Ajeet Cour

We are meeting here in the shadow of the catastrophe of a horrible earthquake which spread across a large area, from Islamabad to Baramula, Uri, Mandi, Amritsar, Delhi, because natural catastrophes don’t respect boundaries.
Human compassion also transcends borders and boundaries. Both President Musharraf of Pakistan and our Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, have offered help to each other. That is precisely what defines cultural dimensions of our region.
We at the Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature have been endeavouring to include cultural dimensions to the original vision of SAARC which was formed in 1985 for economic cooperation. Our endeavours, to project the significance of cultural connectivity in the region spanned over the last two decades—with vision and commitment.
Let us first try to decipher the contours of culture. Is it our art and literature ? Is it our anthropological heritage ? Is it our way of life ? Is it how we think, behave, go about our business of life ? Is it about our traditions ? Our historical memories ?
And who can be sure that Time does not distort those historical memories ?
And haven’t the accepted cultural norms been undergoing constant changes and transformation over centuries of human existence on this planet ? Was buying and selling of slaves not a component of human culture in certain parts of the world ? Weren’t human sacrifices a part of culture ? Weren’t gladiators a part of entertainment culture ? Weren’t fighting wars for territories not an essential part of human culture ? Weren’t expanding empires for power, for supremacy, for glory, a part of culture?
Weren’t mummifying the kings after their death, and surrounding them with all their queens and concubines and slaves, mostly by poisoning them and mummifying them, along with the choicest of foods and clothes and jewellery, so that the mighty kings shouldn’t be deprived of the comforts and luxuries they were accustomed to in their lives, and keep enjoying them till eternity, a part of culture ?
And, discovering new lands by those couple of nations who had the knowledge and the money to build strong ships, and had the courage to negotiate the turbulent oceans ? What was the culture involved ? To establish their supremacy over new lands, make the inhabitants their slaves, whipping them to load their own food and minerals and wealth on the ships of the invaders ?
In the half-lit grey Museum in Mauritius, I saw a unique map of the world. The continents and oceans of the world were lying flat on a sepia-tinted paper, the size of a medium-sized table. It was lying there, the world, with a thick red line dividing it in the middle.
What was this red line ? A couple of centuries back, the Dutch and the Spaniards occupied that lush green island by turns, fought each other, turned out one, while the other ruled over it. Eventually, they sat across the table, and decided to divide not only that island but the whole world into two halves, “One part you explore, exploit and rule ; the other we will !” – they decided, cheered, and raised toast to this unique decision.
The whole world was lying there, on an old, worn-out, sepia-coloured, hand-made paper, with a river of blood flowing in the middle. And I was reminded of more recent histories of similar rivers of blood : during Partition in our own country, during the World Wars, during ethnic cleansings, during carpet bombings of Afghanistan and Iraq, vast chunks of humanity brutally killed and uprooted !
Which culture and which civilization are we talking about ?
The same brutality can be witnessed even without apparent wars. Because wars are being fought every day, brutality lives on, rich becoming richer and the poor pushed to starvations and deaths !
Wars continue to be fought in the name of nationalism, patriotism, religions, territories ! And believe it, for cultures too !
With the technological revolution, globalisation has brought people closer as never before. But at the same time it has stolen our dreams from our eyes, compassion from our hearts, sensitivity from our souls!
Most of the countries in this sub-continent have historical, religious and cultural affinities. Even, economic interdependence. But when SAARC Charter was finalized, the leaders and economists forgot to include the important connecting force in the region : culture.