Tales of love, steeped in legend

Tales of love, steeped in legend

Sumit Paul

I’ve often wondered as to why Pakistan evokes so much anger in India. There’s heartening news that the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government in Peshawar has decided to purchase and restore the ancestral havelis of Bollywood stalwarts Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor. Yet, a section believes that Pakistan has done this out of fear. Will they explain why it should be so? This was done more as a gesture of love and respect for the actors who were born in Peshawar.

As a regular visitor to Pakistan’s premier universities as an exegete of Al-Furqan and Islamic theology, let me put things in perspective. Had the Pakistan government wanted, it could have demolished the mansions in Peshawar. But it didn’t do that. Let me ask these patriotic Indians whether they’ve heard of Daya Ram Sahni, KN Dikshit and Rakhaldas Banerji? Most Indians, much less the younger generation, haven’t heard of them. These gentlemen were the assistants to Sir John Marshall, who excavated the Indus Valley Civilisation at Mohenjo-Daro in Larkana district of Sindh in Pakistan.

Banerji discovered Mohenjo-Daro in 1922. Visit this well-maintained world heritage site and you’ll be surprised to know that a museum is dedicated to Banerji, unlike the Yogi government’s decision to have a museum near the Taj Mahal named after Shivaji.

Karachi University’s archaeology department has Sahni and Banerji Chair for advanced research. Indians go ga-ga over the great Mohammad Rafi, but when I wanted to pursue a doctorate on the tonal quality of Rafi’s voice, no university helped me. Finally, I pursued it from Lahore University. I again faced hurdles, when I suggested pursuing my PhD in Urdu on Sukhan-e-Firaq mein humjinsi anasir (sexuality in Firaq’s poetry). The subject was a taboo to Indian universities and is condemned in Islam, but Karachi University accepted my thesis and conferred an A-level degree on my rather polemic subject on the redoubtable Raghupati Sahay ‘Firaq’ Gorakhpuri.

When no Indian university helped me retrieve Ghalib’s 151 Persian ghazals, believed to be lost forever, a retired Lieutenant General of the Pakistan Army, Zia Altaf sent all the Persian poems of Ghalib. The legendary poet was his great-great grandfather. When yours truly teaches Islam, despite being a non-believer, no Muslim student or scholar ever questions as to how an apatheist can teach Islam, Koran and the Hadis.

Until we visit, we remain prejudiced about a place and its people. I’ve seen the way locals on Qissa Khwani — the street of storytellers — helped maintain the ramshackle buildings of the Bollywood legends by paying from their pockets. It’s time to change perceptions and realise that it was once the same country with the same cultural ethos and bonhomie. Hatred leads us nowhere. It’s a proverbial dead albatross that we carry around our necks.

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