Candle-lit Vigil 2011-Indo-Pak Border.. Mahesh Bhatt, Kuldip Nayyar, Tara Gandhi
By Rashmi Talwar
On the midnight of August 14-15, a candle in hand, I walked with peaceniks, to Wagah-Attari Indo Pak Joint check post.
The dark trees and shrubs draped in twinkling drops of fairy lights swathed and transformed the gloom into a bejeweled bride, decked for the Independence Day Celebrations of India and Pakistan.
It was the 16th year of Peace overtures by organizations ‘Folklore Research Academy’ (FRA), ‘Hind Pak Dosti Manch’ , ‘Punjab Jagriti Manch’, that conceived the idea of Candle lit Vigil annually on this momentous occasion of a time when one country’s dusk coincided with dawn for the other. A moment relived at the time of Freedom but also of deep cuts of separation from ones own.
Lighting candles came as a symbolic gesture of peace with the borders, near the no-man’s land between forbidding Gates – an unspoken barrier of no trespass. This simple gesture was to vent the pains of separation, longing hearts and a call for harmony on the midnight of Freedom. It started as a friendship mela at Wagah, in memory of Raja Porus a common hero for denizens of both countries.
I reached a little early, giving me the luxury of retrospect. Gaping at the peeking moon beaming now, in full circular glory a moment back, through diaphanous clouds, I wondered if there shone a moon on those sultry, bloody August nights of 1947, 65 years back. The nights of stealth, loot, rape, fear, blood and gore, of screams and surrender to the greatest inhumanity to shake earth leaving millions homeless, naked and bewildered.
“Did they too fold their hands in prayer looking at the sky for a savior or in thanksgiving? A thanksgiving for a wandering displaced existence, with only their lives, just out of the womb.
The cities, towns and villages shuffled like a pack of cards by a single stroke of a pen, quivering at their changed destinies, of fear of the bottomless depths of depravity by human-turned animals, blood- thirsty, drenched and bizarre in a frenzy of faith.
Was this, one of the routes traversed by those loaded bullock carts, donkeys, sheep and goats and teeming millions, household buckets brimful with oddities, weary animals, to have written their footsteps in blood, crossing the Cyril Radcliff line.
I looked questionably at the trees, asking, if they stood mute spectators to the inhuman torch of innocents waylaid by marauding mobs. Forlorn and fearful migrants, gored by a knife or chopped or looted or arsoned or many a fair maiden and not so, made away, to quench the lust borne out of fury.
I had heard of many a family head’s frozen turbulence, in putting their girls and woman on a the sacrificial altar. A swift stroke of a sword and the bloodied heads let loose from the neck, rolling onto male feet. The silent scream of mothers, sisters and daughters or some too little to make sense of the senselessness that elders forced upon them, lest they be mauled, maimed or raped by marauding gangs or converted to other faiths. Brave these women stood with not a trace of a whimper, in their doom or of their blood and flesh.
The blood curdling screams, whimperings, implorings and chilled faces. The ‘nanga nachch of vaishiyaat’ (naked dance of death)…I stilled these stirrings of scenes wherein man had turned rogue, crushing all in his madness….
Tonight was different, Guards had been raised, and BSF personnel guarded at every 50 steps.
A threatening barbed wire fence, darkness but glowing faces in shimmering fairy lights I saw , people had changed !
Perhaps, the wounds healed and generations that faced it all, turned greyer and wiser. Hatred divided and Peace Unites; There was no third path !
The call from Indians this time too was answered with solidarity and support from Pakistan’s peaceniks of SAFMA (South Asian Free Media Association). A call, for harmony, peace and mutual coexistence, for progress and prosperity.
Now an annual feature, the candle-lit vigil first started as a trickle say FRA’s leading names Ramesh Yadav and Talwinder Singh; with the first breakthrough of poetical symposium at Wagah Indo-Pak border by Kendri Punjabi Lekhak Sabha in 1993.
Down the years the innocent blaze of candle lights contributed to awaken the political authorities from their forced or self-imposed slumber.
The flag of peace taken forward this time by famed film producer and director Mahesh Bhatt, Tara Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s granddaughter and noted journalist Kuldip Nayyar joining in with his Hind Pak Dosti Manch, to further illuminate the corridors of Peace highlighting the commonalities of Punjabis beyond the dividing line .
Kuldip Nayyar had one slip to his discredit as member of the Rajya Sabha , he had failed to turn up following the aftermath of the Kargil misadventure by Pakistan in May 1999. Ironically, it was the same year that Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pak PM Nawaz Shrief flagged off the first Indo-Pak bus service-’Sada –E Sarhad’ in February, earlier that same year grandly labeled- Bus Diplomacy.
Alas, Kargil war, viewed as a back stabbing operation by Pak , served as a bolt from the blue, for the efforts of peace, close on the heels of the CBM euphoria over improving Indo Pak relations .
Nayyar however regrets that his RS membership held him back from joining Peace activists, when he was most needed. The journalist’s recent revelations of attending conferences organized by Ghulam Nabi Fai –an American Indian Kashmiri funded by the notorious Pak agency ISI, has him apologetic for the same.
That he showed up, despite the allegations and his knobby knees without assistance is the man’s indisputable courage to take up responsibility and face consequences and questions of the alleged unholy rendezvous.
In its 65th year of Independence, and 16 years of ‘candle lit vigil’ this is only the 4th time that peaceniks from Pakistan were allowed to come near the gate to give momentum to the movement for peace and prosperity in the region.
And the jubilation turned infections when Hans Raj Hans an Indian sufi singer sang from the Pakistan side where he graced the occasion on the mutual Peace Exchange programme.
Hans has been a regular in the peace overtures held annually. While the Indians glowed and waved the candles to the other side, Pakistanis took the protocol liberty more enthusiastically and mounted upon the metal gates, peeking through and singing songs while the Pak Rangers and Border Security Force personnel smiled and laughed at their antics indulgently.
Hans along with Mohsin Shaukat Ali sang extempore ‘Tere Mere geetan pyaar da Pul bandhna, Iss kaandiyali Tarr ne ek din Phul banna …’ (Our songs shall one day become a bridge, ..this barbed wire shall one day turn into a flower..). ‘Heer’- another common legend of love invoking sufi Waris Shah to smoothen the paths of love and friendship And the crowds on both sides were in raptures. Hans and Mohsin churned soul stirring melodies, drawing encores, wah-wahs and irshads .
Tara Gandhi grand daughter of Father of the Nation, joined along with Satnam Manak, Punjabi crooner Harbhajan Mann of ‘galaan goriya , te vich toye’ (fair cheeks with dimples!) fame to make the night dance in euphoria.
Famed Pakistani Punjabi sufi singer ‘Shaukat Ali’ sang ‘Chala’ Meriya —Gal sunn chaleya, Dhola ve kannu Rola..”, along his equally gifted son Mohsin Shaukat Ali during the candle lit vigil, making the crowds clap in unison. It was an indescribable moment of intoxication.
Indians Maasha Ali, and trisome teenage Ali Brothers drummed out the famed trespasses of ‘Jugni’- the cult female , brave and rebellious stamping the huge crowd thumping on with slogans of Peace . While Jyoti and Sultana- the Noora Sisters, unleashed sufi classical bonding the gathering of multitudes that trickled in from border villagers. The crowds swung into a frenzy of music, Bhangra and Buraaah !
A 40 member peace delegation From Pakistan of Gen Sect SAFMA Ijaz Ali, former minister Chaudhary Manzoor Ahmed, Sobia Cheema, Ayesha Sohail made fervent appeal to both nations to grant a visa-less travel to senior citizens, for a year, especially those who had suffered the pain of the partition.
The call did not end here. It called for visa less travel for under 12 year olds. The idea was brilliant. In other words it called for grandparents to take their grandchildren to the land of their forefathers and forge a feeling of love amongst those who have no idea of the lingering enmity between the two nations goaded by vested interests amongst politicians and others whose lifeline lay in continued hostilities.
”Visa counters at JCP on both sides to facilitate travel for the common people between the two nations” was another suggestion that had made visa granting cumbersome. The vetting and grant on both borders meant more people to people contact and a chance to remove long festered misgivings and doubts.
I again stole a glance at the moon. The clouds had vanished and its baby face shone glorious in magnificent halo joined by twinkling stars, banishing darkness, its shimmering glow mesmerized humanity and drenched them into a glow of love.