Sometime back my esteemed journalist friend wrote, “Fawad, go back!”
That was his frustrations talking after the Uri attacks, shocked that the big star whom now India and Pakistan jointly shares and celebrates, didn’t even officially issue a statement condemning the atrocity. The world immediately divided into fragments over the blog. Many sent him hate messages, some congratulated him for singing the song of their hearts, very few empathized with the helplessness of an anonymous Indian citizen who didn’t know which door to knock and seek an answer. Because the famous ones whose statements could have made some difference, chose to remain quiet!
“There are two Pakistan’s in Pakistan. One is cultured, educated and intellectually rich. The other is brutal and violent. When brutality and violence wakes up, they don’t consider who they are slaughtering.”
This I wrote on social media, perhaps trying to understand why an important voice signifying Indo-Pak friendship and cultural exchange, is silent today.
A friend who had earlier condemned the “Go back” article, reacted fiercely. “You said there are two Pakistans in Pakistan… just as there are multiple India’s in India,” was a part of her argument. I couldn’t respond immediately as the uproar had got me thinking already. True that there are many Indias in India, and that makes it a confused state. But the two Pakistan’s in Pakistan make it an “extreme” state. They are either extremely inspiring with an envious creative inheritance; or they belong to dark corners hatching plans for hatred and bloodshed. There’s hardly anyone in between, or beyond!
Given that truth, how would a person with family living in Pakistan speak out on such a sensitive issue, irrespective of whether he at all wishes to? Does being the huge celebrity that he is, guarantee him any kind of safety for himself or his family?
Would we, the Indians, be able to wholeheartedly appreciate a statement of condemnation coming from him? In the past have we been fair towards our own citizens who tried to drill some sense into fundamentalism?
So where does it leave the so-called cultural icon?
Basically, the “huge star” who has touched hearts and made dividing lines softer (well, for a few), today isn’t practically left with a land to call his own. He can’t be “himself” and voice out freely either in his own country, or in the country that has given him work.
For those who never visited Pakistan or never interacted with a simple middle class Pakistani, had no idea about what brews in the other side of the border till Zindagi channel opened some eyes. It was refreshing to know that people there aren’t sitting and planning terrorism over breakfast, women aren’t compulsorily covered with a burqa, polygamous men are not considered heroes in their society and relationships there get defined by love as it happens in every other civilized society. And yes, all these come with doses of regressive mind-sets, orthodox ploys, sarcasm towards the neighbour, religious fanaticism, etc.…none of which are concepts alien to India.
Fawad Khan, Mahira Khan, Imran Abbas, Mawra Hocane et al stand for that beautiful face of Pakistan, attesting the progressive side of the country, which we were once happy to discount off as non-existent.
For every political nuisance that takes place, the worst effects are borne by sports, literary and cultural icons, perhaps because they are easier to target. What we forget is that, these are the people helping us to keep the scope of an exchange alive. These are soft negotiators against hatred, propagating friendship in their own way. Shutting off cross-border art and culture is the easiest thing to do. It will make a few insecure professionals happy. The political figures will show some hard-core measures being taken up their sleeves. But the fact still remains, that does this do anything to discourage the terrorists? Is it like Pakistan will never attack India if we give a golden handshake to Fawad Khan, say no to cricketers, don’t allow their literary experts to attend our literary festivals? Will Uri forget and forgive?
Does the political machinery of either countries give a damn?
The only good that we’ll achieve by doing that is, we will block the graceful face of the country from reaching us, and expose ourselves only to the horrific, ugly face. So are we saying that we want to stop the beautiful things from reaching us because we can’t prevent the ugly?
Artists are often called the conscience of the society because their work can be a powerful tool to command beauty, shape perceptions and offer truthful criticisms. Artists can touch their audience with their own depiction of time, surrogately becoming the agents of change thus. That’s exactly where both countries need to value their cross-border collaborations and stick to their contracts with a bitter-sweet resolution.
Pakistani actors being a part of Indian storytelling might just end up telling something critical and crucial, to both nations. Popular culture and art shapes the image of a country to the world outside. It reaches and influences a wider audience. Film especially, is an extremely powerful medium with its innate ability to create that illusion between fantasy and reality. They can arouse sentiments and faith, bringing diverse people together from two different sides of the screen; it can empower audiences with knowledge and consciousness.
Those who are worried about the Pakistani actors taking back fat pay cheques from Bollywood stay assured that the relationship is fairly based on economics. No one is doing any favour. There’s a potential market which is getting catered and Indian Film Industry wouldn’t have hired Fawad Khan if he didn’t bring them lucrative returns.
It is an accepted fact nevertheless that Fawad Khan isn’t a face that you look at and move on. His grace gets his audience to believe in him, it prompts them to make an effort to understand whatever he wants to say through his craft. Let’s not burden him with more expectations. Let the cultural exchange slowly but steadily do its job. Developing and fostering that relationship with people is the only way to pressurise the government. There’s practically no other way. At least these people through their work and through their being, serve as the direct spokespersons who prevent wrong information from being fed to the citizens of either countries. These are the people who help define soft power as against the more aggressive form of power, which has failed us across generations anyway!
The soldiers who died brutal and unfair deaths at Uri were human beings first. And they were failed by humanity. Let our political heads first take charge and ensure safety for their Armed Forces. Let intelligence not fail at the domestic level. Banning cross-border cultural exchange would serve no more than an eye-wash against the security failure at domestic level and communication failure at the international level, onus of which lies with the politics of both India and Pakistan.
The author tweets at @