Sharing stories

Sharing stories
Chintan Girish Modi and Shiraz Hassan

Continuing an email exchange that’s “adding energy to promoting peace between Pakistan and India”

Looking at how the Sohni-Mahiwal and Mirza-Sahiban stories are being told, re-told and interpreted, and the need to document folk tales…

From: Chintan Girish Modi  (Date: Fri, Aug 10, 2012)
Subject: Next letter in the AKA series
To: Shiraz Hassan

Dear Shiraz

Chintan Girish Modi

Chintan Girish Modi

I’m glad we are doing this e-exchange for Aman Ki Asha. It helps me learn what’s happening across the border, and reaffirms how connected we are. Interesting that our conversations are no longer limited to the two of us, but being read and shared by others, thanks to print, Facebook and Twitter. I hope it adds energy to promoting peace between Pakistan and India.

Things have been great at my end. Kabita Parajuli, my colleague from Kathmandu, was in Mumbai recently. We are working with the Hri Institute of Southasian Research and Exchange on a project called Forbidden Love: The Love Legends of Southasia, with colleagues in Bangalore, Lahore and Chandigarh. Last week, we discussed and developed ideas to facilitate conversations and workshops around the themes of transgression and taboo in our personal lives, particularly friendships and other relationships. At present, we are focusing on the Sohni-Mahiwal and Mirza-Sahiban stories – how they are told, re-told and interpreted, and how their tellers and listeners make sense of them. We want to have workshops with young people in East and West Punjab, but also take these stories to young people elsewhere and get them to explore them in their own contexts and connect them with stories of their own.

As a teacher, I find such projects very interesting. My teenage students grapple with questions that vex adults too – who we should mingle with, who we are told not to associate with, who we are fed prejudices about, who we are allowed to befriend and love. Their interactions at home, the media they consume and what they learn from their friends shape so much of their reality. Kabita and I worked with three batches of students, eliciting their associations with the word ‘love’, sharing the Sohni-Mahiwal story, discussing questions that emerged from it. Now we plan to develop some more ideas, using music, video, visual art, etc. Would love to have your thoughts.

You asked for recommendations about Hindi writers. I must confess I haven’t read much but look at the work of Premchand, Harivanshrai Bachchan, Mahadevi Varma, Suryakant Tripathi, to begin with. Kabir is a towering figure in Hindi literature. His poetry is taught widely. However, the Kabir I have encountered in oral folk music traditions seems more powerful than the one I’ve met in books.

Have you had the pleasure of discovering Amitav Ghosh? He writes fiction and essays in English, and draws on a wealth of material that could be called ‘historical’ and ‘anthropological’. Check out ‘The Shadow Lines’ and ‘The Hungry Tide’, for starters. Among Indian poets who write in English, I particularly like the work of Arun Kolatkar, Arundhathi Subramaniam and Eunice de Souza. I wonder if their books are available in Pakistani bookstores.

Waiting to hear from you, about your road trip, especially Bulleh Shah’s shrine in Kasur.

Rab Rakkha

From: Shiraz Hassan  (Date: Fri, Aug 10, 2012)
Subject: Re: Next letter in the AKA series
To: Chintan Girish Modi

Hello Chintan,

Shiraz Hassan

Shiraz Hassan

I am well, Yes, it’s really fascinating, this email exchange between us, an Indian and Pakistan sharing routine life stories. I have received a lot of response from both sides of the border. I never thought that people would enjoy reading our emails. Perhaps our exchange represents the thoughts of more people on either side than we expected.

Unfortunately I couldn’t visit Kasur yet. I am still in Lahore and I hope I’ll be able to go in the coming days. A couple of days ago I visited Kartarpur, a town in Narowal district, some 140 km away from Lahore. Kartarpur is a small village founded by Baba Guru Nanak Ji. It is a sacred place in the Sikh religion and has is a beautiful gurdwara, Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, that is equally respected among Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus. The journey to Kartarpur from Lahore was very exciting – lush green rice fields on the both sides of the road, farmers working in the fields, and one can the feel freshness and calmness in the air. Gurdwara Kartarpur is a beautiful piece of architecture, located in a village, surrounded by green fields, and from a distance it seems like a dove sitting among the green fields. Baba Guru Nanak Ji spent the last 18 years of his life at this place.

Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur. Photo: Umer Latif

Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur. Photo: Umer Latif

Thanks for recommending the Hindi writers. I have read Kabir and Premchand, of course in Urdu, but I was looking for some contemporary Hindu writers, who I think must be translated into Urdu. And contemporary Urdu writers’ work also must be translated into Hindi. Personally, I am not much into South Asian English writers; I don’t why but I don’t feel like reading them 🙂

Hri Institute is doing great work, I read some articles there contributed by Pakistanis and Indians. I hope they will continue documenting folk tales. These stories are an important part of our cultural heritage and must be recorded. Kudos to you and Hri Institute.

Meanwhile, Eid and Independence Days are approaching, so there is a lot of hustle and bustle in the markets these days. The main roads and important buildings are being decorated with colourful lights, gearing up for the fun on August 14th. I haven’t done any Eid shopping yet so I’m probably going to roam around in markets over the next few days.

I hope you are doing great and also have fun on Independence Day. Happy Independence Day to you.

Rab Rakha!

Shiraz Hassan (@shirazhassan) is a journalist, photographer and researcher in Islamabad. Chintan Girish Modi (@chintan_connect) is a schoolteacher, writer and researcher in Mumbai.

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