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United colours of divided neighbours

Representational image. File

Representational image. File   | Photo Credit: J.A. Premkumar

Pakistani cities erupt in colours during Holi, with the day off for students to celebrate the festival

A few years ago, at a college in Chaklala, a suburb and cantonment of Rawalpindi, I was greeted with gulaal (colour powder) on Holi. The college management declared a holiday, and the students played Holi. The lecturers joined the celebration.

In India, there is a perception that Hindu festivals are banned in Pakistan. They aren’t.

Often, I plan my trip to Pakistan during Holi to celebrate the festival at the Senate Hall of Lahore University, where it is still played with much fanfare.

The warmth of Lahoris (Lahore ki zindadili) can sweep you off your feet. I regularly interact with retired Brigadier Hasan Altaf and Professor Rashid Ahmad. I am unable to travel to Pakistan this time around, but I got gulaal and sweets from there. The management of Lahore University couriers these to me on Holi when I can’t make it to Pakistan.

I had celebrated Holi and Deepavali many times in different cities of Pakistan, and contrary to the feeling that our neighbours hate India and Hindus, I have always found Pakistanis open and warm to Hindu festivals.

I can write reams on Lahore. If you have ever visited Amritsar, Lahore is just its extension. They are like twins.

Travelling to other countries makes you knowledgeable and considerate about their culture, cordiality and ethos rather than rely on half-baked pieces of prejudicial information about them. In Sargodha, Rahim Yar Khan, Sialkot, Faisalabad (erstwhile Layalpur), Sahiwal, Bahawalpur and Jhelum in Pakistan’s Punjab Province, schools are even today closed on Holi.

During his cricketing days in England, present Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had played for Oxford County and university against Warwickshire with Holi colours smeared on his white flannels. He destroyed Warwickshire by taking a fifer and scoring an unbeaten 154. While receiving the man of the match award, he said, “Colours pepped me up, today!”

A student in Lahore

In these divisive times of us and them, I wistfully remember my doctoral and post-doctoral research days in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad universities and how my Muslim friends and professors celebrated Holi and Deepavali with gusto and gaiety. This I remember all the more when people frown upon me after knowing that I often go to Pakistan to teach Islamic theology.

While studying Islamic theology and Koranic studies at Oxford, I once wrote to one of the greatest modern Urdu poets, Ahmad Faraz, of Pakistan and sent my published article on his poetry. It was in Urdu. We started corresponding and when he visited London in 1998, I met him. He taught Urdu and Persian at Peshawar University.

Faraz suggested that I pursue my M.Phil. on writer Firaq Gorakhpuri and Ph.D. on singer Mohammed Rafi from premier Pakistani universities. I had already taken a doctorate on musicality in Koranic verses from Al-Azhar, Cairo, guided by an exiled Pakistani Professor, Zaifa Ashraf.

Faraz and Professor Ashraf introduced me to the late Fahmida Riaz and Asma Jahangir, and I travelled to Pakistan for the first time in 1999 to deliver a lecture on “The religious correlation among the three Semitic faiths”.

After that, there was no looking back and I started visiting Pakistani universities at regular intervals. It is a country I feel home at.

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Printable version | Apr 5, 2020 3:28:33 AM |

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