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Perhaps one day we can have peace too

Published Oct 27, 2012 09:16am


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I heard the snow being crushed under someone’s feet. The night was silent, although the wind made a hissing sound as it blew across the street. I could still hear the footsteps.

I looked out the window. The snow had stopped. The footprints were still there. But the traveller had gone, disappeared into one of the side streets.

“Hatred is not an alternative for love, but he thinks if there is another war, his side could win,” my friend was reading his “A Short Poem for My Neighbour.”

His name, I do not want to reveal because that will show whether he is an Indian or a Pakistan. And this he does not want. It is not because he hides his nationality. He is proud of what he is. He just does not want this poem to be tied to a particular country.

So every time he reads this poem, he asks the audience not to identify him as an Indian or a Pakistani. “It will prevent me from reaching that neutral point in your heart I want to reach,” he argues.

So I have to respect his wish while translating this poem, which is much more effective in its original form.

“He thinks if he burns down my home, he can go back and sleep peacefully in his,” the poet read from a paper he was holding.

“But how is it possible? When a fire rages, sleep disappears, when flames soar, they burn all homes,” he read.

“Whether it is your courtyard or mine, they will all burn, whether those playing inside are your children or mine, they will all become homeless,” he said.

“If you burn down my home, one day, you too will be sitting on the pavement, thinking that hatred is not an alternative for love.”

When he finished, I said to him, “Poet, no home is on fire but you probably will have to sleep in my apartment tonight. You have missed the last train and I know that like all poets, you cannot afford a cab.”

The poet, I will not call him a kavi or a shaer because that too will give away his nationality, laughed and said: “It was already written that I will spend this night in your apartment, so I could not have slept anywhere else.”

I have never seen a person who is more at ease with himself than this poet. Nothing disturbs him, snow, heat or storm. Nothing scares him, not even nightmares. Although he believes in ghosts and finds them “fascinating.” I doubt he has ever met one.

But he gets happy or sad very easily. A good poem, a beautiful woman, a glass of wine; all these make him happy, as do flowers, streams, mountains, the sky, clouds, deserts and snowfall.

And even an autumn leaf can make him sad.

He likes women but he is not a womaniser. Just the sight of a beautiful woman is enough to make him happy. Unlike some other men, he does not desire to possess women, most of the time he does not even feel the need to befriend them.

This does not mean that he has not had girlfriends. He has and still does. But they do not stay with him for long. And none of them left him because he was cheating. He does not.

But he does maintain a distance, even with the people he loves, including his girlfriends. We, his friends, have learned to accept it but women find it difficult.

They complain that even when he is with them, he is not with them. He is often lost in thoughts. He also has the bad habit of praising other women in his girlfriend’s presence. And often says to his girlfriend that while he loves her a lot, he can live without her too.

And when a woman realises that this is how he is, she slowly drifts away from him. He misses them for a few days and then goes back to his poems, and those of other poets. He reads a lot, mostly poetry in four different languages.

But he has one passion, a passion that never subsided in the 10 plus years that I have known him, the desire for peace, not just between India and Pakistan, but also among Arabs and Israelis and among all nations.

His family suffered greatly during the partition, some were killed, some inured. Some women were kidnapped as well and the family lost all it owned, which was never very much, while migrating from one country to another.

Yet, these sufferings did not arouse negative feelings in him. Instead, they mellowed him, made him love people on both sides of the border and ultimately, made him a poet too.

The night he stayed with me, he was in a strange mood. He read out one of Munir Niazi’s Punjabi poems for me: “What is my contribution to being what I am? I am like a listener who hears distant footsteps on a silent night. Can I say this act of listening contributed to the traveller’s pace?”

After he finished the poem, he was silent for quite a while. Then he asked, “Are all our efforts useless? Can we not make any difference?”

I said I believed we could and tried to argue with him but he remained silent.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

He was silent for a little while more and then said: “My grandfather, who was born on the other side of the border, died last week without fulfilling his last desire.”

This made me silent too. I knew what his grandfather’s last desire was. I too had tried to help him achieve it. He wanted to visit the city he was born in at least once before his death but in 1947 he had migrated to other side of the border.

We all tried to get him a visa but failed. The embassy of the country he wanted to visit needed a valid reason for issuing him a visa. He had to have a relative, a close friend, or some official reasons such as business. He had none. He could not even fake one because they needed an address that they could check.

The visa officer refused to accept our argument that he wanted to visit the city he was born in before he died. “While I sympathise with him, it does not meet the visa requirements,” the officer argued.

So we decided to use the back channels, and such channels always work in South Asia. We approached a senior official, through another senior official who was the cousin of a friend, and he agreed to help. We were very hopeful that we will get a visa for him.

But his other visa expired before this one came. He was already in late 80s.

“He could not fulfill such a simple desire, what a shame,” said the poet.

“Perhaps, they will make him a replica of his city in the hereafter,” I tried to comfort him.

“Replica of a city that only existed in his dreams?” asked the poet.

“Perhaps,” I said.

“Yes, perhaps we can also have peace in this world one day,” he replied.


The author is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.


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Anwar Iqbal is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.

Comments (26) Closed

Himanshu Oct 28, 2012 06:06am
Is Indian blood any different from the Pakistani blood? For that matter, are we all not part of the same species: Homo Sapiens? Why fight and kill each other in the name of something that is man made, i.e. boundries and religions? No religion ever tells anyone to kill their own brother. Its the human being who manipulates religious texts and finds a cause to fight to gather power. I am an Indo-Canadian with 90% of my friends as Pakistani muslims. I find no difference between us. For me, Christmas, Diwali and Eid are the same. For me, Krishna, Allah, Jesus/God are the same. Whatever happened in 1947, our upcoming generations haven't lived that part. We have only 2 ways to raise our children: keep on teaching them about the hatred between 2 countries OR tell them how they made peace even after 3 wars and terrorism. If you are a father, what would you teach your child? Keep this question in mind, the next time you spew hatred towards your neighbor.
sparky singh Oct 27, 2012 10:30pm
Why is it that people in our subcontinent are scared ? Even intellectually gifted people like the author of this article. I read many articles such as this which convey the basic idea of respect for one another. But hardly ever do I come across any that hold a thought and then have the courage to put it forth without creating blind spots for themselves to hide in. The Idea is there and everybody gets it. And articles like these have been done to death. Common sense is being pedaled like it was the nectar of a rare fruit. Its not. I have a problem with religion and I say so without mincing words. Its what has divided us (the people of Pakistan and India). I could go on and try to explain why its OK to have no religion, but I won't. I hope someday soon more of us will think and start speaking a bit louder.
suethompsontruth Oct 27, 2012 12:09pm
Another great story Anwar. So many times I think you stole the words from my heart. PEACE has no boundaries. Love has no boundaries. Imaginary lines have no place in the heart of a poet here on earth or in the hereafter!
Pal Oct 27, 2012 10:19pm
'His name, I do not want to reveal because that will show whether he is an Indian or a Pakistan. And this he does not want.' Your friend is an Indian with a Hindu name. If he had a Muslim name, you would not reveal his nationality by naming him. For example, if his name were 'Zahir Khan', naming him would identify his nationality. On the other hand, if his name were ' Rama Krishna', you would reveal his nationality by naming him.
Shan Oct 28, 2012 09:53am
Wow, You are so intelligent!
minto Oct 27, 2012 12:14pm
I think absolute peace would never be possible. Atleast, history has taught us this lesson. However, the pace of scientific and educational progress may make it happen or at least reduce the intensity of war... or vise versa ... ? We all love peace but to achieve peace, we have to be ready to sacrifice many things; but certainly less than those we have to loose in the event of war.
hari Oct 27, 2012 07:49pm
cant a muslim be a indian. so how can you tell nationality by name.
ramanuj ghosh Oct 27, 2012 12:08pm
Amazing thought , not only a replica of a city but a real life wolrd where we have peace and harmony among allof us irrespective of our caste , creed , religion , nationality
vnarayan Oct 28, 2012 09:33pm
How can a name give away ones identity. All Indian names are also Pakistani names. It may give away his religion but more Indians are Muslim than there are Pakistanis and many Pakistanis are Hindus also.
minto Oct 27, 2012 06:52pm
To promote peace all the human race have to make efforts as a whole. Although it never happened in the past, but it is quite achievable particularly in this modern age of scientific advancement and the age of telecommunications where world has virtually made a Global Village. Only one generation can make a lot of difference, if the elite of this world educate themselves and the others to make sacrifices only in a few fields only to keep maintain peace. The leadership will go again to the more advanced countries who have more resources and have more knowledge. The under-developed countries would have no choice but to follow the move. The only requirement is the strong will to achieve it and strong intention to make sacrifices of the short-term financial gains or ego-led decisions. Eventually peace will generate more money than to make money as a result of a war/destructive dispute. Once peace is maintained even for half a century, initially, the speed of human happiness and advancement will be accelerated at a speed of sound if not of light.
JustAsking Oct 28, 2012 02:51pm
Zahid Ali Oct 28, 2012 04:37am
We are lagging behind in evolution of moral values.It is very tragic and sad situation.Anwar u have done a good job.and i hope u will continue.Plz collect all ur stories in one binding.
Samir Gupta Oct 27, 2012 12:35pm
Sue Sturgess Oct 27, 2012 12:56pm
How sad that a mere name can mean the the difference between peace & war. But then again, the human race has always found something to fight over, land, water, gold, money, resources, religion, culture, women etc etc etc. Eliminate one cause, and men will find another, because they are naturally aggressive beings.
krishnan Oct 27, 2012 09:45am
Poignant story.One hopes peace will prevail everywhere
S. A. M. Oct 28, 2012 12:49pm
Not only the poem but the sensitivity of the poet has touched heart. It seems that the poet is having a mixed feeling of hopefulness and hopelessness. On the one hand he is talking about peace but on the other he is also frightened of fire. The poem speaks of the feeling that masses in the subcontinent (particularly Pakistan) generally have. The more there is trade between India and Pakistan the more likely that peace will prevail. The economic interest will make it imperative for the two countries to tackle the terrorism (particulalry the one perpetrated in the name of religion). We have lived in fear do we want our children to also be brought under the same environment. How many people can leave for Australia, Canada, USA etc. The people that are living in the subcontinent specially in Pakistan will have to get rid of the terrorists with their own determination because nobody except their own bravado will help them secure a safe future for their kids.
reality not selected truth Oct 27, 2012 10:59am
Poem was nice. I think if people living in peaceful areas would also deeply feel this poem there would be more peace and lesser the talk about ''thank God i'm not there.'' I'm surprized when people say this. How is anyone sure where their city will be in a couple of years.
sparky singh Oct 28, 2012 09:33pm
I am sorry but the first line of your comment brought up the image of Nana Patekar in my mind. I agree with your comment though.
Feroz Oct 27, 2012 11:22am
Those who have seen and passed through tragedies can be haunted by them for a long time. I hope your friends Soul finds peace some day.
surtee Oct 29, 2012 04:15am
how true.the truth is that not the majority but very few people from both side has hijacked the peace for their pleasure.the sad part is the majority became a puppet . look around and we more hatred than love and no one knows why.wish prevail like it used to be in the past. no border, no passport, no visa.wish the era come soon. all i ask for the reader and those who comment is not to fan the hatred but pray for peace. before propagating hate do visit the other side once and meet the general public. i long to meet my loved one on the other side but like father i think i will meet them in hereafter.
Rao Oct 29, 2012 05:01am
Poignant Story....Hope sense prevails in sub-continent, so that the future generations need not live with this energy sapping hatred.
Sue Sturgess Oct 27, 2012 12:58pm
Everyone says they want peace .... so why are they fighting?????????????? Stop fighting and peace will follow.
H Oct 29, 2012 05:08am
I mean no disrespect but bro u. Gotta stop day dream. ... Who r we kiddin!!!!
abc Oct 27, 2012 06:03pm
Mr. Iqbal: those who kill others do not realise their mistake immediately. infact, it is at the fag-end of their life when they are alone, and have the time to brood over their past that these killings seem to be acts of violence. otherwise, they see these acts as arising out of the need to survive. in nutshell, if i do not kill you, you will kill me. however, as he gets more and more lonlier, and gets bad treatment at the hand of his childrens, for saving whom, he did those acts, he feels revulsed at first, at the NALAYAKI of his childrens. but, as time passes by, and the behaviour of his childrens gets even more lower, he feels that it is the GOD punishing him for his despicable acts. but, the realisation which has dawned on him now doesn't make an iota of difference to the society. the power has already passed into his grand-children's generation, and they will not listen a brooding old man. also, while the old man feels ashamed of his act, the society lionises him for slaughtering the scums. and, his death doesn't come easy Having been close acquaintance of one such man, i can vouch for the fact, that they die everyday before their death. however, what matters to the society was his act committed in his youth, and not the sufferings of his old age. He dies a donkey: carried the burden of dictates of society in youth, yet the same society, throws him out in old age.
Raj Oct 28, 2012 07:05pm
Hindus and Christains may believe that krishna, Jesus and allah are same. But muslims will never compromise or believe that all gods are same. They believe that there is only one God and he is allah. So forget about peace with them. they can never live or let others live in peace. whey don't they realise that from their very religion, the stink of discrimination rise. They are male dominated religion unlike christains and hindus. Hindus have Godess and christains have Mary, apart from the male God. But these people can never compromise andthere lies the problem.
kkkapurKanwal Oct 28, 2012 12:26pm
I entirely agree with you Sparky.