmad Chaudhary, Dr Zahid Sahab Ahmed, Dr Farzana Bari, Asma jahangir, Dr Mubashir Hasan from Pakistan.

The calendar is scheduled for launch in Pakistan on 27th January in Lahore.

For more information, contact us at aaghazedosti@gmail.com

Photos in the blog are by Abhishek Shukla and Volunteers of Zephyr: The Film and Photography Society of CVS

 

An Indian’s New Year Wish: The Return of Pakistani friend and Activist Raza Khan

by Shruti Achesh

This article has been written for Raza Khan, a peace activist and also convener (Pakistan) of Aaghaz-e-Dosti who went missing from Lahore since December 2. People from across the globe have been demonstrating support for him and have started a #FindRaza campaign.

Today is the 2nd of January 2018. The new year didn’t come to me with any new news or I’d rather say ‘any good news’. 

It’s been an entire one month since Raza Bhai went missing from his place in Lahore. ‘Bhai’, yes, ‘Brother’ that’s what I call him, as he is one to me and a very dear one too. He is a brother from a different mother, a different land, a different religion, but same values. Like most of us (who have known Raza), I too have no clue of his whereabouts. He went missing from his flat in Lahore on 2nd December 2017 and since then we’ve been just praying every day for his safe and immediate return.

Why is he so important to me..? Why am I so affected by him been missing? And even if I am, then why am I writing it here? These were the questions that I asked myself before typing these words into this article and, here’s what I got…  There’s no big pain other than seeing your loved one missing from your life. A person who you look up to, a person who’s been a very special influence on your being, a person who was with you when you were going through a difficult time of your life, a person who heard you for hours and hours without even asking a single question, just to help you vent out your grief because you needed someone to hear it out..  And that’s not enough… There are more reasons for me to write this piece. I am writing this for him, I am writing this for others to know him, I am writing this for the world to know the kind of person Raza is and that he cannot think of harming anyone even in his dreams. Yes, I want to tell everyone that his disappearance is affecting me and others who love him. It’s affecting humanity, it’s coming in the way of his dream of making the world a better and a more humane place.  Yes, that’s why I am writing it!

My hands are trembling to write these words here and I have tears in my eyes right now… I am just not able to express the grief that has afflicted on all of us because of him not being here with us for this one whole month. I never imagined how life’s going to be without Raza Bhai.

It will be more astonishing for all of you to know that I am from India and I have never met Raza in person but, I have known him. I have known him to the extent that I can vouch for his honesty, his love for his country, for his people and his determination for Indo-Pak Friendship.

Why? I ask, Why? Why is he missing? How can a person like him do any harm to anyone? He, who worked for the welfare of his country, his people.. how can be a threat? He who wanted peace with the neighbor so that there can be peace in his country, how can he go missing? I completely fail to understand this… I don’t get why after so much pleading and begging to the authorities, after repeated protests, press conferences, social media campaigns and even court hearings, we have no information about his whereabouts. Is this a new year we are celebrating or expected to celebrate?

We, all, his family, friends remain in deep shock even a month later. What are we to do? How do we make sense of this, of our own lives, of our future? A life full of disappointments, of grief, of people fearing to participate in peace activities..? Because that’s what we can see happening. It’s disheartening to see all this. What is his fault, what is our fault?

After many requests that we have already put forward, I put one here too.

‘Please find my dear Raza Bhai. We cannot live without him. His love for humanity is incomparable. His work for Indo-Pak Peace is calling him again and again. He is a peace lover and a peace educator. He is the kind of human we all want in our society. He is an inspiration for us and for many others who know him and his work. Please find him. The world needs him.’

#FindRaza #BringBackRaza


Shruti (Achesh) Arora is a theatre educator. She is a team member and regional coordinator of Aaghaz-e-Dosti.

Aaghaz-e-Dosti appeals to authorities to find peace activist Raza Khan

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Aaghaz-e-Dosti is concerned about the whereabouts of Raza Mahmood Khan, a Pakistani peace activist who is also the convener-Pakistan of Aaghaz-e-Dosti. It has been reported that Raza Khan went missing on the evening of 2nd December 2017. He was last seen at the end of a talk he organized on the issue of extremism at Lowkey Lokai. The Lahore police subsequently registered an FIR for a missing person case on the complaint received from his family and friends there. Since then, there has been no trace of him even as the investigation is ongoing.

Aaghaz-e-Dosti is a joint project of two youth-led organisations – Mission Bhartiyam (India) and Hum Sab Aik Hain (Pakistan). It is managed by students and young professionals who work for Aaghaz-e-Dosti voluntarily, without any form of monetary remuneration. 

Aaghaz-e-Dosti is an apolitical initiative that does not attach itself to any political ideology, except for the ideology of peace and humanity. Aaghaz-e-Dosti members from both India and Pakistan have complete faith in the constitutions of their respective countries and their affiliation with this initiative is voluntary on the basis of their belief in the universal value of human rights, to which all countries and people of the world are committed. 

Aaghaz-e-Dosti is a civil society initiative and works on a people-to-people level. It does not speak about the domestic affairs of the respective countries. It works to highlight the role that people or civilians can play in improving relations between the two countries. For this, it works through peace education activities that facilitates interaction between people of both countries, dispels stereotypes and stresses the importance of peace and peacebuilding.  

For 5 years now, Aaghaz-e-Dosti has been consistently working through peace education activities that include interactive sessions called ‘Aman Chaupals’, connecting Indian and Pakistani classrooms through video conferencing (Indo-Pak Classroom Connect), peace workshops, discussions, letter and greeting card exchange programs, Indo-Pak Peace Calendar, Indo-Pak open mics that facilitate virtual interactions between youths, a virtual eight-week peace-building course, peace Internships, and various virtual campaigns. 

While being deeply concerned and in pain, Aaghaz-e-Dosti acknowledges Raza Khan’s valuable efforts to work for peace education, mostly among school students. Raza joined Aaghaz-e-Dosti in year 2015 when he was already involved in activism at a local level in Pakistan for different issues concerning Pakistan. 

Aaghaz-e-Dosti extends its gratitude to everyone who is supporting and helping to find Raza Khan. We have complete faith in the working of state agencies and the judiciary and are hopeful that they will be able to find Raza soon and safe.

To contact us, email at aaghazedosti@gmail.com

*This is the second press statement. The first one can be accessed at https://aaghazedosti.wordpress.com/2017/12/06/statement-of-aaghaz-e-dosti-on-missing-report-of-raza-khan-convener-pakistan-of-aaghaz-e-dosti/

13th Indo-Pak Classroom Connect: Water conservation connects children across borders

13th indopak classroom connect aaghaz-e-dosti (4)

Environment is a global issue. Natural calamities do not see political and administrative borders. It is imperative that the states understand this, co-operate and learn from each other. 

With this understanding, the 13th Indo-Pak Classroom connect session connected students of Gyan Mandir Public School, Delhi and Beaconhouse School, Karachi and facilitated a dialogue on water conservation.

The session began by an introduction on the challenge of water conservation and water pollution in the South Asian context. 

13th indopak classroom connect aaghaz-e-dosti (9)This was followed by students interacting with each other. The students on both sides shared how people in their countries view the challenge of water conservation. The students on Indian side highlighted that people have ignored this problem. They waste water. The students on the Pakistan side stated that the situation is not any different on their side. 

They took turns to list out the sources of water pollution in their respective countries. Commonalities were noted. Then then delved on to share some methods being followed for conservation of water. The Indian students through charts explained the water harvesting and roof water conservation method that they read about in their textbooks. The Pakistan side also talked about methods and some initiatives that were being taken. 13th indopak classroom connect aaghaz-e-dosti (3)

On both sides, the students were taking notes. Ms Anju Anand, teacher co-ordinator from Gyan Mandir Public School, highlighted that  it is important to learn from each other when we face the same challenges. Environment, Climate change, pollution are immediate as well as South Asian and global issues. We need to find solutions together. Sharing ideas is one of the methods. 

From the Pakistan side, Ms Amber Sajid from Beaconhouse School agree with Ms Anju’s thoughts on the need to collaborate on thinking, implementing ideas on these common challenges. She further added that this session was conducted as part of the Environmental management subject. Having this session was like a practical class. They researched on their country’s concerns, challenges for water conservation and could share it with the neighboring country who was also facing a similar challenge, understanding in this process that solutions come when we learn to co-operate, share ideas and implement them together. 

Indo-Pak Classroom Connect is an initiative of Aaghaz-e-Dosti. It connects an Indian and a Pakistani classroom through video conferencing to facilitate dialogue amongst students. This was the 13th Indo-Pak Classroom Connect session. If you want to conduct it in your school, write to us at aaghazedosti@gmail.com 

 

Statement of Aaghaz-e-Dosti on missing report of Raza Khan, Convener (Pakistan) of Aaghaz-e-Dosti

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Aaghaz-e-Dosti is concerned about the whereabouts of Raza Mehmood Khan, a Pakistani peace activist who is also our convener. It has been reported that Raza Khan went missing on the evening of 2nd December 2017. He was last seen at the end of a talk he organized on the issue of extremism at his office. The Lahore police subsequently registered an FIR for the missing person case on the complaint received by his family and friends there. Since then, there has been no trace of him while the investigation is still on going.

Aaghaz-e-Dosti is a joint collaborative venture between India and Pakistan which was founded in 2012 with a team of volunteers, mostly youth and students who were advocating for global peace. Aaghaz-e-Dosti is an apolitical initiative that does not attach itself to any political ideology except for the ideology of peace and humanity. Aaghaz-e-Dosti members from both India and Pakistan have complete faith in the constitutions of their own countries and their affiliation with this initiative is voluntary on the basis of their belief in the universal values of human rights, to which all countries and people of the world are committed.

While being deeply concerned and in pain, Aaghaz-e-Dosti acknowledges Raza Khan’s valuable efforts to work for peace education, mostly among school students as a core work of the Aaghaz-e-Dosti for Indo-Pak Friendship. Raza joined Aaghaz-e-Dosti in year 2015 and was already involved in activism at a local level in Pakistan for different issues concerning Pakistan.

Aaghaz-e-Dosti extends its gratitude to everyone who are supporting and helping to find Raza Khan. We have complete faith in the working of state agencies and are hopeful that Raza will be back soon with the efforts of the Government of Pakistan and its state institutions. 

To contact us, email at aaghazedosti@gmail.com 

What Sindh taught me, an Indian about Pakistan

by Devika Mittal (India)

Photo Source: Parhlo

As a North Indian and Delhite, the first place in Pakistan that I imagined and felt a connect with was Lahore. I would also hear about the similarities between Delhi and Lahore. The famous line “Jine Lahore ni vekhya o jamiya e nai” was another reason for my fascination and focus on and around Lahore. 

The second place of my fascination was Karachi which I heard, was similar to Mumbai. Like Mumbai, I heard it was far more cosmopolitan than Delhi and Lahore. I had also read that Karachi is called the city of lights. But my knowledge about Karachi and Sindh remain quite limited until I got into my mission of exploring to educate Indians about Pakistan. This was as part of my association with Aaghaz-e-Dosti, an Indo-Pak Friendship Initiative wherein we conduct discussions and workshops with Indian and Pakistani students and break their stereotypes and misconceptions about life and people across the border. 

One of our focus areas is to challenge the homogeneous picture of Pakistan and Pakistani culture that most Indians uphold and vice versa. In our interactions with Indian students in schools in different cities of India, we have seen that students regard Pakistan to be an entirely Muslim, Urdu-Speaking Country. They have very less knowledge about the rich religious, ethnic and linguistic diversity that Pakistan has and boasts about. It was in this context to educate that my research began and I came to explore Sindh which I now describe as the land of great harmony. 

The only thing that I previously knew about Sindh was regarding our shared historical pride – the Indus Valley Civilization. As a history enthusiast, it was and is my dream to visit Mohenjodaro. My love and desire was limited to this Harappa period until recently when I traced how Sindh continued to be rich post-Harappa. Sindh witnessed rule by different dynasties of diverse ethnicities. The soil of Sindh seems to have absorbed the beauty of diversity and to have become fertile with it.

I was mesmerized to explore the beautiful, diverse monuments and shrines that make up Sindh. I was happy to know the rich religious diversity that Sindh not only comprises but boasts about. A Sindhi Muslim friend told me how a Sindhi Muslim marriage is quite different from the traditional Muslim marriage as it is an integration of Hindu and Muslim marriage rituals. It is a Sindhi marriage. 

The Sindhis may be Hindus, Muslims, Pathans or Balochs but the prefix “Sindhi” is crucial and unites them all. The Sindhi culture is an integration of diverse beliefs and cultures. It is unique and cannot be tied to one religion. Sindh has been a land of great sufi saints like Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and others who preached about the beauty of diversity and cultural harmony. The dhamaal response that Sehwan and Sindh led by the iconic Sheema Kermani gave to the inhuman Sehwan attack last year restored faith not only in the power of Sindh, the land of Sufis but through it, in the power of peace. 

I was surprised to hear about the amazing Mithi. Known as the town where “a Hindu fasts and Muslim does not slaughter cows”, Mithi is an inspiration for the world to know that diversity is to be treasured, not feared. 

The beautiful ajrak which is an important Sindhi identity also speaks of the rich history of this land of harmony. Ajrak is traced to the Indus Valley Civilization and forms an important part of the Sindhi culture. The ajrak is presented as a mark of respect and hospitality to guests and in this way, symbolizes the Sindh, its history and culture which welcomes and integrates all. 

For me, as an Indian, Sindh speaks of the side of Pakistan that the world in general doesn’t know and should know and even learn from.


Devika Mittal is a PhD student and the convener – India of Aaghaz-e-Dosti. She tweets at @devikasmittal

Stories of Partition: Memoirs of a Hindu

by Swati Sharan

Swati Sharan is an Indian-origin freelance writer and peace activist who resides in Canada. She has written this short story based on the account of a partition refugee or “survivor” who migrated to India due to partition and then eventually to Canada but while he was compelled to move, he could not move away from the memories, the pain and trauma of loss and separation that accompanied the event of partition that divided the subcontinent and displaced millions of people not only physically but emotionally. The story was originally published at Booksie

In author’s own words: 

I wrote this around 2000 at a point when I noticed that many of the second Indo-Canadian generation at large had grown up and little was being written about them. While Jhumpa Lahiri had won the Pulitzer in the U.S., we in Canada were bereft of an identity or presence in Canadian fiction though Indians had been inhabiting the country for almost 100 years. Figures like Vikram Seth, Rohinton Mistry, Vasanjee or Shauna Singh Baldwin had made their mark on a highly prestigious level and I was a great fan of all of them. But these guys were mostly not writing about Indians in Canada whether they were first or second generation. Whereas I grew up witnessing even the little things that the first generation, who largely migrated to Canada or the U.S. in the 1960s, go unrecorded. I was also being told by some to not bother focusing on work within the Indian milieu because it was seen as being impractical because it wouldn’t be marketable at large and I may not gain acceptance from the mainstream. But I chose to write a series of short stories anyways over the years even if I couldn’t find anyone to publish them or win any contests with them. I was not here to please. I was here to write.

Swati SharanBut on the same token, I had to wrestle with the fact that for some of my stories with desi flair, I had to include an explanation about every second thing for both the second generation Indo-Canadians as well as the non-Indian public at large.  On the other hand, there were many partition refugees in Canada and some of them were passing on. Yet many of them rarely spoke about it and would tell their children or grandchildren little or next to nothing about it. I later learned in the late 90s in an article in India Today about how untouched the stories of partition actually were and they were just starting to come out more.  So while it seemed fine to accept that people were choosing what was in front of them, it was just as important to know what was behind them from atleast a historical purpose. Otherwise, a great manipulation of history risks occurring as we are seeing in the present time. Based on my conversations with different refugees, I found that sometimes they were not the ones who were holding grudges against Pakistanis or Indians inspite of all their suffering. If anything, they wished for both of these places to progress. But much misinformation has dictated otherwise when it comes to Indo-Pak relations and it’s sometimes by those people who had nothing to do with partition. So herein hangs my tale.

MEMOIRS OF A HINDU

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Photo Source: Internet

Epilogue – The Year 2000 – Hospital Cafeteria, Toronto

“Amitash, have you read the newspaper today?” asked Susan James as she filed through a national newspaper while sitting in the staff cafeteria.  

“No, why?”

“There seems to be an obituary about an elderly Indian man from St. John’s. Some man who went through partition and then came here to live with his family in Canada.”

Amitash immediately jumped to look at the paper. “That’s my grandfather! But how did it get published here?” He read further down until he saw the name. Alisha Sood is Ravinder Prakash’s granddaughter and lives in Newfoundland. “This is written by my kid-sister Alisha! I don’t believe it!”

He read on for more details about his grandfather. He was shocked to realise how much he probably didn’t know about him. “…left Lahore which is now in Pakistan… went through Birla House where he met the then Indian prime minister Nehru addressing everyone… came to India through Delhi… went to Patna and started with a tea stall near the train station… moved to Canada when his wife died… and lived with his son’s family, including grandchildren…”

Amitash didn’t know what to believe. He left for home immediately where just as he entered, the phone rang. It was a stranger who had read the column and tracked him down through his mother.

“I got your family’s number through directory assistance and spoke with your mother. I just have to meet with you. I am old and don’t know how but I know I must. You are a legacy of your grandfather.”

“But who are you?”

“My name is Pervez Hassan and I live with my son here. Your grandfather was one of my close friends before he left Pakistan. I had no idea what became of him and lost him in the crowd when he was leaving for India. Things were very crazy then. When I learned about his experiences, it really made me cry.”

“Do you want to get together then? I can drive over.”

Plans about where and how to meet were made and executed. Before Amitash stood the last remnant of a life his grandfather never spoke to him about and in some ways his only living connection to that old world. And before Pervez stood his last chance to embrace his deceased friend’s legacy.

PrologueThe Year 2000 – Ravinder Prakash’s deathbed in St. John’s, Newfoundland

Om, or the name of God (e.g. Hey Ram), should be the last thing uttered before passing on as per Hindu beliefs. This is believed to make the transition to the hereafter smoother.

“Hey Ram,” he uttered lying on his deathbed recalling both old and new memories. Caught between life and the hereafter, he started visualising his life before the division of India and Pakistan. He remembered his youth in Lahore and the lessons his mother had given him for remembering God.

These stood at the very core of what helped him survive the tribulations he faced throughout much of his journey in the present body his soul entertained. From his arrival in India as a refugee to his move to live with his son in Canada, this childhood faith is what helped him get through it all.

He looked at each challenge as an opportunity for developing this faith. It was, as far as he was concerned, perhaps why God put before a given situation in the first place. It was a way to be brought closer to the Almighty.

His last days had been spent reading the works, including Bhagvad Geeta. Ravinder Prakash spent most of his time in his room doing this. His grandchildren peeked in periodically to see how he was. The Bhagvad Geeta had not appealed to the likes of them.

Toni Braxton CDs and pants with tapered waists were more like it for Abhilasha and Alisha at their age. The Barbie-sized stretch tops only added to the picture. Amitash, who was a bit older than the girls, sported a goatee and a pierced ear. His clothes at one point appeared to be three times bigger than him. He also loved to play basketball in the driveway. But all that, as time and fashion passed, were out.

Amitash had got a degree in pharmacy from Memorial University of Newfoundland and left St. John’s for Toronto and was now working in a hospital there. He just came here to visit his grandfather.

Overall, Amitash and the girls were good kids, Ravinder thought. It was just hard for them to identify with the strife that made itself felt throughout much of his life. At points, he felt that the struggles of the sub-continent entwined with the toil of his own existence. He wondered if he should have told them all about it when he was younger. 

But at that time, it seemed like too great a contrast in lifestyles. These kids were from a professional Canadian middle-class background where they had little or no interaction with India and her cultural bi-products. And when the 1985 Air India crash[1] happened, Ravinder just felt it better not to say anything.

It was as if the destructive elements of India’s problems could not be left behind. In places like Toronto or Vancouver, because of the large South Asian population, Ravinder may have considered not shielding the kids from the problems. In Newfoundland, however, it was only too easy to.

So, when his son and daughter-in-law set out to live in a small outport area for a couple of years, it couldn’t have been better. In a place that was all white, India’s legacies could not follow them.

But then the family moved back to St. John’s. And now the kids were getting old enough to try to “fit in” with their counterparts in society. Ravinder dared not make them more of a misfit than what they already were by virtue of their skin colour and what they ate at home. Hence, they grew up knowing more about what was in front of them rather than what he hoped lay behind them.

Ravinder’s move to Canada came about in the late ‘70s when his wife died. The children had never seen him till then. In fact, Alisha, the youngest, was not even born.

“What’s left?” his son Sunil had said. “Mataji[2] has passed on and now it’s just us. There’s nobody to look after you there.”

“Yes papa,” Shailja had echoed. “Come stay with us. The children have always wondered about you and Mataji.”

How lucky he was to have a daughter-in-law as sweet as Shailja.  It was her infinite love and care that made settling in Canada easier. Without her, he knew not what he would do.

Resettling, all the same, had not come easily.  It was one of the reasons why he had not wanted to leave India when the prospect came up.  Ravinder did not want to have to rebuild at this late an age. On the other hand, he also didn’t want to be separated from his only son and their family. Ravinder had no one else.

Ravinder’s mind then flashed to Patna. It was the city he had been directed to as a young man after leaving Lahore to cross into New Delhi. What a farce his earlier life in Lahore seemed at that point. He and his sisters could never have imagined when they were younger that India would be split into two.

Their family had arrived penniless with nothing other than the clothes off their backs. They had slept on the open fields next to the train station for months with surrounding tin shelters until the family was able to secure enough of an income to move into a small two-room house.

What a contrast this was to the life they had known in Lahore in the ’30s. Ravinder and his sisters had lived in great comfort then with a compound to play in. And of course, that included the ayahs or maids to wait on them.

Such pleasure had they known then. So much so that they could never imagine that partition could take place.  This was their home. Why should they be made to leave?

With the onset of the ’40s however, the picture became grimmer. The All India Muslim League was fast gaining momentum. Civil unrest was beginning to overtake them.

The horrors of the exodus still felt unbelievable even as Ravinder would sit to have his tea on his rope-strewn cot in Patna on many a late afternoon. Since moving to Patna, he had started selling tea from a tea stand.

As stability occupied him more, Ravinder began selling bread in the ‘New Market’ area. Some thought of this as being a part of the Refugee Market area because many of the people who did business there were refugees.

With the aid of his father, he eventually went on to open a confectionery goods store in the central area of Patna on Dak Bangla Road. The business now thrived and with this success, Ravinder helped finance his sisters’ marriages and provide for his extended family. Life had been a struggle but Ravinder’s faith in the almighty and the wisdom and guidance of his elders got him through this.  The one constant he had was his faith which was remaining till his dying days.

The memory started fading out and a vision of his son Sunil started fading in until…oh yes… Sunil… the reason he had come.

Looking back on the series of events in his life and India’s, he wondered whether he had done the right thing by keeping his grandchildren in the dark about her as a culture and a politic.  As much as he couldn’t understand Kargil[3] in the summer of ’99 and why it had to be, Ravinder couldn’t help but think that he did the wrong thing by not talking about their heritage.

He felt that much guiltier when Alisha came home asking him about their family tree. It was a project from school she said. “C’mon Dadaji. You’ve got to help me.”

“But what can I help you with?”

“You can help me with a lot. I don’t know a thing about our family or where we came from. I mean I know we’re Punjabi[4] but that’s about it. You never talk about these things and we never see mom and dad ‘cuz they’re always busy. So, why don’t you say something?  My friend Vanessa’s got everything traced back to Ireland eight generations ago.”

At this point, he was overcome with tears. Though in his dying days, this was the chance that God gave him to make up for all that he hadn’t done.

Immediately, their lessons began in family history and the Indian sub-continental polity. This included being told about how her grandfather met the first Indian Prime Minister Nehru at Birla House as he and their family members had crossed the border. Religion, of course, also interspersed now and again from the readings of the Ramayana in Urdu to partition.

Like an intricately woven tapestry, Ravinder spun the threads of their heritage. Surges of weakness, however, had begun to claim him more and more.

He found himself returning to bed earlier. He also felt more inclined towards the chanting of the Santhi Pat or the chants of peace.

Though St. John’s lay in great contrast to his early days in Lahore, he all the more couldn’t help but recount those days as he lay in his bed. It was as if everything in between was starting to blur slowly. And then one day, when Shailja was doing her prayers, she blew the conch from the pooja or prayer room.

Upon this sound, Ravinder’s life flashed before him.  The pain and tension from his body were slowly being released.

The words of the Bhagvad Gita were slowly recalled.  You are the soul. You are never born and you never die. The births you take are like the old clothes you change. You leave your body like you would your clothes. Until of course, you merge with the almighty and free yourself from rebirth.

He then started easing into his final utterances for remembering God before making his way into the hereafter. “Hey Ram… Hey Ram… Hey Ram…”

With no feeling of anything further left to yearn for and with no grievances or regrets, Ravinder experienced a state of moksha[5] or freedom of the soul. He was now ready to leave his body. A great life was left behind.


[1] Air India was bombed in 1985 by some Sikh terrorists to pressure the Indian government into forming Khalistan, a separatist Sikh homeland

[2] Mataji is a respectful way of addressing one’s mother in Hindi or Punjabi.

[3] In the summer of 1999, India and Pakistan faced strife and war in the area known as Kargil in the Kashmir area of India.

[4] A native of Punjab or whose cultural origins hail from Punjab

[5] Moksha or soul freedom is a high spiritual state of bliss when all your karmas (thoughts, deeds or actions) cancel each other out. Karma is believed by Hindus to be recorded something like a debit/credit ledger over lifetimes. (Karmas can prompt rebirth be they bad or good. I.e. you will need to repay your debts or people pay theirs back to you). Many Hindus mistakenly assume moksha to mean one has passed on and speak of it this way but you can’t get moksha after you die. You need to be alive for it. Moksha is seen as being an ultimate aim and grants one freedom from rebirth. At this point, one has no unfulfilled desires, grievances or regrets or a yearnful attachment to another person or thing. Therefore, there is no cause to be reborn then.    

 

On Global Dignity Day, Indian and Pakistani students bond over similarities, learn to celebrate difference

The 12th Indo-Pak Classroom Connect of Aaghaz-e-Dosti had connected students of Beaconhouse School System, Middle-I Gulshan branch, Karachi (Pakistan) and Gujarat Public School, Vadodara, Gujarat (India). The virtual interaction happened on the occasion of Global Dignity Day.

Ms Amber Sajid, teacher co-ordinator from Beaconhouse School (Karachi) stated that they chose this event for Global Dignity Day as the day is about instilling love and respect for everyone, irrespective of any difference. It is the day which seeks to build consciousness about one’s identity as a human above all other identities. They wanted to use this day to bridge the gap between Indians and Pakistanis by dispelling stereotypes, making the students aware that Indians and Pakistanis have many similarities and to also learn to respect any difference which is there. It is important that students learn to respect and celebrate difference, diversity. 

The discussion was focused around culture. Since it was the week of Diwali, a major festival in India, students from Pakistan asked about it. They inquired about the story behind Diwali, it’s importance and how it is celebrated. Ms Abhilasha Agarwal, head of Gujarat Public School, shared that the students were very curious to know about Diwali. They wanted to know how do we greet each other on Diwali. 

The discussion as also around other Indian festivals, dance forms and customs. The students from Gujarat told them at length about the Gujarati culture and several other cultures of India. Some of the students had worn traditional attires representing the different cultures in India. They also showed them a plate with different types of snacks from India. Some students had also presented Garba and Mohini Attam dance form of India. 

A Pakistani student expressed her interest to know about rangoli which she had seen in Indian series. The Indian students, in turn, asked about Sindh, its food and culture. 

The schools plan to have several such sessions. They find these sessions helpful to inculcate pride in their their own culture as well as respect for other cultures. 

This report has been made by Devika Mittal and Raza Khan. To contact us, email at aaghazedosti@gmail.com

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