Joy Bangla !
I feel honoured in the presence of the Hon’ble Prime Minister of Bangladesh Begum Sheikh Hasina Sahiba, an old friend with whom I spent many memorable afternoons in her Pandara Road flat in New Delhi when she, the great daughter of the Bangabandhu, the Father of Bangladesh nation, spent time in India in exile. I am proud to be in Bangladesh which is the only country in the world which fought a unique war of liberation under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who fought like a lion for preserving traditions, culture and language ! All that is important to preserve a country’s dignity. Three million martyrs sacrificed their lives in response to one call of Bangabandhu, because the call came straight from his heart ! War of Liberation of Bangladesh was different and unique, because it was for preservation of the ‘Vibrant Spirit of Man’ which throbs and thrives only in its own Culture and in its own Language ! I am extremely grateful to ‘WRITE FOUNDATION’ for having invited me to this august gathering of writers, scholars, intellectuals, translators and academics for the SAARC Literary Festival. It has happened because of single-minded, consistent and persistent devotion, and passionate dedication to the cause by Rubana Huq and her colleagues. I am proud to say that WRITE Foundation is affiliated to our FOUNDATION OF SAARC WRITERS AND LITERATURE, the SAARC APEX BODY.
Let me start my deliberations with the Partition of the country, the blood-soaked gift that the British left us along with the Independence of the country. The most treacherous historical tragedy of our sub-continent in the middle of the last century, when Punjab and Bengal were cut and slashed like a piece of cake, because Jinnah said Hindus and Muslims were two separate nations, and the Muslims wanted their own country to live in. It resulted in genocidal violence and the largest migration in history. A few years later, he was proved wrong when Bangladesh came into existence, proving that language and culture are supreme, more important than religion, for any geographical entity. The result of the Partition was catastrophic. It was a holocaust, which left the stench of rotting corpses, and broken, wailing hearts on both sides of the divide. After thirty five years of Partition, I decided to reach out across the bruised memories of Partition, still smouldering under the debris of history. I decided to locate like-minded writers and intellectuals in Pakistan who were committed to peace and good-neighbourly relations between the two countries. The SAARC CHARTER was signed in December 1985. But when I saw the document, I was baffled. It was only a sort of trade document, that all the seven countries should encourage trade with each other. There was no mention of any cultural exchanges or people-to-people contacts ! It took me one and a half years of intense struggle to get ten visas for the writers of Pakistan to participate in an Indo-Pakistan Literary Meet in Delhi, in September 1987. Exactly 40 years after the Partition, writers of Pakistan set foot on Indian soil. It was like a huge family reunion. There were no ‘others’. There was only ‘dosti’, friendship, and hugging each other in happy abandon, like long-lost close relatives.
The experiment was so successful that it still continues, after 44 of such memorable events, in which now other SAARC countries also join in and participate. After seeing the huge success of our cultural and literary endeavours, and realising their importance, the SAARC Charter was amended on January 1, 2002, and Culture included in it. History does create countless borders of sorrow, demanding vengeance for historical wrongs, but with effort we can fight the lingering blood-soaked shadows of history and prove that the otherness of the others is nothing but a myth, a bafflement, which becomes larger than life in cruel, mad, senseless times. It can be overcome. We can reach out for reconciliations, because people across borders are the children of the same cultural and civilisational heritage. We live the same way. Our food habits, our clothes, our celebrations of marriages, and our sorrow at deaths which overflows in songs, is the same. We in the SAARC Region are the unique people who express their sorrow over the dead in loud wails of songs. History cannot be forgotten, but can definitely be analysed. All the meaningless, useless, idiotic sufferings can be seen in their true perspective, and one can reach across their misty nothingness. The result of our constant Literary Conferences, Festivals of Literature, of Folklore, of Sufism, of Buddhism, of Peace, of Environment, have resulted in forming a big family of writers, scholars and intellectuals of India and the neighbouring seven SAARC countries.
It is a family of intellectuals of eight SAARC Countries who solidly stand for peace and reconciliation beyond borders. We have been building bridges of cultural connectivity with all the countries of the SAARC region since 1987. We share a dream that one day the borders will be opened, and people of the SAARC region will live like an extended family. We hope this dream of ‘Trust and Reconciliation Beyond Borders’ will come true one day. With our endeavours like this present Festival, we will be able to heal history.
Thank you !