Dharmendra Jore Column: Reaching across a hostile border

Some bonds will never break, because they are not bound by any digital device, but are held together by the hearts and souls from both ends. One such bond is that of Karachi resident Hameed Haroon. He and his family share a strong bond with Mumbai. Strained relations between New Delhi and Islamabad, and cross-border skirmishes, do not affect their love for the people of Mumbai in particular, and India in general.

Haroon says he isn’t the only one yearning for this brotherhood. There are countless others in both countries who want to share their joys and sorrows with people on either side of the border. But not all are as lucky as Haroon, a media magnate heading Karachi’s Dawn Media Group, who gets to visit India frequently.

It was this common concern for peace between the neighbours that had brought Haroon to Mumbai last week to collaborate with like-minded people, who want to make a difference to Indo-Pak relations at the grassroots level.

Activists expect PM Narendra Modi’s surprising stopover at Lahore to boost their efforts to usher in peace. Most importantly, they see the development as an opportunity to bring their respective citizens together. Haroon was immensely happy because the PM’s visit to Lahore happened the day when he was advocating Indo-Pak friendship in Mumbai.

An emotional Haroon said that his late mother had wanted Indian filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt to attend her burial. He described how a few religious fanatics in Karachi opposed Bhatt’s presence. “Mahesh flew to Karachi immediately after receiving the sad news, and some people objected to his presence during the actual last rites. I simply told them that Mahesh was my mother’s son and she wanted him to be at her side when she was laid to rest.”

Partition survivors and their kin recall unfortunate incidents that had unfolded after the splitting of united India. The narration is a mix of tales of gory bloodbath and humane stories of Hindus saving the lives of Muslims and vice versa.

Haroon told us a touching story over a cup of tea at Mumbai Press Club. “My mother took at least 500 Hindus under her wings when the riots broke out. She offered them shelter at our home and ensured that all of them were put on a boat to India,” he said, adding that India too had similar stories in which Hindus saved Muslims, only because they shared a human bond.

Mumbai and Karachi — the sister cities having so many common features between them — have been making efforts to bring their respective citizens closer. Significant chunks of people from both sides trace their blood relations to either side.

Hindus and Muslims from both sides want hassle-free travel between the two cities. But they do not get visas easily, and even if they procure one somehow, they are forced to undergo direct and indirect screening by authorities from both ends. Do they really need to face such trials? The answer should be a firm negative. The credentials of tourists should not be deemed suspicious unless proven so.

Mumbai and Karachi have been interacting with each other for long through initiatives taken by the Mumbai Press Club and its counterpart in Karachi. The two have started an exchange programme under which delegations travel to either side. A similar effort called ‘Mumbai-Karachi Friendship Forum’ was launched by the Observer and Research Foundation (ORF) and Dawn Group of Publications last week in Mumbai. A series of events such as Marathi Festival and Mumbai Festival (both in Karachi) are planned next year. Mumbai will host the Karachi Festival at the earliest.

Haroon harbours yet another dream. He wants Karachi to host a boatful of residents from Mumbai, preferably with a group having relatives in the Pakistan port city. Mumbai should reciprocate the gesture, he says, adding that he would name the vessel ‘Boat of Friendship’.

Mumbai, let’s say Amen to that!

Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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