As with Faiz Ahmed Faiz, so with his daughters Salima and Moneeza Hashmi, there never was a question asked or a problem posed over their being welcomed in India with a spontaneous hug, always. On the contrary, their presence in Delhi was accepted as a great advertisement for India’s secular and progressive credentials. In fact, the ease with which progressive men and women from Pakistan could travel to India gave India an air of cultural and political prowess over its neighbours. There didn’t have to be a special occasion for the steady visits by Left and liberal folks from across the border. A typical trip would find people gathering around a bonfire or a book release, an art exhibition, a musical soirée or endless discussions on Urdu or a greater need for India-Pakistan peace or at least an easier visa regime. Occasionally, the daughters, usually separately, would come unannounced and there would be knowledgeable whispers about their being sighted at the Khan Market book shop or some such.
I first met Salima and her husband Shoaib Hashmi in Srinagar some years ago when we had gathered from different countries in the region to celebrate South Asian unity, mostly the need for it. The presiding deity was Chandrika Kumaratunga, the former President of Sri Lanka, a great advocate of India-Pakistan friendship. Salima had read my columns in Dawn. And I was keen to meet Shoaib after reading his account of a small roadside shop between Lahore and Kasur, I think, where he had found a treasure trove of Kamla Jharia songs. We bonded and visited the house in Srinagar where Sheikh Abdullah had performed the ceremony at the quiet marriage of Faiz and Alys, Salima and Moneeza’s parents. I last met Moneeza at the launch of her son’s book on Faiz in Delhi, or around then. Ali Madeeh Hashmi’s Love and Revolution has been described as the only authorised biography of his grandfather. It could link the poet to his future admirers in India.
It was Ali’s tweet, as reported in the media, that first alerted me to the foolish but not entirely unexpected decision by someone in authority in Delhi to exclude Moneeza from a media conference she had been invited to address. To my mind, had a Congress government stopped her, it would be a shock. But the Modi government is another ballgame. If it can be compared in its spirit and essential politics to anything in the South Asian region it should be to the Zia regime’s Islamisation of Pakistan. A Zia-like bigotry through subversion of state institutions and menacing street power is what the Modi government has been busy with since 2014. Therefore, think again. Where was Faiz biding his time in the Zia era? He was in Delhi when not in Beirut or Moscow. Would it be possible for him to be free in Pakistan under the regime? The plain answer is no. So why is there a different expectation for Moneeza when she is denied permission to address a media conference under Mr Modi’s watch?
Frankly, in this era when devotees from Pakistan are being denied travel to India’s Sufi shrines, I was surprised a Left-leaning liberal like Moneeza had a visa. Everyone and anyone with her ideas of fellowship of humans, Nehru onwards, is in the crosshairs of the Right-wing Indian government. Things were different once. When it began to go wrong for Pakistan under Zia, Indira Gandhi threw open the doors to anyone threatened or suffocated by the military regime. Salamat Ali of the Far Eastern Economic Review became the toast of the Indian media as a fugitive journalist from Zia. Fahmida Riaz had escaped the regime with her little baby boy. That was Delhi.
Then one day during the Vajpayee government Fahmida had to run for her life. She was reciting a much-loved poem at JNU. The lines observed how Indians were becoming foolish like their Pakistani cousins and mixing religion with politics. She had dragged along Ahmed Faraz to JNU much against his will. Then someone who didn’t like the poem whipped out a pistol. Fahmida and Faraz had to be spirited away for their own security. One of Salima’s and Moneeza’s frequent hosts in Delhi is Dharam Vir, my hostel warden at JNU. Vir came from the Communist flock of pro-Soviet partisans who became close to Indira Gandhi because she was close to Moscow. He taught Russian at JNU and also acted in the occasional play on campus.
Vir continues to be the go-to man to help set up the logistics for cultural events involving progressive Pakistanis. Former Communist student leader D.P. Tripathi recently retired from the Rajya Sabha. He has been another source of support to Pakistani liberals wanting help with meetings and seminars in India. In a sign of trouble that Moneeza encountered, Tripathi was livid when as an MP he was asked to get his sponsorship of the visa for Salima or Moneeza endorsed by a junior official. As Faiz would say, it is time for people to walk boldly with their fetters on, baring the most secret love and flaunting deeply treasured desires so that perplexed onlookers can take a call about what lies in store ahead.
By arrangement with Dawn...