Culture caught in the Indo-Pak crossfire
By Rashmi Talwar
Culture, sports and soft exchanges become the first casualty, of any aberration between touchy neighbours- India and Pakistan. Peace is so fragile, like a delicate porcelain cup and a mere fingerprint on its exterior results in smudges of rancor, heated exchanges and petulant stands.
Recent dastardly incident of beheading of an Indian soldier and mutilation of another, counter killing of Pakistani soldier, in early January this year, became the proverbial fingerprint and did exactly that.
Following the recent Indo-Pak standoff, many initiatives and itineraries went haywire.
Permissions were roller-coastered and blood pressure on both sides shot up. Few hapless ones were caught in the crossfire and could hardly be consoled.
One such was Madeeha Gauhar Director of Ajoka Theatre, Pakistan.
Madeeha, along with her team of 20 theater artists and another Karachi based group -National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) invited by National School of Drama (NSD) was scheduled to present plays commemorating the 100th birth anniversary of noted Indo Pak writer Saadat Hassan Manto, in Delhi. But the shows of both plays were abruptly cancelled by NSD . This was attributed to instructions by government during the ongoing acrimony between the two countries, following the recent LoC incident.
A perturbed Madeeha revealed to Sify.Com, on her way back to Pakistan – “On the scheduled date of January 16, merely two hours before our performance, we were told that we would not be permitted to perform our play ‘Kon hai ye Gustakh’ based on Manto’s life. Another Pakistani Play ‘Mantorama’ by NAPA led by Zia Mohuddin, was similarly cancelled.”
As Madeeha complained of an “indecent exit” wherein their theater troupe was bundled into a bus and were not given any lunch, she also confided that she subsequently met Minister for External Affairs Salman Khurshid, who himself is a playwright of ‘-Sons of Babar’.
She stated, that when she queried the minister- “How could India treat its guests in this manner by canceling performances , the house was fully sold out and booked for both Pakistani plays and artists were left high and dry.”
To which, she claimed, Khurshid answered that “Union Government issued no instructions to suspend the Pak performances.”
Madeeha said she confronted the NSD Director Anuradha Kapoor on this, who said there were specific government instructions behind this cancellation.
Anuradha, when contacted by Sify.com retorted back that the chairperson of NSD got written instructions from the Delhi government to cancel the Pak performances on safety and public peace issues.
She further added that NSD being a government run organization has to conform to government instructions and guidelines.
Moreover, she said, cancellation of the two plays was a bigger loss to NSD, who had financed the entire tour of the two plays from Pakistan and gave full payment and continued hospitality to those from Pakistan, till they stayed in Delhi. Alternately, NSD, had to face the proverbial music from the audience, who were angry and had to be refunded for their tickets. She admitted that the Jaipur leg of the theater performance was also similarly cancelled.
Anuradha further defended, “Madeeha has been invited by NSD for last so many years, how could she not understand that any untoward happening could have serious consequences. Would Pakistan dump Indian artists to face a hostile audience if the plan was vice-versa?” she asked
Later, however a theater group led by Arvind Gaur `arranged two performances of Madeeha’s play on a single day at Akshara Theater, Delhi and another at Jawahar Lal Nehru University, Delhi, that ended late at 1.00am on January 18th.
Even though Madeeha and Anuradha – both noted theater personalities are at logger heads over the cancellation of the Pak plays, they admit they see a big leap ahead in soft overtures of diplomacy on cultural and sports front, that could wipe away the short-lived distrust amongst the two nations
Theater was not the only casualty of the Indo Pak hostility, suspension of cross LoC trade and LoC bus between both sides of Kashmir too brought anxious moments to traders and visitors on both sides of Jammu& Kashmir. India too fell in the game of ‘tit-for-tat’ and unceremoniously turned back Pakistani hockey players from crossing over to India.
To top it all, a unique initiative involving spot visa on arrival for 65-year olds to visit each other’s country with as many as five destinations, too took a beating.
The initiative was scheduled to come into force on January 14. Ironically, the same morning saw its inauguration and suspension in quick succession.
However, veteran Indian journalist Chanchal Manohar Singh inadvertently created history on this morning to become the first to cross the Indo- Pak border under the senior citizen’s spot visa scheme.
Chanchal, speaking from Lahore to Sify.com said things were very normal in Pakistan and he has faced no harassment. He pointed out that had some similar performances been scheduled in Pakistan by Indians then the situation could have been different.
Despite these hot and cold moods, customary sweets were exchanged between BSF and Pak Rangers marking the celebration of India’s 64th Republic day, this 26th January which has become sort of a litmus test to gauge the temperatures on both sides. Also the arrival of 15 Pak women entrepreneurs under WCCI (Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry) in India yesterday and resumption of trade and bus service on LoC seems like a move forward.
Peace is fragile and can be fractured by the slightest of incidents goaded by media hype; such is the heightened sentiment between both distrusting neighbors- India and Pakistan.
Meanwhile senior citizens who were elated over the spot-visa scheme once again wait, somewhat more anxiously, this time, holding the fragile porcelain cup and hoping that it would not get smudged this time around.