When I accompanied Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on the bus to Lahore, I offered a suggestion at a banquet hosted by the then Pakistan Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif. Since films are an unquestionably powerful medium in both India and Pakistan, I mooted the idea of organising Indo-Pak co-productions. The vibrant Hindi film industry, which is immensely popular in Pakistan, could join hands with the enormous artistic talent that Pakistan has. But, obviously, there is a fear in the Pakistan film industry that if Hindi movies gain access there, they would be swallowed.
Their fear is well-founded. The Hindi film industry is far bigger, older, stronger, technically superior, commands far higher resources, and is infinitely more popular. But that's precisely why the idea of co-production is good. A Yash Chopra can tie up with the state-owned ptv. They can then source each other's technicians and artistes. Pakistan has everything to gain from this. And our Hindi film industry is too secure to be sceptical of co-productions. Sharif, who was listening to me intently, asked his information and broadcasting minister to take note of the idea. The minister, I suppose, was still mulling over it when the Sharif government lost power.
But the idea is among the more practical projects that both countries can undertake, not merely as goodwill gestures, but as genuine commercial and cultural enterprises. There should be 12 such co-productions every year. Their subjects need not revolve around debatable subjects of history or politics. Is it difficult to imagine people from both countries coming together to narrate, for instance, a love story? And one day, hopefully, such films can even make brave forays into historical narrations. The audiences of the two nations will then get a non-partisan viewing of what transpired in the subcontinent decades ago. History need not be a bitter experience as long as it's true.
I will be stating the obvious if I were to say that India and Pakistan share the same culture, that they have more in common than perhaps any other neighbours. So, linking the meandering streams of India's tradition with Pakistan's is not about creating channels but more about removing obstacles. There is an attempt on both sides to carve out two separate identities that will render them as distinct as possible. This has happened in Pakistan in a very obvious manner, and in India through subtle ruses. Take the marginalisation of Urdu in North India. We've consciously tried to Sanskritise Hindi by purging simple Urdu words. Similarly, Pakistan has tried to Arabicise Urdu, which was called Hindustani just a few decades ago. Urdu is not the only language we share with Pakistan. Punjabi and Sindhi are also two linguistic bridges between the two countries. Not many in India are aware that almost 60 per cent of Pakistanis have Punjabi as their mother tongue. Besides languages, our music too is the same. Our folklore, our cuisine, our costumes, our social norms, rituals and ceremonies remind us again and again that culturally we are not different. The only difference is that a Hindu marriage on the subcontinent consists of saat pheray, while a Muslim marriage is conducted through nikah.
Not many people in Pakistan are aware that only on the subcontinent will you find a Muslim bride wearing a red dress. In the Gulf, the bride wears white. But instead of celebrating this common cultural heritage, the preachers of the two-nation theory on both sides of the border have only tried to deny it.Their effort has only communalised history. The Pakistani fundamentalist fictionalises history by claiming his lineage from Mohammed Bin Qasim, the Arab who invaded Sind. In India, similarly, the Hindu fundamentalist talks of 1,000 years of slavery. For him even Akbar, Jehangir and Shah Jehan were colonisers. Even the Taj Mahal is a symbol of slavery for them. But the claims of all these fundamentalists are based on nothing but lies. Perhaps, this is the reason why in spite of the propaganda and persuasion these theories don't appeal to the common man on either side of the border. The common man instinctively knows that we are the same people, we share the same history and the same culture. No wonder the people of India and Pakistan enjoy each other's art immensely.
Since culture has no boundaries, more so in the case of India and Pakistan, there should be an initiative at a political level to ensure the smooth flow of Pakistani and Indian artistes to either side. Students from both countries should frequently be sent on exchange programmes. And these students, instead of being received by bureaucrats, and put up as a group in hostels, should live with average Indian or Pakistani families, in some small town. When Pakistani schoolchildren live for a few weeks with Indian families in a small town, or Indian kids live with Pakistani families, I am sure they will wonder what this fuss over the Indo-Pak relationship is all about. It will be evident to them that we are the same people and I expect them to carry this message to their respective homes.
Their artistes and performers should come here, our artistes and performers should be invited by them for public appearances. The official media machinery of both the countries should find some time and energy to highlight the positive side of their neighbour. Let the people of India and Pakistan know that the list of things common to them is much longer than what is different. (The author, a famous poet and lyricist, talked to Manu Joseph.)