The invitation to attend the seminar on South Asian Minorities in Islamabad, Pakistan and other meetings in Karachi, promised to be an exciting affair, as apart from other things it might have been an opportunity to see the ‘enemy country’ in person. I thought of combining the visit to
with a trip to Jhang, the place where I was born, slightly before the tragedy
of partition. I realized VISA to Pakistan
is quite a difficult task as VISA for each city is to be obtained separately so
I dropped the idea of going to Jhang and restricting my visit to Islamabad and Karachi
for which I had the invitations. The discussion about the proposed trip to Pakistan with
friends and relatives had a standard response, ohh… you are going to
Pakistaaaaaan… be careful! The impression being given was not only that it is
Pakistan, which is masterminding all the terror operations in India, not only
that it’s a country with terrorists strolling the street and killing people at
will but also that it is an ‘enemy country’ due to its wars against India, its
meddling in the issues of India and it harboring the terror dens by the dozen.
The banquet hosted by organizers was an occasion to interact with the well known names in Human Rights movements from
like I.A. Rahman. Could lay my hands on Rahman’s booklet, ‘Pakistan: Neither A
State nor a Nation’ which gives a very accurate understanding of the state
which came into being more due to the machinations of colonial powers than for
the aspirations of average Muslims. Incidentally majority of Muslims and
particularly the poorer lot, the artisans, farmers stood against the idea of Pakistan.
The banquet dinner was a surprise for another reason also. In the middle of the lovely food and equally engrossing conversation, I had been so lost in the homeliness of milieu and the accompanying songs from my favorite old Hindi films that I had to tell myself oh I am not in
India but am
The singing troupe playing the music was very good and the choice of songs from
old Hindi films was a real treat of the day.
India’s Soft Power in the Region
Karachi was a different ball game. Here one
was in the middle of different communities staying in different localities. The
segregation of communities along geographical lines is a bit different than
what is the phenomenon of ghettotization of Muslim community in many a cities
its broad roads and slow traffic reminded me of our own Mumbai nearly five
decades ago. Conversation with taxi derivers’ is so much revealing about the
things in a city. My driver was a young man from Peshawar. He had to come to Karachi due to the Taliban nuisance. Taliban,
in a true fundamentalist fashion, are imposing dress-beard code on the people
and are killing people for any slight disobedience. This young man told me that
they used to organize Music and dance, week long celebrations at the wedding
times. Now Taliban has put a sort of ban on that. The Taliban intimidation is
forcing large segments of population to shift from Peshawar
to Karachi in
particular. He also informed about what many Indian writers are calling as soft
power of India,
the Bollywood. For this young man, three Khans of our Bollywood are semi gods,
like he celebrated when Shah Rukh Khan’s team won in IPL and he sported Mangal
Pandey moustache and kept the hairs like Mangal Pandey as depicted in the film.
It’s no secret that Hindi films and Indian music are a craze there.
Malyalee Comrade in
I happened to meet innumerable friends who are struggling it out not only to strengthen democracy but also to build bridges with
One remarkable Comrade from our Kerala, B.M. Kutty is a very popular figure in Karachi. Kutty Sahib, as
he is generally addressed there is part of most of the progressive campaigns
and movements, shaping and guiding the younger lot into the values needed for a
democratic society and secular sate. This Malyalee doyen is there from last six
decades and his autobiography is aptly titled, ‘Six Decades of exile: No
regrets’. Other friends and comrades from media, trade unions and Karachi University
were not only warm but also expressed how much they long for the state of
affairs where military can be packed off to the barracks and civilian society
is able to have its say through the democratic government.
The very concept of Islamic state also meets its nemesis in the form of Mohajir Qaumi Movement, supported by many Muslims who left for
They could not get due rights in Pakistan and are now organized
enough to get represented in Pakistan Senate and corporations. The legendary Karachi press club has
been able to maintain its independence, despite the pressure of military and it
keeps inviting the diverse speakers to speak about their views on matters
controversial, on the lines which may be against the ideas of ruling cliques.
One of the favorite themes of talks there was, ‘Shared heritage: Common
aspirations’, where the commonality of our cultural past was highlighted and a
need for broad cooperation between these two so called ‘enemy nations’ is
articulated in a very positive manner.