Crusaders of Indo-Pak People’s Connect
After demise of Justice Sachchar, Kuldeep Nayar, Pran Nevile and Ashma Jahangir; cultural connect that they maintained (even in hot Indo-Pak political milieu) would receive a jot
In the last few months we have lost three well known and well respected men who worked for that vital connect between the people of India and Pakistan. Yes, it was Justice Rajinder Sachar and Kuldip Nayar and Pran Nevile, who didn’t let the wounds of the Partition come in way and till their last days had continued to meet and dialogue with the people of Pakistan.
Justice Rajinder Sachar and Kuldip Nayar not just led peace brigades at the Wagah border but spoke out passionately at any given forum; focusing on the significance of peace prevailing between the two countries. For decades they had continued with their efforts for that people to people connect to persist, no matter what the political obstacles could be.
In fact, Pran Nevile who passed away last fortnight would travel at least once if not twice a year to Lahore to meet his fellow ‘Lahorias’. After all, there was an emotional connect to the place of his roots. As he wrote in his preface to his book on Lahore - “This book on the Lahore of my days was conceived in the lonely dining room of Hotel Astoria in Geneva in November 1963. I was having breakfast when I heard someone calling me in Punjabi, ‘Motian aleo, Hindustan de o ke Pakistan de?’ (Prince of Pearls, are you from India or Pakistan?) I looked back, responding promptly ‘Bashao aao baitho, main Lahore da han’ (Your Royal Highness, please come and sit down, I hail from Lahore). In no time we became very friendly, a blend as it were, of ghee and khichdhi (clarified butter and curried rice) and talked about our glorious city. The conversation released a flood of memories deeply impressed on my mind for decades. I have tried in these pages to commit them on paper.”
And it’s with the same sense of immense pride he wrote on Noor Jehan, who was rightfully titled Mallika-e-Tarannum. Let me quote him, “On a personal note I have been an ardent fan of Mallika-e-Tarannum for as long as I can remember. I had the privilege of meeting her in 1978 during her visit to Chicago where I was then the Indian Consul General. There was no Pakistani mission there at that time and the
organizers of her concert asked Noor Jehan if she would agree to my being invited as the chief guest. I learnt that she readily agreed to the suggestion when told that I was a great fan of hers and also a Lahoria by birth and upbringing. The concert hall was overflowing. There was a roaring welcome and standing ovation as Mallikae-Tarannum made her appearance on stage. A thundering applause followed as she began the programme with the eternal melody awaz de kahan hai. I requested her to sing one of my favourite songs laga hai misar ka bazar dekho, and she smilingly responded with the remark that she was thrilled to find an Indian diplomat familiar with her latest film songs.”
And none of the political dents, created by the politicians there and here, had managed to disrupt his bonding with the people of his birthplace. He wrote on any given topic, except on politics. There was a sense of determination in his voice as he would say that he never allowed politics to enter his writings. “I have seen to it that no matter what happens, I’m not going to comment on the political situation … Till date I have avoided writing or focusing on any type of politics. Even when I’m invited to Literature Festivals in Pakistan I never comment on politics. I tell the audience that I’ll not entertain queries related to diplomatic or political relations between the two countries…it’s the same set of rules follow here. I can write volumes on any given topic related to music and arts and culture but not on politics! Never going to break this rule!”
In fact, its through music and those musical geniuses of the past that Nevile wanted to connect the people of this subcontinent. Mind you, his knowledge of the arts and cinema of the two countries was remarkable. “We in India first made the film Anarkali and later they in Pakistan made that film with the same title .Then, they in Pakistan first made Pakeezah and Umrao Jaan …yes, both these two films with these titles were first made there in Pakistan and then later we made them here. And one particular Pakistani Punjabi film – Naukar Woti Da - was copied it here , totally copied , scene to scene …the only thing is that the title was changed - from the Punjabi to Hindustani .Here it was titled - Naukar Bibi Ka.”
Once when I had asked him, how we ,the masses , living in this sub -continent could co-relate and he’d quipped , “The bureaucracy doesn’t seem interested in people – to – people connect. After all , what happened to those earlier talks of ‘no visas’ for senior citizens - for all those over 60 years - keen to visit each other’s countries. All those hyped promises of people to people connect failed for the bureaucracy doesn’t seem interested , not really bothered.”
And as we sit and mourn the passing away of three of our peace activists, we cannot overlook the demise of human rights activist Asma Jahangir who’d passed away earlier this year in Lahore. She too worked tirelessly for peace to prevail in this subcontinent.
A vacuum holds out as within months we have lost these extraordinary personalities. And in these politically turbulent times they were greatly needed for sense to prevail.
Lahore Literary Festival 2014