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Let A Lamp Be Lit, And Let's Write
A Poem For Friendship

By Harsh Mander

23 March, 2004
The Hindustan Times

His eyes lit up with spontaneous friendship when he learnt that we were visitors from India. A wayside vendor in Takshila, Pakistan, he refused
to accept payment for the roasted chana that we had bought from him. "Take it as my gift," he insisted.

My colleagues and I were on a visit to Pakistan. I spoke to many audiences. Everywhere, I stressed that, for me, the core of the idea of India is that people of diverse faiths, castes, gender and classes live together with peace, mutual respect, security and equal citizenship rights. This idea of India resolutely rejects the two-nation theory. Despite my passionate rejection of this
idea, nowhere in my diverse audiences did I encounter hostility.

Since K.N. Panikkar, one of India's respected historians, was part of our delegation, discussions drifted to distortions of our shared history in both countries. "You are now trying to catch up with what we in Pakistan accomplished 30 years ago," our Pakistani friends would say satirically. Textbooks in both countries have begun to mirror each other in their communal prejudices and untruths. We agreed to bring together the best historians of the subcontinent to write a popular history, rescued before it is
too late from the lenses of sectarian prejudice.

The question we were most frequently confronted with was why recent popular cinema in India, films like Gadar and LoC, foment hatred against Pakistan. We were struck by how this question arose invariably in every single audience, regardless of the subject of discussion, possibly because the activist actress Nandita Das was part of the delegation, but more so because these films just simply wounded them so deeply. Nandita spoke of her passionate opposition to such cinema, and her satisfaction that several such films have been rejected at the box-office. She tied up plans for a subcontinental collaborative film on the subject of recalling Partition, and a play written and acted by artists from the two countries. Fouzia and Khaled of ActionAid Pakistan also committed themselves to try to create a popular Indo-Pakistan friendship TV channel.

Conversation would invariably shift to cricket. Development communications expert Saumya Sen suggested that we re-invent popular street cricket as an instrument of bonding between the two people. As the cricket stars rivet cricket-lovers during the ongoing Indo-Pak series, disadvantaged children from the two countries will play cricket on the streets in mixed teams.

In a country that reveres poetry, poet Gauhar Raza was everywhere implored to recite his own compositions. There would be many echoes in the hearts of his audiences, when he would recite his most recent poem Mein Chahata hun:

"I long to write a poem, A poem of a kind that has never been written But this monsoon of fire and blood This deluge of tears This obsession with hatred at every step If only they would give me a moment of respite, my friend, So that a lamp may be lit And then I can write a poem A poem of a kind that has never been written."

The writer is Director, ActionAid India