Satellite television is reaching out, but the target audience is still Indians.
It´s 11:30 on a lazy Sunday morning, India time, and if you want to look over the wall for a friendly neighbourhood chat, this is probably your best bet. Stop surfing the tv channels and select Star Plus where anchor Aamir Qureshi overcomes all visa and travel restrictions and takes you to Pakistan for half an hour in Postcards from Pakistan.
Within seconds you are transported to Lahore, the city the anchor describes as dilwalo ka shahar (where the large-hearted live). And what do people with large hearts do: keep outsized pets, naturally. The camera zooms in on two brothers Chand and Khalid as they walk their pet lions through the streets of Lahore. The brothers are pahalwans (wrestlers) (they better be if they want to keep lions!) and the camera treats you to some cuddly moments as Chand and Khalid play with their fearsome pets as though they were mere cats. The Lahori lions are between four to eight years old and drink many litres of milk and consume many kilos of meat daily; their meals are incomplete without dessert, and they equally favour ice cream or kulfi.
Lahore is Pakistan´s most happening and eventful place, and the Dastaan Theatre Company is staging a performance. We have some of Lahore´s actors and directors talking about new experiments in theatre that are shaping contemporary Pakistani stage. There is talk of carrying the art to other destinations as well. Actress Nadia Faisal says she wants to take her plays across the border to India and later on to UK. Ali Hassan, another stage artiste, says that young talent in Lahore is just dying to burst out. Stage veteran Shoiab Ahmed says that he has infinite faith in the young people, and hopes that theatre will hold its own against film.
Proceed, then, to Mohenjodaro, the pride and heritage of all of South Asia. The pages in the history books come alive as the camera pans the ruins of Mohenjodaro. Senior archaeologist Ahmed Hassan Daro (some rhyming there) tells you that nowhere else back then was there such a planned city as Mohenjodaro. Excavations are on, and there are problems reaching the bottom-most layer of soil as the water table has been rising. Soil salinity is also a threat to the ancient brickwork. A nearby barrage on the Indus is the culprit, and the excavators are trying to drain excess water by digging bypass canals.
Anchor Aamir From the plains of Mohenjodaro, to the exotic mountainous region of Kafir Kailash, in north Pakistan. Here, the camera zooms in on the local nomadic tribals in the midst of their favourite festival, Chilam Josh. Below snow-capped mountains, beautiful women and men dressed in tribal finery sing and dance. You are told that there are no arranged marriages here and therefore no social challenges like dowry. The reporter insists this is where real peace and happiness is to be found, and the anchor invites the viewer to come to this valley and decide for self.
Time for another journey, this time a pilgrimage to Hasan Abdal. The camera catches up with hundreds of Sikhs, many from India, who have come on pilgrimage to the famous Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Pakistan. While for the young this is just an exciting picnic, for the older ones it´s an emotional voyage. Many say they left after Partition and are completely overwhelmed that they have been able to return after so many years. There isn´t much probing into the tragedies of Partition but the story gently touches upon it, which seems all the better.
The close links between India and Pakistan are evident in other stories as well. In a presentation titled “Dance of the Mohenjodaro”, Pakistani choreographer Sheema Kirmani tells us about her gurus, Mr and Mrs Ghanshyam from Calcutta, who set up a dance school in Pakistan. Her. inspiration came from dance maestro Uday Shankar who, she says, took the, best of all forms. Kirmani refers to the changing attitudes to dance in her country, and how even today Pakistani society frowns upon female artistes who dare perform on stage.
All this and more is showcased on Postcards from Pakistan. A great beginning to learn about a country ´ which is otherwise almost out of bounds for Indians. The older generation that had emotional bonds with pre-Partition India is passing on. It is important that these links be reaffirmed with those younger, to prevent any further division of hearts and minds. The success of this programme would lie in being able to do just that.