Author Archives: aaghazedosti
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.’
Shruti (Achesh) Arora is a theatre educator. She is a team member and regional coordinator of Aaghaz-e-Dosti.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
*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/
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.
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.
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 email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
by Devika Mittal (India)
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
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.
But 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
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.
“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.
Prologue –The 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 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 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 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 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 or freedom of the soul. He was now ready to leave his body. A great life was left behind.
 Air India was bombed in 1985 by some Sikh terrorists to pressure the Indian government into forming Khalistan, a separatist Sikh homeland
 Mataji is a respectful way of addressing one’s mother in Hindi or Punjabi.
 In the summer of 1999, India and Pakistan faced strife and war in the area known as Kargil in the Kashmir area of India.
 A native of Punjab or whose cultural origins hail from Punjab
 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 email@example.com
by Sobh Saeed (Pakistan)
I am going to meet him. I am finally going to meet him. After 70 years of separation, I will meet him.
I continuously chanted the same sentences over and over in my head , my hands shaking with anxiety. I thrust them inside the pocket of my dark tailored coat, unable to contain my excitement.
India had changed so much since I’d last left it but it still felt like home. The place I was born in , the place I’d went to school in, the place I’d made so many amazing friendships that were destined to be broken in.
But I was here now, to revive them. At least one of them. Sure, I was 70 years late, but better late than never.
The day I found out my old friend—Sanjay Gupta—was still alive and well , I’d practically jumped for joy but unfortunately, my old man limbs had betrayed me, leading my body to make contact with the floor.
However, I did not let a few broken limbs pull me down and instantly decided to buy a ticket for India. The whole visa process was hard and took a good period of time but I still managed to do it in the end. And now, here I was. In India. Or more accurately, in Bombay. Knowing it was Mumbai now, I still liked to refer to it as Bombay as that’s what I’d been calling it the 12 years I’d lived there and I was not ready to give that up.
I glanced at my old school, it’s red-brick building as beautiful as ever. An emotional wave of nostalgia passed through me as the taxi drove along the buildings and towards the residential area.
I remembered myself and Sanjay running through these very streets in our early years , as our crisp white kurtas flapped in the direction of the wind. Our faces plastered with wide, happy grins. Those were the days when we would spend all day outside, playing together till the sun didn’t decide to say goodbye. I smiled at the thought and then frowned at what happened later on.
The Big Goodbye. The Parting Of Ways. The Partition.
It was the middle of August, 1947 when my father announced we were going away , leaving behind our beautiful mansion to start a new life. I cried, afraid that I would never see my friends again. My mother , having been the caring woman she was, consoled me saying it was just temporary and that I’d be united with my friends in no time at all. I believed her.
We packed a few bags, taking just the absolute necessities. It wasn’t possible for us to take so much belongings as the trains would be packed and there’d be no space. Mother silently wept at not being given the permission to take the pretty collection of ornaments she’d made over the years. She thought no one noticed it, but everyone did.
A tear rolled down my wrinkly face as the taxi came to a halt. “Your destination is here , sir.” Came the voice of the taxi driver.
I nodded, giving him his fees and letting him keep the change.
I had invited my children to join me on my trip to India from Pakistan but they had instantly neglected the offer, saying it was the ‘rival’ country and could not be trusted. They had persisted that I shouldn’t go either because it was not safe.
What did they know about safety? It wasn’t them that had spent a whole train ride during the time of partition not knowing if they’d make it out alive and reach the other side.
Only when the taxi rolled away did I realise that Sanjay must have changed now. He would be an old man like me, with children—perhaps even grandchildren—and responsibilities. It was hardly possible that he would be his old, jolly and carefree self.
Nevertheless, I rang the bell of the ‘Gupta mansion’(That’s what it said on the sign) , patiently waiting for somebody to let me in. I heard faint footsteps from the other end and hushed voices. Finally , the door opened to reveal a little girl—perhaps 7-years-old—smiling expectantly at me. An older girl with very curly black hair(that greatly resembled Sanjay’s) hurried behind her, frowning and scolding the girl for opening the door without her permission.
“Namaste.” I greeted. “Sanjay Gupta lives here , right?”
The older girl’s eyebrows drooped and I noticed she had dark circles under her eyes. “Yes, dada lives here but not here at the same time.”
“What do you mean?” I doubled my hold on my wooden cane.
The younger of the two exclaimed, “He’s dying!”
It’s right how they say children always tell the bitter truth. Everybody else is too scared.
My whole body turned numb. I could just about feel my grip loosen.“C—Can I see him?” I stammered impatiently.
“Who are you?” One of them asked, I couldn’t interpret which because my eyesight had gone blurry and there was a loud ringing in my ears.
“Talha Zubair.” I managed to say after a pause, clutching at the air to find something that would tighten my grip.
“Are you okay?” A voice of concern. “Maa! Maa, there’s a man at the door and he seems sick!”
I strained my ears to be able to hear properly , but all I heard was whispers and barely audible shouts next. New faces appeared. Someone was screaming. A lady grabbed for my wrist and helped me inside , a frown etched on her olive face.
Some time later, I was sat on a comfortable armchair , a mug of extremely sweet tea in my hand.
“Are you at ease?” Somebody questioned in a croaky tone. Were they speaking to me? I blinked twice and looked around. My eyesight had become much better after the tea but I still wished I’d brought my old glasses with me.
I tried to grasp my surroundings. There was a four-poster bed with a dozen white sheets and blankets. Somebody seemed to be laying on it—a man. Suddenly, my vision cleared and I could see properly. He had wrinkly skin like me and a wide lopsided smile on his face. Sanjay.
I’d recognize him anywhere , anytime. He still had a scar beneath his bottom lip and the smile of someone who was about to do something forbidden.
“Sanjay!” I practically bellowed, my voice hoarse yet finally audible.
“Hello.” He greeted, staring at me.
“How are you?” I was bursting to ask so many questions but this was all that came out.
“I’ve seen better times.” He shrugged and then winced at having done that movement.
He had changed so much. His old, boyish face was now etched with lines and wrinkles. His lips trembled when he spoke and there was no longer much life in him.
“It’s been so long since I’ve seen you , yet you hardly seem like a stranger.”
Sanjay laughed a croaky laugh, “I’ve missed you dost.” Pause. “So Talha, how is it like living in Pakistan?”
“What can I say? Not much different than living here but very different all the same.” I sipped some more tea. “How was India after I left?”
He was quiet for a moment and then stated, “When you left India—entirely out of the blue—I felt…empty. You know, like imagining that this world will end in oblivion and there’ll be no one left to remember all the amazing things mankind did. That kind of empty. You didn’t tell anyone where you were going, basically, you just left. History was all you left me.”
History was all you left me.
“You’ve become poetic.” I wiped a tear that had trickled down my cheek and smiled at him.
“Is it true what they say on TV then?” He asked , looking up at me curiously.
“Oh you know, about terrorism and everything. That there are a lot of terrorists in Pakistani.”
I was taken aback. “Excuse me?”
“It’s right, isn’t it?” He coughed.
“Why would you say that?” I put the cup of tea on the saucer, straightening up.
“I just wanted to confirm if it’s true. The people here really dislike Pakistan.”
“It’s exactly the same in Pakistan. Even just the mention of India causes uproar and competition. I am disappointed to say that media has become a bigger impact than the values of peace and love.” I replied, sadly. “And perhaps what you said about terrorism is true but I hardly see how that can affect anything. Not every Pakistani is a terrorist.”
“I’m sorry brother for thinking otherwise, I hope someday peace prevails in our countries.”
I nodded, “Me too.”
Sobh Saeed lives in Islamabad, Pakistan and is a student currently doing my O levels. She likes to write in free time or whenever a sudden idea strikes her. She is also a firm believer of peace and would very much like it if there was to be reconciliation between India and Pakistan. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
by Harleen Kaur (India)
Now, that borders have distanced
How am I ever going to see you again?
Maybe, I’ll become air and
Cross those wires.
I’d caress your hair as I used to
With my delicate hands,
Under the moonlight.
Do you remember my touch?
Or, I’ll become a fish and run with
Chenab or Jhelum.
I hope when you see me
You’ll hold me with your manly hands,
Like you used to clench my waist.
(I won’t fear death now,
Because in a jiff I’ll wake up to eternity).
Or, I’ll become a bird,
I’d carry oomph of this land in my feathers
Bring it to you.
I hope you’ll run your fingers through those
Feathers and feel it,
As you used to…
I’d sing songs of freedom.
Freedom, well, I still wonder,
How people confined in barbed wires be free?
I’ll live in the air.
Hanging from this tree of love.
With a two metres of clothe around my neck,
That couldn’t save me from fiends.
I’ll be hanging here.
Till the land underneath both of us become one.
Till we meet again.
*This Painting has been made by Saurabh Singh, a student of Gujarat Public School (Vadodara, India) and is a copyright of Aaghaz-e-Dosti.
by Pranava Pakala (India)
Movies are one of the most popular forms of entertainment today. They shape and influence public opinion in more ways than one. The film industry is a major contributor to the South Asian Economy and undoubtedly, South Asia produces the most number of films each year. Today, with the ever increasing exchange of talent between both the countries of India and Pakistan, films are what unite us.
Khuda Kay Liye proved to be a turning point for the Pakistani film industry. It won numerous accolades for beautifully showcasing sensitive issues affecting South Asia. It is a thought provoking movie touching upon a plethora of issues which are of immense importance globally. Broadly, it focusses on how common man can be misled by those who interpret religion in an orthodox way. It discusses specifically region centric issues like forced marriages (which are predominant in the Indian Subcontinent). We have come across numerous cases in the diaspora (both Indian and Pakistani) where foreign born girls are forcefully married off to men back in their homelands. They face difficulties in adapting to the conservative cultures back home and are often ostracised by their communities. Some accept their fate , the resilient ones fight it. Forced Marriages and Honour Killings are a sad reality in this part of the world. I believe that religious conservativism is the root cause of these practices. Religion is supposed to bring people together in a positive way to influence change but the grim reality today is that religion is being used to influence youngsters into violence and hatred. Young impressionable minds are lured into this menace on the promise of “Jannah”. We see something similar in the case of one of the characters in the film, Sarmad. He is a music loving, jeans wearing youth who is misguided by a Mullah with Salafist leanings. Today, most of the religious men concentrate less on reciting the sermon and more on the political aspect of it. Understandably, the latter seems more interesting and comprehensible to youngsters. For the mullahs, this is perhaps the only way to make the religion seem more relevant to the youth who are moving away from it. But, they end up giving the wrong picture and misguide these young people who start believing this form of the religion. This film hits the bull’s eye there . Maryam, one of the characters in the film who is forcefully married off to her cousin is brazen and bold. She has the strength and courage to go to the Court to fight for justice in a country where few stand up against the statusquo. In the film, Maulana Wali is a ray of hope who explains to the court how religion is being wrongly interpreted by these self styled clerics who incessantly radicalise thousands of youngsters into the futile “jihad”. He vociferously quotes the religious texts like the Quran and the Hadiths to support his stance. The Quran gives more freedom to women than men. It clearly states that a women is free to choose her spouse and only she has the final say. He further goes on to say that these clerics have deduced twisted connotations from these texts to suppress women.
One of my greatest learnings from this movie is the fact that no religion preaches violence or hatred of any form. Religion is the most exploited and the most convenient excuse that people use for their personal benefit. It is also very important to separate our daily lives from religion or spirituality. It is one of the most personal things and wearing one’s faith on their sleeve doesn’t make them any more of a believer. The movie, through Mansoor’s character made a moving portrayal of how misconceptions about the religion can lead to life altering circumstances. Post 9/11 , America started a policy of indiscriminate racial screening of Muslims. Common law abiding people like Mansoor became a victim of this policy and were tortured and put through unspeakable things. Though the portrayal is hyperbolic, yet it does a fairly good job in putting forth the reality.
I feel the movie is very relevant to today’s social context. We are living in an era where religious extremism is a menace ruining lives. Overall, the movie makes an effort to remove misconceptions that people, in general have about South Asians. This movie does a fairly good job in highlighting the fact that Indians and Pakistanis have almost similar cultures, practices, way of thought , etc. and that the LOC is just a physical border demarcating us.
Pranava Pakala has completed high school this year. She has been a keen reader of non fictional works on South Asia and the Middle East. She can be contacted on email@example.com