Lines on an atlas can only demarcate political boundaries. Music, art, culture, language, costumes, food habits and mutual love of a people stemming from the same civilisation can neither be demarcated nor divided.
Can we in Pakistan give up Kabir, Ghalib, Momin, Daag, Firaq and Rabindranath Tagore, or Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Jasraj, Pt Omkarnath Thakur, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Gangubai Hangal and Ajoy Chakrabarty just because they live across a line drawn on an atlas? And can anyone in India say that he will give up on Baba Farid, Bulleh Shah, Shah Hussain, Waris Shah, Sultan Bahu or Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ahmed Faraz and Intizar Hussain? Will the music created by the likes of Barkat Ali Khan, Amanat Ali Khan, Abida Parveen, Iqbal Bano, Farida Khanum, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and numerous other artistes be any less intoxicating just because they live across that line? Can we really divide our common heritage? Are Mohenjo-daro, Taxila and Indus Valley civilisation divisible?
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Politicians and forces have always found reasons to fight, but the common man does not want bloodshed and hatred; he is far too busy making a living. I, as an artist, strongly feel that during such times, it is the responsibility of the creative forces on both sides to strive for love and a peaceful co-existence.
As neighbours, we share a lot of common things, culturally and on other levels. TV programmes of India, which are syndicated to Pakistani channels and vice versa, are part of these cultural exchanges. Indian movies are being screened in Pakistani single-screen theatres and that is generating revenue for both countries — what would have earlier gone into the pockets of pirates.
From toothpastes to fashion products to eatables, tonnes of Indian products sell in Pakistan. A lot of singers from India, including Rekha Bhardwaj, Shaan, Sonu Nigam, Shreya Ghoshal and others, have been singing songs for popular Pakistani serials. A lot of advertisements for Pakistani products are being shot by Indian ad agencies and filmmakers. Indian singers such as Kumar Sanu, Kailash Kher, Alka Yagnik and many others have been coming to Pakistan to perform just like we come to India to perform. Artistes from both countries can vouch for the love of the audiences on both sides.
A lot of effort goes into building these bridges and making these exchanges happen. One stray incident by someone, who is clearly the enemy of both countries, sets us back by years. People on both sides get completely swayed by what their news channels show and start believing in this hatred. That’s all it takes to get people to start fighting with each other. However, as a race, we have always managed to remember our common culture and background and move forward.
But this time, I have experienced something that is sad. Thanks to social media, we have all been privy to the mindless hatred that often stems from a lack of knowledge about facts. The intensity of aggression among common people on such platforms is shocking.
I realise these are open platforms where people can write whatever they want, their aggression directed at those who talk of peace and positivity. Obviously, there are people on both sides who are against any such attempts. They are the ones who threaten the freedom of expression of those who make an attempt at maintaining sanity in an already troubled situation.
I believe art and artistes play the role of uplifting the collective consciousness of people, as they have always done over centuries and across the globe. We never think of Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar, Mohammad Rafi, R D Burman, S D Burman as Indian singers or artistes “from the other side”. We consider them our artistes and similarly, Pakistani artistes such as Farida Khanum, Abida Parveen, Noor Jehan and Mehdi Hassan have been loved by Indians as their own. This is evidence that art bridges gaps.
Since the 1950s, when music conferences took place in Lahore or in India, artistes from both sides have gone across and performed in each other’s countries. My father Ustad Amanat Ali Khan and uncle Ustad Fateh Ali Khan were part of all such conferences as well and performed in India. Poets from both sides have always exchanged their poetry. Ahmed Faraz, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Gulzar and Sahir Ludhianvi have written a lot about the emotional bond between the two nations.
The recent events leading to the halt of this enriching exchange on both sides is sad as it involves emotional and financial stakes for people in both the countries. Political differences should be resolved at the political level. As a wise man once said, “Don’t close all doors. Always leave one door open for discussions and solutions.”
Not having peace will only lead us towards destruction. I shall conclude with an appeal to all on the sub-continent: “Ek shajar aisa mohabbat ka lagaya jaye/ Jiska humsaye ke aangan mein bhi saya jaye (Plant a tree of love in your courtyard/ Which will lend its shade to your neighbour’s courtyard).”