A WORD WITH YOU !
When I look back, way back in 1986, the launching of a mad dream of catching that elusive golden sparrow called Peace in a rather turbulent SAARC region, through meeting of creative and sensitive minds, seemed real mad to everybody in power, whosoever I went begging for granting visas for writers from Pakistan.
Yes, I launched my rickety boat in the turbulent sea witha writers’ conference of Indian and Pakistani writers, in the autumn of 1987, which became a historical milestone. Ever since, I never had the time to look back.
The endeavour grew into a full-fledged movement over the years, maturing into the first-ever SAARC Writers Conference in April 2000.
I confess the idea came from the then Joint Secretary SAARC, Meera Shankar, because in the rules-bound, red-tape-wrapped bureaucracy, rarely emerge some officials who go beyond their briefs, and listen to the voice of future which only the heart can hear. She invited me to South Block and said, “We need you to do a SAARC Writers Conference in which you invite all those writers from neighbouring countries, whom you keep inviting for all your literary initiatives. We need a non-government organisation to do this for cultural connectivity of the region”.
That was 1999, and I started working on the First-ever SAARC Writers Conference, which eventually happened like a miracle in April 2000.
After years, Dr. Kheya Bhattacharya, the current Joint Secretary looking after the SAARC region, is another such intellectually and culturally aware person who listens to both the voices of head and heart. It is because of her vision that the Ministry of External Affairs is our partner in this Conference.
And of course, Dr. Sheel Kant Sharma, the Secretary General of SAARC Secretariat, who is another miracle maker !
Way back, towards the end of 2001, his predecessor Dr. Nihal Rodrigo sent me an email, “The SAARC SUMMIT has decided to take all of you, the rogue writers, on board. You have been applauded for doing great work. Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature will now work as SAARC RECOGNISED BODY under our SAARC banner”.
The status has now been elevated to SAARC APEX BODY.
During the same SAARC Summit, culture was included in the SAARC Charter as an important component which can create connectivity among the people of SAARC region.
The ‘rogue writers’ have been given great eminence and affection by all his successors, including the current Secretary General Dr. Sheel Kant Sharma whom I welcome with all my heart !
The terms which have now become household words in SAARC vocabulary, were initially coined and chiselled by us, like ‘people-to-people contacts’, ‘confidence-building-measures’, ‘cultural connectivity’.
It is only through culture, and particularly through exchange of creative ideas that we can celebrate the diversity of South Asian Identity, focusing on the regional languages of the people, not only on the written word but also the oral folklore, to celebrate the ancient civilisational links, throbbing and alive, since the times of Harappa.
In times of terror, the writers and the whole creative fraternity is duty-bound, through the voice of our own conscience, to walk all the way, on the pilgrimage of peace. Together ! Determined !
Our drive carried the torch of peace forward, and eventually convinced everybody to recognize the strength of literature and creative ideas, of a whole generation of authors and intelligentsia who have been constantly pained by the very act of existing in these times of crumbling values, devaluation of democracy, poverty and deprivations of a hundred kinds, hunger and malnutrition, degradation of environment and neglect of precious historical heritage, marginalisation of folklore, neglect of the marginalized : the tribals, the dalits, women and adivasis, suspicions about our neighbours, bearing the bruises of history which sliced a country like cutting a cake, leaving behind a trail of blood, hatred and suspicion.
But if life has to move forward, we have to find ways to mend the torn souls, chisel out new values for reconciliation, to forge peace in this age of turbulence.
If you ask me what can the collective voice of intelligentia achieve, that too from a non-government NGO platform, let me confide in you just one example out of hundreds of them.
In 2002, during our SAARC Writers Conference in Islamabad, Hamid Mir of Geo TV asked me the same question, and I said, “When the warring tribals in vast deserts get wounded, tired, exhausted, they come to the oasis, looking for water and food, where the chieftain sits in a white tent. He tells them, ‘You can stay here as long as you want, give rest to your camels and horses. There is plenty to eat. But deposit all your weapons with me’.
“Before they leave, probably half of them have fallen in love and decided to stay back for a peaceful life. That is what we, the creative fraternity of the SAARC region are doing, pitching that white tent in the cruel sands of vast deserts.”
For an hour-long live telecast, I had asked him to invite two Pakistani writers also in the programme, while I felt secure in the towering presence of our own Manohar Shyam Joshi, the creator of ‘Hum Log’ and ‘Buniyad’. His next question, “What is your idea of Kashmir ?” couldn’t take any wind out of my sail. I said, “Kashmir is jannat of this earth, created by Allah himself, in a moment of lucidity and love”. Pre-empting his next question, the Pakistani playwright and journalist Munnu Bhai retorted, “Arre Bhai, idhar wale Kas