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NEIGHBOURS WE DISTRUST

The biblical injunction to love one’s neighbour is more honoured in breach than in observance. All over the world, people’s first hate are their neighbours on either side. In villages and towns they fight with them, take them to court and do their best to eliminate them. Most wars were, and are today, fought between neighbouring countries. Take our own case. Who do we distrust most' Pakistan. We have fought three wars against it and are ever preparing for the fourth. Next to Pakistan, we distrust Bangladesh. Being much stronger, we don’t fear Bangladesh but have constant tension on our borders with them.

The one exception to the general rule of distrusting neighbours are writers and poets of the countries. Despite the atmosphere of hate that has pervaded since we became independent countries, the one small community which refused to submit to it are our men and women of letters. Pakistan had its Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Qateel Shifai. It has Ahmed Faraz today. We had Ali Sardar Jafri and Kaifi Azmi and a host of Hindi and Punjabi writers: Bhisham Sahni, Amrita Pritam and nameless others. Bangladesh has Tasleema Nasreen.

The spirit that animated these creative writers and poets was aptly summarized in his lines by Chiragh Deen Ustad Daman of Lahore written on the partition of the country:

Akhi yaan di lalee paee dasdi ay

Tusee roey ho;

Roey aseen vee haan

(The redness in your eyes shows/ You have been crying/ we too have cried with you.)

Fortunately, such men and women exist and continue to raise their voices against the destructive power of hatred. The latest example is poet Feza Aazmi of Karachi. He is a Mohajir, a refugee from Uttar Pradesh, now a Pakistani. His latest masnavi (epic poem) is Azaab Hamsayagi. The Agony Trail deals with the ups and downs of Indo-Pak relations. It opens with a prayer:

“Namaaz-e-Ishq parth lein/ Our buton par guft-gu-kar lein”.

I give a rough translation into English of the poem because his own does not do justice to the original:

“It conveys the sentiment behind the composition:

Prayer of love we offer to you

With your idols we will hold

converse;

We will prostrate ourselves

where we like

Hymns of love we will chant

everywhere

How long will we remain torn

apart'

Let us sew some pieces

together for a start

Far too long has the tavern

been deserted

Let us fill our goblets with fresh wine

We know your heart still bears scars

So do our hearts; but with every breath

It is up to us to heal them or bleed to

death

We will grasp your hand of friendship

when you extend it

We will take up arms and fight to our

last breath

We are willing to be your friends as we

are to be your foes

Will grasp your hand of friendship as

the saying goes

If it is war you want we will be ready to

fight

If it is love you offer we’ll take it with

delight.”

Last offering

Many years ago, I happened to be in Calgary (Canada) on the invitation of the local Sikh community. I was invited to address the congregation in the gurdwara following the morning service. I noticed a most attractive young woman who sat facing the ragis. Her eyes were shut; she seemed transported to another world. She was bewitching.

Since I was collecting data on the Sikh diaspora, I thought I would tell the Calgary Sikhs how their brethren were doing in other parts of the world. But a few young men interrupted me and angrily asked me why I was opposed to Khalistan. I let loose on them all the eloquence in my command and told them how Khalistan would spell disaster for the Sikhs and the country. There was quite a hungama. Then the lady stood up and silenced the rowdies. She was Rani Balbir Kaur of Chandigarh who had brought her troupe of artists to enact dramas for Punjabi audiences in Canada and the United States.

Rani Balbir comes from a prosperous family. She lives in a large house in Chandigarh and owns another in New Delhi. Having been separated from her husband (now dead), she was the subject of a lot of malicious gossip which over-shadowed her undoubted achievements as a professor of drama, film-maker and producer of plays. She had a stout champion in Maya Ray, wife of then governor, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, and was often invited to the Punjab Raj Bhavan. After 35 years of teaching and lots of awards from the government and private organizations, she is due to retire in a few months’ time. Her last offering is a musical and dramatic rendering of the life of the late poet Kaifi Azmi. He had written verses for her; she had enormous admiration for him. He was an admirable men by any reckoning. In keeping with his communist beliefs, he gave away his ancestral land to tillers who ploughed it. When in Delhi, he lived in a single room in the party’s headquarters. Though later stricken with partial paralysis, he continued to travel to towns and villages to spread his message of the need to set right inequality and injustice:

“Labalab hain kahin sagar/ Kahin khali pyale hain/ Yeh kaisa daur hai Saki'/ Yeh kya takseem hai Saki'”

(In some places the seas overflow/ At others goblets have not a drop of wine/ O Saki what times are these/ What kind of justice is this')

Being a Marxist non-believer, Kaifi extolled the power of wine:

“Unko Khuda miley hai Khuda ki jineh

talaash

Mujhko bas ek jhalak meyrey dildaar ki

miley”

(Let them find God who seek God/ All I want is a glimpse of the one I love.)

Rani Balbir’s role-model of a dramatist is the German communist playwright, Bertolt Brecht (1898-1936), whose Three Penny Opera earned worldwide acclaim. Her dramatized operatic version of Kaifi Azmi’s life will be eagerly awaited by theatre lovers.

The right feeling

Patient: “Doctor sahib, I get vertigo. While walking I feel like I’m drunk.”

Doctor: “Do you drink alcohol'”

Patient: “No, sir.”

Doctor: “You are lucky then. I spend Rs 150 to Rs 200 daily to get this feeling and you are getting it free of cost.”

(Contributed by Rajnish,

Shimla)

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