Shobhaa De, a perennially popular figure at literary festivals in Pakistan, wrote a delightful blog for the Times of India, where she rebuked Giriraj Singh for ‘advising’ all those who didn’t support Narendra Modi to go to Pakistan.

The title of the piece was engrossing too – Move to Pakistan? Our bags are packed.

De didn’t ask him why a special mention of Pakistan, why not other neighbours, Nepal, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka? Why not China which has a lot more area than Pakistan and is not on the best of terms with his own country?

My friend Badar Alam, the editor of Herald, had a brilliant idea. We would welcome broad-minded and secular Indians, provided Giriraj Singh would accept our extremists.

Let’s not forget that birds of the same feather, with dark green plumage or saffron-coloured, have in the past helped each other stir trouble in both countries. We will, of course, be glad to have Shobhaa De, Sudheendra Kulkarni, Gulzar, Bina Sarkar Elias, Ritu Menon and their likes in Pakistan. How sad! Khushwant Singh left this world a bit early.

Lahore would have been more than happy to have its ‘son’ back. But there are others. One notable Lahorite is the Ravian Pran Nevile, who remembers his native city with slightly more ardour than when he recalls his heartthrob of yesteryear – the nautch girl Tamancha Jan.

Back to Ms De, it’s about time she wrote the revised version of How to Win friends and Influence People. She was a scene-stealer at the two sessions she featured in the recently-held Islamabad Literature Festival. What is more, she suffered even a couple of boring people after her session without a wrinkle on her forehead, if I may use a convenient Urdu/Hindi expression.

 The panel members in the session on the Magazine Culture are Rimmel Mohydin, Mehwash Amin, Shobhaa De and Amna Ali. In the centre is the moderator Asif Noorani, who called himself a thorn among roses.
The panel members in the session on the Magazine Culture are Rimmel Mohydin, Mehwash Amin, Shobhaa De and Amna Ali. In the centre is the moderator Asif Noorani, who called himself a thorn among roses.

By the way, the literature festival in the capital may have had fewer people than the ones held in Karachi and Lahore this year because the people in Islamabad don’t get up early from their beds on holidays but the quality of speakers and participants were of no less calibre.

Ameena Saiyid, OBE, the founder of the festivals in the country’s capital and its largest city, is thinking of starting the daily proceedings at 11 am, instead of 10 in Islamabad next year. That stands to reason.

One person the organisers of festivals should consider inviting is the scholar and former journalist, Sudheendra Kulkarni. A friend of Pakistan and Pakistanis, Sudheen, as he is called by his friends, was an avowed Communist until the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The pendulum swung in another direction, when he was enamoured by the depth and the vision of Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

He became Atalji’s right hand man. Sudheen also wrote the speech, delivered by L.K. Advani at the Quaid-e-Azam’s mausoleum. He called Mr Jinnah a secular person, which annoyed LK’s party members. Kulkarni doesn’t subscribe to Modi’s extreme views so he has kept himself aloof from the BJP.

Experience has taught me that the vast majority of people in India and Pakistan don’t bear grudge against each other. On my trip to Mumbai and Pune last year, the one question I was frequently asked was, ‘What is the price of onions in Pakistan?’ This was because onions were sold for Rs 100 per kg in those days. In Pakistan the price was Rs 50. The prices of tomatoes in those days were the other way round.

I was invited to speak on the need for cultural closeness between India and Pakistan at the Observer Research Foundation’s Mumbai branch. The response was overwhelming. The famous poet Gulzar chaired the session. Speaking on the occasion, he called Pakistan his vatan (he was born in Dina) and India his mulk.

The response to my plea for close cultural relations was overwhelming. The Q&A session was lively too, though as in Pakistan, such occasions feature one or two impertinent questions. I was asked where Dawood Ibrahim was hiding in Karachi. The questioner was booed but I felt that avoiding the query would have meant weakness on my part, so all I said was “You are asking the wrong person, I don’t even know my next door neighbour, so how would I have known the whereabouts of your friend.”

In all my trips to India, I only met one person who spoke violently against Pakistan. That was at the India International Centre, Delhi, where Tales of Two Cities, the book that I co-authored with Kuldip Nayar, was launched. That was in 2008. At tea after the function was over, he spoke non-stop against Pakistan. I tried to avoid him, but all in vain.

“You don’t seem to be an Indian,” I remarked.

“What makes you think so? I am a proud Indian,” he said loudly.

“I am not convinced because in India and Pakistan, we are courteous with our guests. You are not,” I said, without losing my temper.

“What should we then talk about?” he queried.

“Music,” I said, thinking that it would be the most non-controversial subject.

“Hasn’t Lata Mangeshkar been a better singer than Noor Jehan?” the man was very persistent.

“Please tell him that you can’t compare apples with oranges,” I told the other people there. He was pushed away and I was left to converse with some very nice people.

The cutest question that I was asked was in Pune, which I was visiting after 35 years. At a school, the questioner was a girl from Class 5:

Who is more popular in Pakistan, Shahrukh Khan or Salman Khan?

“I am afraid we have not had popularity polls,” I replied evasively.

“Who is your favourite?”

“My favourite is Madhuri Dixit,” I said drawing peals of laughter but the little girl didn’t laugh. She had every right to keep her lips sealed for her question wasn’t answered.

I will only be too happy if Mr Giriraj Singh pushed Madhuri Dixit into Pakistan.

Opinion

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