Day 2 of the Khushwant Singh Lit Fest saw what turned out to be one of the most thought-provoking and lively sessions so far. Titled ‘Khushwant Singh as a bridge between India and Pakistan,’ the session saw in attendance politicians Salman Khurshid and Mani Shankar Aiyar, Pakistani newspaper and TV personality Asif Noorani and art historian Fakir Syed Aijazuddin with the discussion moderated by news presenter Rajdeep Sardesai.
“We communicate with each other through art and music, but have forgotten to communicate as countries,” said Khurshid. Mani Shankar Aiyer intervened Khurshid, saying it was politicians who wanted war as they prospered through it. “Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh and Narendra Modi have never even walked across the border and these are the people who want to fight Pakistan,” added Aiyar, at which point the crowd erupted into a furore over his blatant pro- Congress remarks.
Raising a point which silenced the crowd, Aijazuddin said, “I find it hard to believe that you never forgave Jaswant Singh and LK Advani for praising Jinnah as they are as Indian at heart as any of you and yet, they had to pay for it,” adding, “I do have a vested interest in India’s nuclear programme and why shouldn’t I? I’m the target for it!”
Taking the discussion forward, Sardesai questioned the speakers on how the younger generation could stop viewing one other through the prism of violence and gain a better understanding of their respective neighbour. “The power of the pen must not be seen as inferior to the power of a gun. We need to let our cultural artistes travel freely across the border and see the country firsthand for themselves,” said Khurshid, emphasising the need for free travel across the border. “No cricket and no hockey for god sake, enough with the sports. Get your artists and musicians across to us and we’ll do the same,” said Noorani, adding, “I believe that this generation is more indifferent than full of hatred.” Both the speakers highlighted how culture could not be held hostage to politics to which Mani Shankar Aiyar blamed the lack of knowledge in society for the indifferent attitude. “People are clueless and hence dependent on their leaders. It us up to the people of each country to take the relationship forward by understanding what the other country is about, on their own.”
“India and Pakistan should have ‘Munni Badnam Hui’ as their common national anthem,” laughed Aiyar. Sardesai added if a war was to start between the two countries, it would start on TV and not the border.
“A Pakistani friend of mine said the Pakistani generals they see on Indian TV are people they laugh at and don’t take seriously and then I found out that these generals are paid $400 an hour for these appearances,” he added.
Aijazuddin steered the conversation back to the topic of discussion and shared an incident that reminded all present of Khushwant Singh’s spirit which was bigger than the enmity that exists between the two nations.
He read out from a letter that a former Pakistani Prisoner of War (PoW) had written and published on his Facebook account after Khushwant Singh’s death:
Goodbye Khushwant Singh. I met you in Calcutta at Fort Williams while I was a PoW there. I was being treated for my wounds at CMH and you heard about the wounded Pakistani officer and took time out to visit me. You gave me Bengali rasgulas and told me stories of my birthplace Multan and Lahore and your time in Pakistan. The visit lasted about an hour as the Indian officer was getting impatient to send me back to my cell. Before leaving, you gave me a hug and your signed book ‘Train to Pakistan’ and said ‘Rab Rakha’. Later, I would find out that you wrote a letter to my mother telling her how you met me and how I was doing. The letter would arrive at a time when my family was giving up hope of ever seeing me alive as my status in GHQ, Rawalpindi, was missing in action, believed killed . Thank you, Sir Khushwant Singh and Rab Rakha. RIP Shujaat Khan.