Tag Archives: Pakistan

Shikara – The Untold Story of Kashmiri Pundits

A movie about Kashmir is a natural magnet for me, since my mother was born and brought up in Srinagar. I’ve grown up listening to her stories of this Shangri-La, where every garden bloomed with apple and cherry trees, and where nature was like a gorgeous and generous mother, her bounty of fruit and flowers overflowing on the bosom of a land crisscrossed by crystalline streams and clear blue lakes.

The exodus of my mother’s side of the family from Kashmir during the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 wasn’t considered a permanent separation. Like most Kashmiri refugees at the time, they considered themselves Kashmiris first, and Punjabis, second. They were sure things would settle down, treaties would be signed, a peace accord reached, and they would be able to return to their homes, and their beloved Kashmir.

Shikara is a movie about the flight of Kashmiri Pandits to India in the early 1990’s. The same journey my mother’s family had undertaken in 1947 was repeating itself with a different population in 1990, but with a similar, sadly predictable ending – no one gets to go back once a land is dipped in the bloodletting hatred of communalism.

Sadia Khateeb and Aadil Khan in Shikara

The movie begins in the late 1980’s when unrest is beginning to heat up. The two newcomers who play the lead, Aadil Khan and Sadia Khateeb, are a delightful, romantic pair, and the movie diffuses the brutal, bloody violence of strife between Hindus and Muslims through the soft prism of their young, idealistic love.  Aadil Khan plays Shiv Kumar Dhar, who falls in love with Shanti (Khateeb) after accidentally being paired with her as an extra during a movie shoot in Srinagar. 

This thread of an eternal love story which survives the cruelties and trauma of communal violence by clinging fiercely to each other is one frame of the movie. The other frame is the thousands of letters, one every day, that Shiv writes to the President of America to plead for help when they become stateless refugees. 

In the first half we see the innocence and beauty of an era where Shiv’s best friend, Lateef Lone (Zain Khan Durrani) is the messenger who carries Shiv’s declaration of infatuation to Shanti. Their wedding is simple, involving immediate friends and family and Shiv insists on including Lateef and his father (whom he calls Abbajaan) in his family wedding photo. We see the young couple endearingly in love, finding the perfect place to build their own house, and Lateef’s father bringing stones for the foundation of their future home from his own land. Hindu or Muslim, they are Kashmiri’s first. 

Shiv is a dreamy poet who’s working on his PHD in Literature and plans to teach, while Shanti is content being a housewife and doting on him. Their little piece of paradise is shattered by the death of Lateef’s father, Abbajaan, in one of those ‘unfortunate incidents’ which are all too common in Kashmir – a trigger happy government force fires on a peaceful protest. This trauma turns Lateef into a terrorist, determined to exact revenge for his father’s death, and aligned with the cause of the Mujahedeen who want to make Kashmir an all Islamic state.

The movie tries to depict both sides of this thorny issue, but the weight of suffering is clearly on the Kashmiri Pandit end. Director Vidhu Vinod Chopra tries to bring balance by depicting both the ‘good’ Muslim neighbors (who help the Dhars escape when violence escalates) and the ‘bad’ ones (their doodhwaala who openly eyes their house, informing Shanti that he plans to move in when they leave, and then enters and squats illegally once they’re gone). But we are clearly primed to sympathize with the minority Pandits and their burning homes. 

The movie has some very poignant, cinematic moments which capture the pain of forced displacement – the exodus in crowded, overladen buses and cars which jams the highway to Jammu; an old man at the Jammu refugee camp crying incessantly that he wants to go back to his home in Srinagar; and incident when a truck, laden with tomatoes to distribute to the refugees, makes the state of beggary they have been reduced to painfully clear to Shiv and Shanti.

However, Shiv and Shanti’s idyllic love story, which is the prism through which we view the movie, has the reverse effect of diluting its primary message – the loss of dignity and trauma, the displaced feel, and the government’s apathy to the plight of permanent refugees; their helplessness in the face of the political forces twisting an individual’s destiny. It romanticizes and simplifies the experience of becoming a refugee refuge by creating a dream like quality to the narrative, especially in the second half.

The narrative also leaves gaping holes in the story, which beg for answers: 

Why have these refugee camps become permanent? How and where did most of those who decide to leave the camp resettle? How culpable were the Indian forces in stoking anti-India hatred by their excesses. What about Pakistan’s involvement in creating terrorism? Chopra doesn’t address any of these issues throbbing in the foreground of Shiv and Shanti’s invincible love story.

Shikara is an enjoyable, melancholy love story, which doesn’t ask any gritty questions or deliver thoughtful answers—it deals with emotions, but in a sanitized, over romanticized way. Aadil Khan and Sadia carry it on the backs of their excellent performances, and obvious chemistry. It’s watchable, but not memorable.

I would give it two and half stars. Four stars for the actors! Now on Amazon Prime.

Jyoti Minocha is an DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins, and is working on a novel about the Partition.

Azaan Sami Khan’s Debut Album is Adnan Sami’s Musical Legacy

Composer Azaan Sami Khan recently released his debut solo album Main Tera. Son of popular singer, musician, music composer, and pianist Adnan Sami, Azaan is known for giving the Pakistani entertainment industry hit after hit in critically and commercially acclaimed films such as Parey Hut Love, Superstar, and Parwaaz Hai Junoon

The album will be released under the banner of HUM Music, an initiative established by HUM Network Limited to support and highlight the incredible music and diverse roster of creative musicians that Pakistan has to offer. Its nine-song tracklist also includes a collaboration with the legendary maestro Ustaad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan

In this exclusive interview, he talks about the idea behind the album, his relationship with his father, and his recent anthem of hope “Tu Hai Mera”.

You are Adnan Sami’s son. Tell us about your earliest musical influences, and the relationship you share with your father. 

If anything, I am a huge fan of my father’s work, I am probably his biggest fan. I listen to every single thing he’s ever made and study it thoroughly because after all, he is my musical legacy. It’s my responsibility to understand what all he has done in his musical career and hope to live up to that standard. That in itself is very important to me, and I am very proud to be his son. 

Tell us about the experience of collaborating with the legendary Ustaad Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.

It was incredible, to say the least. I feel truly honored to have worked with him and to have learned so much from him in the process. He added his own magical touch to the song, and it is something I feel his fans would surely enjoy as well.

Your recent track “Tu Hai Mera” is a kind of anthem of hope that was sung by some of the most sought-after names in the industry. Tell us more about the song, the idea behind it, and its process of collaboration. 

It will always remain one of the most important songs of my life. As I finished the song in the studio, I felt proud and happy that I had the honor of working with the artists that I did. It’s a song that really went beyond my expectations, and will always hold that special place in my heart. 

I got to work with Sufi legends, Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad, and Hadiqa Kiani, who will always hold a very special place in my heart because she sang for my father many years ago. I also worked with Ali Tariq, who’s a fantastic singer and a great friend. And Hadiya Hashmi, who is absolutely mindblowing. 

Tell our readers about our debut solo album Main Tera.

The album is basically a musical amalgamation of my personal experiences. It defines who I am and who I’ve been up to this point. Whoever listens to it would probably get to know me better than they would when they hear me speak or any other way. It gets very dark in some places and is super happy in some, so there are reflective points in every song. Fortunately, I’ve also had the opportunity to work with some tremendous music producers and artists from around the world, who have all put their hearts and soul into bringing this album to fruition.

Main Tera is about the innocence in the first steps of falling in love. The album is a rollercoaster ride of romance. It’s love and romance in their different forms, and you’ll get to see different shades of love being explored. No matter what the language of the songs is, it’s still catering to the feeling.

What is the idea and inspiration behind it?

Everything in this album is a personal experience. Each song has its own personal story. I was motivated by feelings that took over the key moments of my life, which I also feel the audience might resonate with. The main idea was to be vulnerable in this album and to put out a side of me that the audience hasn’t seen before.

Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of Wanderlust for the Soul and Bombay Memory Box.

Houston Doctor is The Boy Refugee

The Boy Refugee is a seminal work, a one of a kind book by Dr. Khawaja Azimuddin, a well-known gastrointestinal surgeon from Houston, Texas. One could ask why this fact is important to mention in a book review, but the answer is clearly within its pages.

This book is non-fiction, one which details a segment of a journey, that of a young boy of about 8 who spends over two years of his life as a Pakistani prisoner of war (POW) along with his family in the town of Roorkee, India. This saga started in the year 1972 following the birth of a new country called Bangladesh (former East Pakistan) in December 1971.

During the year 1947, when the British hurriedly left their partitioned empire, lines were drawn on the basis of religion and two countries namely India and Pakistan came into being. It turned out to be a bloodbath. History repeated itself in 1971 but these timelines were drawn on the basis of language while another country was born out of Pakistan named Bangladesh. Many perished during this time as revenge often overtook reason well into the year 1972.

Khawaja Azimuddin’s minority Urdu-speaking family was on the losing side of the resulting historical events. The regional and global chess players were also in the picture as the movement by the Bengali majority, which gave many sacrifices, achieved its goal of independence with India’s direct military action. And the Urdu speakers in the area, many who preferred a united Pakistan, suddenly became unwanted refugees like Author Azimuddin, in the land of their birth.

“This book is dedicated to refugees all around the world,” states the writer right from the onset.

Sometimes the biggest challenge for non-fiction writers is how to make their book interesting enough for readers. The fact of the matter is that very few books have been written on Bangladesh’s independence in 1971 and its aftermath by those that lost (or from those who were not in any position of influence at that time). And none have been written from this particular viewpoint that of a 10-year-old boy (at the time) who was caught up in one of the furious funnel clouds of history.

This is where the reader will discover a truly unique book. Dr. Azimuddin today is accomplished in many ways and has helped many of his patients in fighting cancer in Houston, Texas. But in this book, he is an innocent kid taking us on a journey from Dhaka (Dacca then) though most of northern India to Roorkee. Through his childhood lens of wonder, we get a look at war, camp life, human relationships, and survival. His parents, siblings, and friends all have a major role in The Boy Refugee, but one cannot forget his “Little Green Suitcase” of notes and memories which one can describe as equally fascinating.

He lets us share his observations through such sentences here: “The Abduls, our house helps, were among the Bengalis. I was quite sad that they had left and without them, I felt very alone in our huge house. I went out to the backyard to play with my pet pigeon, Kabooter. I’d had six pigeons but a few weeks ago, all but one of them had flown away. Perhaps they too had sensed a need to return to their families. Kabooter was the youngest and had stayed behind, he was very attached to me.”

The innocence of youth reveals many truths in the book. The role of the Indian troops in safeguarding some of the Urdu speaking community after the birth of Bangladesh gets some mention: “The Indians knew that if they abandoned them, the Biharis would be killed in masses, and fearing international condemnation, they felt obligated to protect us, at least for the time being. And so, by a twist of fate, our enemy became our savior and protector.”

On the creation of a new country and its aftermath, its real impact on the Biharis can be felt through this work too: “During these days of confusion, no one knew exactly what to do or what would happen next. We knew that East Pakistan was no more and that, we Biharis were not welcome in Bangladesh. But West Pakistan was far away. Essentially, we were stateless.” (A reminder here to our readers that many of these Biharis are still living in refugee camps today in Bangladesh).

There are competing narratives on what really happened in the years 1971-72 in former East Pakistan. There was considerable loss of life as a new country, known today as Bangladesh was born. Parts of this book will not please some large groups, depending on which narrative they adhere to. But we all know that a 10-year-old boy can be as frightfully honest as he wants to be on sharing his observations. Dr. Azimuddin has not written this book from the perspective of any one country. His lens throughout its pages is overtly human and in parts really absorbing.

Ras H. Siddiqui is a South Asian writer and journalist based in Sacramento.

Sunny Jain’s Quarantet Inspired By Punjabi History

Performing artists have been hard hit during the pandemic. With nowhere to go and no space to perform at, Sunny Jain, Red Baraat‘s founder, drummer, and composer has turned to the social distanced visual medium for expression. He began the Quarantet series engaging with different emotions and movements occurring in our current timeline.

His second video in the series, Heroes, was released on Breonna Taylor’s birthday and addressed the Black Lives Movement. Fusing his music with a moment, singer John Pfumojena bellows in the language, Shona, “There are rebels and mighty people out there.”


When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of LBGTQ anti-discrimination legislation, Sunny Jain, Brinda Guha, Rajna Swaminathan, Chris Eddleton, and Harris Ansari came together to create the video, Rhythm and Pride – an expression of joy in a dismal time.

August 14th-15th marked the anniversary of the partition and independence of India and Pakistan. The state of Punjab was split up by the British upon exiting the subcontinent. This caused the largest mass migration in world history, something Jain’s parents went through themselves.

Sunny comments, “Punjabi people and really the entire subcontinent have so much shared culture that’s often pushed aside for political and/or religious reasons. It’s a shame, but I’m thankful the many people I know of the South Asian diaspora feel more as one, than not.”

Rhodes to Punjab was released in celebration of the ancestors, people, and culture of Punjab on the 73rd anniversary of India and Pakistan’s independence. Raaginder‘s violin croons as images of Punjab in 1947 splash across the screen and we are transported to another time.


In his most recent video, Family, Jain’s young twin daughters sing Hai Apna Dil To Awara from the 1958 Bollywood film, Solva Saal. He remembers his father jamming out to it when he was a child.

“My twins heard it for the first time last year as I was working on my Wild Wild East album. They fell in love with Ganavya’s voice, who recorded a version of it. Family, chosen and/or blood, is everything, and maybe some of us are lucky enough to have people that are with us through the many phases of life. We hope you all are finding love and support with your family during these times,” Jain notes.

Music has the ability to unify, evoke, support and Sunny Jain capitalized on that. The Quarantet series is innovative and finds ways to connect with diverse voices, giving sounds to emotions felt during the pandemic. Find the entire series here!

Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

Kashmir in Pain Before Article 370

Featured Image: Wailing mother of Faizan Fayaz hugs the best friend of her slain son. Faizan was killed in a firing by security forces on a polling day for Srinagar Lok Sabha Constituency in  Budgam district on April 9, 2017. PC: Bilal Ahmad

Bilal Ahmad, a freelance photojournalist from Kashmir, scrolls down the screen full of images he has clicked so far as part of his work. In his fourth-floor flat in Delhi’s Noor Nagar, he opens an image and looks at it for quite a while, as if reminded of the scene and the story behind it.

Taking his eyes off the screen, the 24-year-old photojournalist from Kashmir says, “My aim is to acquaint people around the world with the ground realities of Kashmir, most importantly, the hopelessness of a common man.”

However, Bilal’s aim hit a dead end when Narendra Modi-led government in New Delhi imposed a blanket ban on Internet and telecom services in Kashmir a night before it revoked its special status on August 5, 2019, one year ago. The state was divided into two union territories: Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

Article 370, which the central government scrapped on August 5, granted the state some autonomy. The erstwhile state had its own constitution, flag, and could make its own laws.

“I lower my head in disappointment when I see the people whose stories I had captured with my camera but couldn’t publish,” Bilal laments.  

Out of thousands of pictures on his laptop, Bilal has kept six of them in a separate folder named ‘Best’. He agrees to share these pictures, how he clicked them, the stories in them.

“It was after Faizan’s funeral I clicked this picture,” Bilal tells me. “There was a huge crowd of people gathered outside slain Faizan’s house. I saw women and children crying and sobbing. Amid those mourning voices, one particular voice was louder and longer,” he pauses. “It was that of Faizan’s mother in the house. I made my way into the room, though with difficulty, and found her surrounded by other women weeping and trying to console the bereaved mother. She felt suffocated and was escorted out in the open. A couple of women held her and helped her walk round in the garden. But she was still sighing and sobbing. Soon, she saw her son’s best friend coming in. She rushed to him, hugged him tightly, and cried even louder. She kept repeatedly asking him, ‘Bring back my son. You left together in the morning after coming back from Madrassa. Why have you returned alone?’ I was already in tears and did not want to click any pictures. However, I ended up channelizing my emotions into bringing her pain in my frame and do my job,” concluded the photojournalist about the picture.

The next click brings us to a group of people attending the funeral prayers of Adil Ahmad at Eidgah, Srinagar. Adil was an eighteen-year-old boy, who was mowed down by an armed forces vehicle in Chattabal area of Srinagar during intense clashes between protesters and government forces on May 5, 2018.

“It is very intriguing,” says Bilal, “to see children take part in the funerals, which sometimes erupt in fierce clashes with the government forces. They easily become targets of tear gas canisters, pellets and sometimes even get killed by bullets fired by the men in uniform. This isn’t what a child should experience. These things have a long-lasting effect on one’s psyche and take shape of nightmares as you come of age.”

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Funeral prayers of Adil Ahmad. PC: Bilal Ahmad

Amongst the turmoil, Bilal tried to capture moments of calm in Kashmir.

“It was getting chaotic after Friday prayers in Srinagar’s Soura area as youth and paramilitary forces were about to clash with each other,” recalls Bilal.

“The man in the photo was playing with his son inside his shop until he heard a loud bang of tear-gas canister fired at the protesting youth a few hundred meters away. He started panicking, grabbed his son, and came outside.”

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A father fixedly looks at his son, who enjoys a packet of snacks outside a shuttered shop in Soura on the outskirts of Srinagar. PC: Bilal Ahmad

“His son, however, proved to be stubborn and was refusing to leave the shop. The father hurriedly tore off a packet of snacks from a rope of many hanging inside the shop and brought down the shutter. The clashes were yet to turn violent and the shopkeeper let go his son sit on the other end of the shop, while he kept a close eye on him and around.”

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Nusrat reflecting on losing her eyesight. PC: Bilal Ahmad

Nusrat Jan, a 32-year-old mother of a two-year-old daughter lost her sight in the right eye after she was hit by pellets fired by government forces during intense clashes October 17, 2018 near Srinagar.

The pellet injury left a void in my heart. Now, I can see my daughter only with my left eye,” recants Nusrat.

“It seemed a tough battle for the two-year-old baby girl to see glasses on her mother’s eyes,” Bilal tells me with a heavy heart. “She tried repeatedly to remove them, probably, to see her eyes, but her mother would not let her as she kept feeding her,” he says and is reminded of what the woman in the picture told him then.

Present Day

Here in Kashmir, I caught up with Bilal again after almost 8 months since our meeting in Delhi. During this time, Bilal says, Journalists in Kashmir have been through a lot. “One is scared to work under these circumstances, especially when you see your colleagues being questioned, beaten, detained, and booked under draconian laws such as UAPA (Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act). See, what happened with photojournalist Masarat Zahra,” says Bilal.

Masrat, a Kashmir-based freelance photojournalist was booked under UAPA by J and K Police for allegedly sharing “anti-national posts”. Masrat, however, denied such charges and said that these posts were part of her professional work, some of which had already been published.

Bilal is also worried about the new Media Policy which the Jammu and Kashmir administration unveiled on June 2. “It has added to the difficulties that we as journalists were already facing,” informs Bilal, resigned to his circumstance. He hopes change will come soon…

Younis Ahmad Kaloo is a freelance journalist based in Kashmir. Previously, he was a correspondent at Force Newsmagazine, a monthly magazine on national security and aerospace.

Article 370: A Way Forward for India and Pakistan

My memories go back to the year 1991 when I wrote an article in India Currents about the history of Kashmir and the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits starting in January 1990, stirring controversy and raising criticism by some local Kashmiri Muslims, thus leading to a long healthy debate. At the end of this civil debate most of us ended up as friends, as we are today. Friends with some basic disagreements.

We knew all along that all the issues in the Kashmir Valley will be resolved if Article 370, which provides special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir is abolished. Now, discrimination based on demography has been eradicated. Kashmir has been integrated with India.

Kashmiri Hindus, better known as Kashmiri Pandits, are historically reported to be the original inhabitants of Kashmir Valley. Their roots in Kashmir can be traced to that time when civilization began in the valley. Their history spreading over 5,000 years could be testified through several historical works, including the legendary ‘Nilamat Purana’.

Kashmir’s first imperial history began in 250 BC when Asoka reigned over the land. Nearly 1000 years later, Lalitaditya reigned (725-761) after conquering most of north India, Central Asia, and Tibet. The advent of Islam in Kashmir around 14th century brought a paradigm shift in socio-political and religious system.

Islam entered Kashmir nearly 700 years after its birth when Kashmir came into contact with the Muslim invaders. Islam had been spreading throughout the rest of India for 300 years.

 Force was used to convert the inhabitants of the valley. The population of Hindus in the valley continued to decrease and they became minorities in their own land where they were once in the majority. But somehow Kashmiri Pandits managed to preserve their religion, culture as well as traditions. Kashmiri Hindus have migrated several times from the valley due to this very Islamic fundamentalism. 

Kashmir’s history, after the arrival of Islam, sets the backdrop for the current conflict, which has been waging ever since India won its independence from Britain in 1947 and Pakistan became an independent Muslim state.

There have been seven exoduses of Pandits to this date. Unfortunately, the seventh one happened in 1989-90 in the age of democracy, liberalism, secularism and universal brotherhood.

Most of the Pandits were forced to flee from the valley owing to terrorism by Islamic fundamentalists. Pandits left the valley because there was an attack on their culture, traditions, and religion. Above all, Kashmiri Pandits left the valley because there was an attack on their existence. Thousands of them were killed in the valley during the gloomy  nineties and many lost their lives in exile due to post-exodus trauma. The trauma continues, especially among the elderly who will be in pain until they can return to their home. 

There are some sane voices among the  majority community of Kashmir who are truly secular and not “pseudo-secular”, who don’t support such Nizam-e-Mustafa movement but their numbers are very few. And their voices are curbed.

No culture can survive if it is uprooted from its place of origin. There is an eternal link between people and their land. The cultural heritage of Kashmir is an integral part of the vast Indian Hindu cultural fund as a whole. Since 1947 the land has become part of the Indian Union.

Religious minority groups flourish in India. It has the world’s second largest Muslim population (approximately 176 million or 14.4 percent of India’s population), and the world’s largest Sikh (1.9 percent) and Jain populations (0.4 percent). There are also substantial numbers of Christians (2.3 percent) and Buddhists (0.8 percent). Smaller communities of Jews and Zoroastrians have been living in India for over a millennia. India was founded on secular principles and as a home for multiple religious communities. On the other hand, Pakistan was and continues to be an exclusionary state intended only for Muslims, where the state has legalized and institutionalized discrimination against minorities. As a result, in both Pakistan and Bangladesh, minorities face much greater difficulties than minorities in India. 

It is important to note that the state of Jammu and Kashmir had a Muslim population of 65% and a Hindu population of 30%. So, the Muslim population is not overwhelmingly high. It is in the Kashmir Valley that the Muslim population is 97%. Often, the people following the Kashmir problem are ignorant of these demographics. Wars have broken out between India and Pakistan three times since 1947. An alarming component of this conflict is not only the suffering of Kashmiris, who have been forced to endure the outbreaks and Pakistan’s attempts at stirring up ancient rivalries between Muslims and Hindus, but the fact that in 1990 and 2001-2002, the two countries threatened to use nuclear weapons over it.

By making the new areas of Jammu and Kashmir a Union Territory, the constituent Assembly has been revoked.

Jammu and Kashmir were given special status under Article 370 of the constitution of India which gave it, its own constitution, and without the concurrence of the State Government, the laws passed by parliament would not have been applicable. The Constitution order of 1954 contained the articles and other provisions applicable to only Jammu and Kashmir State. It constituted a founding legal document, whereas article 35A protected the exclusive laws which are related to the prohibition of buying property by outsiders and women, losing their property rights if they married non-Kashmiris.

In short, Article 370 restricted the Indian Parliament’s legislative power over Jammu and Kashmir to defense, foreign affairs, and communications, allowing residents of Jammu and Kashmir to live under a separate set of laws and preventing them from enjoying the same rights as other Indian citizens. Similarly, Article 35A defined who were permanent residents of the state and determined who could buy property in the state and enjoy other special rights and privileges.

President of India’s order # 2019, C.O. 272 dated August 5, 2019, entails scrapping previous order # 1954 and adds the following to article # 367:

  1. Sadar-i-riyasat will now be Governor
  2. Constituent Assembly will now be referred to as Legislative Assembly of the State.

Article 356 of the Indian Constitution is now applicable in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh, by which President’s rule surpasses the Governor’s rule, which can be imposed in these areas.

The Bifurcation of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, giving Jammu and Kashmir the status of Union Territory and giving Ladakh the status of a Union Territory as well, has been welcome internationally.

Article 370 removal has made many positive changes for the areas of Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh including no special powers exercised by Jammu and Kashmir, no dual citizenship, no separate constitution, reservations for minorities and  backward classes, no discrimination against the women of the Kashmir when they marry someone from outside of the state. All citizens of these areas will be considered equal, all provisions of the Indian constitution are now applicable in these areas and with Union territory status, the security is now the Center’s responsibility. By making the areas of Jammu & Kashmir and the area of Ladakh, two separate union territories the special status has been revoked.

These are  historic and momentous efforts that will enable the free flow and applicability of Indian constitution and all its laws into the region of Jammu and  Kashmir without any special considerations.

Not only has the Kashmir problem been solved but it also vindicates Kashmiris of all faiths (some of whom lost their lives due to turbulence and some, like Kashmiri Pandits, who had lost their roots ). Now is the time for healing as all Kashmiris come together as Indian nationals and work toward making Kashmir the valley of saints once again.

As a Union Territory, it will also improve the security situation with respect to cross border terrorism and bring peace, harmony and stability in Jammu-Kashmir.

Kashmiri Muslims must understand that all manners of cultural markers over 2500 years of Kashmiri history (right from 500 BCE onwards) display unequivocally a Kashmir that was intensively integrated with the rest of India. In the face of this historical reality of Kashmir, Article 370 as an exclusionary means artificially separating Kashmir from the rest of the country was an anomaly that has now been removed.

It will be  recognized that the dynasty rulers in Kashmir have bungled up the state through corrupt practices.  The poor segment of society wants stability, security and employment, especially when unemployment rates are as high as 30 percent among the urban population.

The emphasis must be to promote Pluralism in the State so that all communities can live together as they did before Pakistani trained militants forced Kashmiri Pandits to leave. Intra-Kashmiri dialogue, exchanging programs of students, writers, artists to offer their strengths in all the regions will definitely help in reconnecting and reintegrating hearts and minds of the people. The opening up of the local economy to outside actors will be akin to India’s liberalization moment of 1991 when it opened up its economy and integrated with the outside world. As the legal impediments to the free movement of people and access to assets like land have been removed, the economic focus of the state can now be broadened beyond tourism and agriculture. Industrialization can slowly expand its prominence in the local economy. Thus, the elimination of the special status and more centrality of governance should beget higher availability of economic opportunities and wider avenues of growth for the people of  Kashmir. 

Regarding the return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits, my suggestion is that the matter be left for Kashmiri organizations in India to decide, based on their interaction with local Kashmiris and the Government of India. Our worldwide umbrella organization, All India Kashmiri Samaj (AIKS) works with all other organizations in India. 

California based Jeevan Zutshi, is the Chairman of Kashmir Task Force, founding member of the California Chapter of Kashmiri Overseas Association and founding member and former Executive Director of Indo-American Kashmir Forum.



The Lowdown on Kashmir’s Crackdown

 ‘A Coup Against the Constitution and the Kashmiris’ is how Delhi-based human rights organization, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) condemned Indian PM Modi’s shock Kashmir intervention, in a statement released on Wed, Aug 7, 2019.

Modi’s controversial decision to revoke Kashmir’s autonomy has escalated tensions with Pakistan, placed thousands of Kashmiri residents under lockdown and infuriated human rights groups, and yet, this move has received support in India, and not just with the ruling, nationalist BJP which has long campaigned to scrap Kashmir’s ‘special privileges.’ Surprisingly, some opposition members have welcomed Modi’s move to absorb Kashmir into India and even reaction from the international community has been relatively muted.

So, will this power grab have explosive consequences for the subcontinent, or become an incendiary first step at attempting stability in a region where terrorism and violence have claimed more than 50,000 lives in over 30 years?

The truth is muddier and more complex than it appears.

What happened to Article 370?

Article 370 is a constitutional provision drafted in 1947 to grant special autonomous status to the Muslim-majority state of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) after Indian independence. From 1950 onwards, a series of presidential orders (referred to as sub-section A), allowed its residents to live under a separate set of laws related to citizenship, property ownership and fundamental rights, while the Indian Government was responsible for defense, foreign affairs and communications.

J&K has been under President’s rule since December 2018. With no state legislature in place, this allowed the President of India, as Head of the State Government of J&K, to exercise powers of the State Legislature and recommend abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution. The PUCL, as well as some legal scholars of Indian Constitutional Law, are questioning the legality of this move.

This maneuver was as swift as it was stealthy, according to the PUCL, with the Indian government orchestrating its crackdown in a little less than four days. Over the weekend of August 4-5, J&K political leaders were detained, tourists evacuated, communications and telecom services shut down, and a curfew imposed on residents, while 35,000 troops were airlifted in to maintain law and order. Then, on 5 August 2019, both houses of parliament passed legislation repealing Article 370, removing J&K ‘s statehood and splitting it into the union territories of Muslim-majority J&K and Buddhist-majority Ladakh.

The World Reacts – Sort of…

Historically, Kashmir has been a disputed region with both India and Pakistan claiming ownership and fighting wars over it, while China controls a territory to the east. Despite an unofficial border established by the Line of Control in 1972, and a ceasefire agreement in 2003, border clashes are frequent, and cross-border firing has killed civilians on both sides. In February 2019, tensions escalated when both countries exchanged airstrikes for the first time since 1971.

Reaction from Pakistan has been predictably hostile with PM Imran Khan tweeting about Modi’s tactics in Kashmir  ‘Attempt is to change demography of Kashmir through ethnic cleansing. Question is: Will the world watch & appease as they did Hitler at Munich?”. Yet, Pakistan has refrained from direct military action, vowing solidarity with the people of Kashmir and showing support by downgrading diplomatic ties and suspending bi-lateral trade with India; instead, Pakistan has decided to petition the United Nations for a resolution.

Other countries have expressed concerns but are watching from the sidelines. Russia labeled it an internal issue, and the US asked Pakistan to exercise restraint and encouraged ‘an urgent need for dialogue’. Britain foreign secretary Dominic Raab called for calm, while China suggested that the UN Security Council resolve the Kashmir issue properly and peacefully. Human Rights Watch urged India to free political leaders and restore communications; even Saudi Arabia recommended a peaceful settlement.

In India, the J&K decision provoked outrage from political opponents in the government, but found unexpected support from others, including the Aam Aadmi party, the AIDMK and the YSR Congress who called the decision, ‘courageous’.

What this means for ordinary folks

While Kashmir today is a Muslim majority state, it was also home to the Kashmiri Pandits, Hindus who were native to Kashmir valley long before the Muslim influence entered. Twenty-six years ago, on January 19, 1990, fearing death threats from a massive Islamist uprising, more than a hundred thousand Kashmiri Pandits were forced to flee their homes and seek refuge outside Kashmir.  The abrogation of Article 370 opens a door for the return of displaced Kashmiri Pandits, even as it clears a pathway for non-residents from other states to now own property and establish businesses in the new union territory of J&K.

And what does it mean for the Muslim families in the valley? Monday, August 12, marks a week since the crackdown. The communications blackout is still in place affecting those trying to contact people outside the valley and journalists trying to cover developments. Despite a BBC broadcast about the use of tear gas at some rallies, and Reuters reporting protests in Srinagar’s Soura area, J&K police  are asserting that the Kashmir Valley is returning to normalcy as restrictions are being lifted. Ahead is the festival of Eid-al-Adha, one of the two most important festivals of the Islamic calendar when thousands of worshippers are expected to throng major mosques in Srinagar. Will the authorities ease restrictions on large gatherings? Already, a security alert has been issued for a possible terrorist attack in the valley in the lead up to August 15, India’s Independence Day.

In a strange twist of timing, just as the people of Kashmir lose their right to self-determination, the rest of India will be celebrating the day that Great Britain transferred legislative sovereignty to the Indian Constituent Assembly.

Meera Kymal is a Contributing Editor at India Currents.













Eminent Dominatrix

Eminent Dominatrix

BEGUM JAAN.  Director: Srijit Mukherji.  Players: Vidya Balan, Ila Arun, Naseeruddin Shah, Rajit Kapoor, Ashish Vidyarthi, Chunky Pandey, Vivek Mushran.  Music: Anu Malik.  Hindi with Eng.  sub-titles.  Theatrical release (Vishesh Films)Begum Jaan, Movie

The ill-advised, ill-defined and ill-executed dividing of what was British India into India and Pakistan and smaller neighbors was a monumental event in the history of the Indian subcontinent, perhaps even more damaging than any war, including the two World Wars. Partition, as it became known, uprooted, shattered or downright destroyed the lives of upwards of 15 million people.  By any measure, truly a giant human flood. The impact of that seismic event is a daunting task to juxtapose over the plight of a whorehouse that finds itself straddling the invisible line that will soon become a boundary.

And yet, Mukherji’s ambitious entry aims for exactly those coordinates on the geopolitical map and comes darn close to succeeding. Remaking his own Bengali original Rajkahini (2015) and moving the late 1940s Partition-era stage from what was then India-East Pakistan border over to India-West Pakistan border, the evocative script lands with a gut-punch. A group of surveyors from India and Pakistan, jointly tasked with tracing the imaginary line that far-removed mid-level British bureaucrats contrived, stumble upon a rather large whorehouse smack on their survey line with the occupants, led by the iron-willed Begum Jaan (Balan), refusing to budge. It is, after all, their home. Eminent domain be damned.

In mismatches, the burden of proof perennially falls on those with a shorter reach. By day time, the Begum and her adopted brood put up with jabs, insults —or worse—hurled by upstanding village torch-bearers feigning moral outrage.  By night time, in reprising millennia old hypocrisy, more than a few of those same flame-throwers come knocking on the brothel’s doors flashing money. In this locale, the social strata occupied by both large niches are taken at face value and passed down as “tradition.”

Malik’s score is perhaps his finest ever.  Malik, somewhat of a border-themed specialist (Refugee, Border, LOC: Kargil), working with Kausar Munir’s excellent lyrics, orchestrates keepsake music. As a showstopper, the great—and increasingly reclusive—Asha Bhonsle lends a lilting, aged romance to “Prem Mein Tohre.” Even old man Time makes an exception by pausing when this dame sings. Kavita Seth’s reprise of this same tune is also no slacker. Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Sonu Nigam comprise incongruent vocal ranges and their tandem “Aazadiyan,” while a good tune, feels limited on both ends.

The emotional tug of Kalpana Patowary and Altamash Faridi’s “O Re Kaharo,” however, gives powerful voice to a socially encumbered woman’s call to a passing wedding party asking them to stop at her doorstep knowing full well that will never happen while Arijit Singh elevates “Murshida” with a pathos of thwarted love. Then there is Singh and Shreya Ghosal re-touching “Woh Subah,” which re-ignites an uplifting, subdued hymn to charting one’s destiny much the same as the Khayyam-Sahir Ludhianvi 1958 original “Woh Subah Kabhie to Ayegi,” by Mukesh and Asha Bhosle which extolled socialist virtue. “O Re Kaharo” and “Woh Subah” are twin peaks on Malik’s sumptuous score.

The roles are mostly carved up fairly nicely.  Kapoor and Vidyarthi are opposing map-drawers wielding the shots–one Hindu and one Muslim–who are also scheming, jingoistic prototypes of entrenched prejudices. Mushran is a mousy well-wisher making frequent stops at the Begum’s abode while Pandey is a thug whose violent tactics may force Begum Jaan and her fold to take up arms. As housemother to the women in the brothel, Ila Arun’s Amma is also Begum Jaan’s closest confidant and does so well.

Balan can emote, beguile, charm and seduce with ease. The boon of earthiness in her mere presence, something few A-listers can match; she can disarm just about any patron refusing to pay or any strong-arming two-bit uniformed sap that lands on her doorstep. Balan’s presence, however, comes on too strong. There is more of I-am-Vidya-Balan-hear-me-roar than there is of I-am-Begum-Jaan-hear-me-roar. Balan’s takeover is unabated by the absence of a single strong male lead as counter-weight. There is Shah. In a limited role, however, he is the suave, over-the-hill lecherous local prince personifying old guard nobility suddenly put on notice by shifting political headwinds. Hardly a match for Balan’s hookah-puffing virtual dominatrix.

EQ: B+
Aniruddh Chawda

When a Song Becomes An Anthem

Last month, this music column talked about how music captures the sentiments of voters. This month, we continue with the patriotic theme, but through a more enduring musical track, the National anthem: that of the United States and South Asian countries.

Every country seeks to fuse its hopes along with national pride and history into its anthem: it is a collective rallying cry to connect all. The United States anthem, written by Francis Scott Key adheres to these principles but some have questioned the principle behind the lyrics.

NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick shone a spotlight on the lyrics in August this year, saying, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” He was referring to the rarely sung third stanza, which has the lines:

“No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave.”

There has been much debate in mainstream media about the matter of Kaepernick’s stance and whether the original lyrics did indeed refer to African-American slaves and whether the lyrics should be interpreted differently now compared to what they may have signified then. That particular stanza is never part of the official version, but it is bound to roil Americans from time to time.

At the Rio 2016 Olympics, American gymnast Gabby Douglas was twitter-shamed into an apology for not putting her hand on her heart when the anthem was playing. Swimmer Michael Phelps shocked everyone when he burst out in laughter when others were singing the Star-Spangled Banner. He later explained that he was reacting to fellow Baltimorians roaring the “Oh!” at the end, a tradition that signified support for the Baltimore Orioles.

South Asian countries have their own share of controversies when it comes to the national anthem. Pakistan’s first national anthem is believed to have been written by Jagan Nath Azad. Azad is reported to have said that Pakistan’s first President Mohammad Ali Jinnah wanted a Hindu who knew Urdu to write it. According to Wikipedia, the current anthem Pak Sarzamin or Quami Tarana was performed for the first time, but without lyrics, during the state visit of the Shah of Iran to Karachi on March 1, 1950, many months after declaring Independence.

Nepal had two anthems, with the current Sayaun Thunga Phool Ka, being adopted in 2007. The previous anthem Rastriya Gaan served more as  an homage to the monarchy rather than the country itself. What’s not popularly known is that the music composer of Rastriya Gaan, Bakhat Bahadur Budhapirthi, was the grandfather of the musician Louis Banks (born as Dambar Bahadur Budhapirthi)!

Unbelievably, Sri Lanka continued to use the British national anthem as its anthem after Independence; however, a version of the current anthem, Sri Lanka Matha was sung as a national song at its first Independence day ceremony in 1949. Sri Lanka is one among the few countries of the world to have the same anthem in two languages. Afghanistan has had three  national anthems and for a period during Taliban rule, there was none.

India’s Rabindranath Tagore has the distinction of writing the national anthems for two countries—Bangladesh and India,. He penned the song, Amaar Sonar Bangla, which was adopted as Bangladesh’s national anthem. Interestingly, a World Record was set in Bangladesh for the most people (about 300,000) singing a national anthem at the same time in 2014.

India’s Jana Gana Mana written by Tagore, was first rendered in 1911 at the 27th session of the Indian National Congress at Calcutta. The Anglo-Indian press at that time believed that it was written in honor of Emperor George V. Tagore, later said in a letter that while he was indeed asked to honor the King, he was not “capable of such unbounded stupidity. I pronounced the victory in Jana Gana Mana of that Bhagya Vidhata (God of Destiny) of India who has held steadfast the reins of India’s chariot through rise and fall, through the straight path and the curved. That Lord of Destiny, that Reader of the Collective Mind of India, that Perennial Guide, could never be George V, George VI, or any other George.”

In 1985, in Kerala, believers of Jehovah’s Witness stood, but refused to sing the Jana Gana Mana at school, on grounds that it was in conflict with the non-idolatry beliefs they held. The Supreme Court ruled that no part of the Constitution obliged anybody to sing the anthem, stating, “Our tradition teaches tolerance; our philosophy preaches tolerance; our constitution practices tolerance; let us not dilute it.”

Other questions continue to be raised: Why must Jana Gana Mana mention Sindh, when that region is no longer in India? Why not substitute Sindh with Kamarup, so the North East feels included? Why must we adhere to a lyrical geographic map as an anthem, why not instead sing something that evokes a country’s passion such as Vande Mataram?

It is evident that national anthems are living hymns, designed to represent the reigning ethos and hopes of their citizens. Mark Clague, musicologist and the founding board chairman of the Star Spangled Music Foundation sums it best when talking about the American anthem, “For me, it’s the punctuation that ends the part we sing. After “land of the free,” we have a question mark, not an exclamation point. Are we winning the battle for freedom that this country was founded on?” This, in itself, allows time for reflection, every time we sing it. He also believes that if too many rules are constructed around an anthem, then people will be forced to do it, rather than be motivated to do it out of love.

Indeed, we must all ask ourselves, what can we do to include more of us, to excite meaningful debate and create an actionable agenda to ensure that each of us understands what the collective We stands for.

Priya Das is an enthusiastic follower of world music, and avidly tracks inbtersecting points between folk, classical, jazz and other genres.

Blurred Feud

HAPPY BHAAG JAYEGI.  Director: Mudassar Aziz. Players: Diana Penty, Abhay Deol, Momal Sheikh, Jimmy Shergill, Ali Faizal, Kanwaljit Singh, Piyush Mishra.  Music: Sohail Sen. Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu with Eng. sub-tit. Theatrical release (Eros)  HAPPY BHAAG JAYEGI

To mention Pakistan in a Hindi movie script, habeas corpus requires that it be in the context of either a) war footing (Refugee, Border, Line of Control, Kargil) or b) parody (Filmistan). Yes, there was the sordid romance that more often than not gets entangled in border lining barb wire (Veer-Zaara, Henna)—which squarely place them back at war footing in the grand scheme of things. That leaves precious little space in the middle. There is no other route.

Unless you are Happy Bhaag Jayegi. Avoiding a movie focused on war or parody, this nifty border-hugging comedy takes a friendly cultural clash between neighbors and elevates it into an unlikely delight.

This story, written by Director Aziz, has a somewhat far-fetched and yet pleasantly approachable premise. Harpreet Kaur aka Happy (Penty) is about to be unhappily married off to the strong-armed Bagga (Shergill) in New Delhi.  Not so fast. Happy, you see, has other plans. On the nuptial date, Happy plans to elope with her beau, the not-so-rich Guddu (Faizal). The teensy weensy bummer is that instead of hiding in the truck that will carry Happy to her beloved Guddu, Happy mistakenly jumps onto the wrong truck and ends up in—wait, wait—Lahore, Pakistan where Happy becomes a most unruly and unwelcome house-guest to the Lahore princeling Bilal Ahmed (Deol).  Jeepers creepers!

Aziz and company make this completely implausible scenario so seamless and so plausible that before one can truly appreciate the irony of precious turns to Happy’s misadventure, we are already onto the next escapade. The comedy style that Aziz employs is often reminiscent of black and white 1960s Johnny Walker or Shammi Kapoor mistaken-identity, mistaken-deliveries capers. A large enclosed basket that should haul flowers instead has a highly surprised—and angry—bride  popping out of it. A no-nonsense and handsome lord of the manor clad in traditional salwar-kameez must rely on his bumbling cast of benevolent underlings to maintain a social straight face.  They are trademarks that help this bridal flight remain afloat.

From the get-go, the staging is also surprisingly non-religious. Happy, her angry father back in Delhi (Singh), Guddu and Bagga are all Sikh or Hindu. Everyone in Lahore is Muslim. And yet there are no signs of comeuppance directed at anyone’s creed. This is all about the inflections of vernacular—Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu—that mix in comical phrases and the juxtaposition is uncanny. It is all good clean fun.

As Happy, newcomer Penty brings a nice who-me-surprised expression to her role.  She must—and does—remain feisty to throw everyone else off-kilter. Deol’s political. Grand Poobah-in-the-making is refinement personified—at least in his public appearances. His trespasses with his upper crust fiancé Zoya (Sheikh) might as well be Dharmendra and Saira Bano from another era. Ahmed’s unwitting sidekick is the not-so-bright Lahore beat cop ACP Afridi, played with impeccable self-deprecation by Mishra. Afridi being made to go to New Delhi against his better judgement is seen refusing to step off of a bus to touch Indian soil. That pretty much sums up the state of diplomatic affairs that often characterize the India-Pakistan rivalry: the scene is both hysterically funny and also simply insightful.

Sohail Sen’s soundtrack has good things to offer.  There is bhangra bounce—Harshdeep Kaur and Shahid Mallya’s Happy Oye and especially the throb of Mika Singh’s Gabru. There is emotion—Arijit Singh’s Zara Si Dosti and especially Altamash Faridi’s beautiful Ashiq Tera. And there is a sufi-qawalli stop—Javed Ali’s Yaaram.  The quality, pacing and choreography of these songs greatly enhances the story’s appeal while the somber musical moments gracefully counter-balance the non-stop laughs.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the script is its apolitical take.  For all the zingers flared in both directions, Indians and Pakistanis might as well be neighbors settling a missing-bride case over the fence. Improbable as it may seem, it is highly refreshing to see an India-Pakistan détente through soft focus binoculars which capture a blurred-line contiguous landscape separated by miles and not trenches.


Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.

Musical Ballot Boxes

During an election season, anywhere in the world, candidates need an image: to be likeable, and reliable; a platform: explicating stances on issues; a base: of people who donate, vote, support, and work for the candidate; and to add to this list of musts (at least in most parts of the world)—music.


Music is as personal to the candidate as a base, with as much mass outreach potential as an image. It instantly builds a sonic brand; announces and identifies the candidate. It can be as controversial as the platform, with the power to damage an image. This was evidenced by the Trump campaign, when R.E.M. (for “The End of the World”), Adele (for “Skyfall” and “Rolling in the Deep”), and Aerosmith (for “Dream On”) were among those that cease-desisted their songs from being played at Trump rallies.

Before she stepped on stage to give her presumptive-candidate speech on Super Tuesday II (June 7), Hillary Clinton had Sara Bareilles’ “Brave” broadcasting her message. She apparently spent a few thousand dollars for a Portland music agency to come up with an official playlist. Lyrics play as much of a role in the selection as the mood. Also implicit in the selection is that the musician supports the candidate; broadening the base and/or appeal.

Neil Young and Art Garfunkel had no problems, for example, with Bernie Sanders playing the respective “Rockin’ in the Free World” and “America.” Their fan bases comprise the young at heart, idealists, and romantics, the kind of people Sanders is credited to have attracted the attention of.

Ushering in Politics
Music has made ballot boxes sing the world over. India heard music of the original kind in recent elections. Assam ushered in BJP to the tune of Zubeen Garg’s song  saying that “Assam’s joy is everybody’s joy,” the last two words being a play on the candidate’s name, Sarvananda.

Tamil Nadu had an election anthem that urged citizens to vote,  “Our freedom fighters fought for our right to vote. Let’s vote, it’s our duty.” A trendy Tamil pop song by Put Chutney and Culture Machine urged the electorate to vote NOTA (None of the Above) if they’re disillusioned by mainstream candidates/parties.  Trinamool Congress had Anupam Roy composing for Mamta Bannerjee in Bengali, “It’s been five years of great change in West Bengal; Mother, Earth, and Man have flourished.”

2015 had Bihar listening to “Phir Se Nitishe” (Nitish, Again) sung by popular Bollywood singer Neeti Mohan and “Iss baar BJP, ek baar BJP” sung by Bhojpuri well known singer Manoj Tiwari. 2013 had Prime Minister Narendra Modi featured in a song that said NaMo is the Maha Nayak (greatest protagonist), while the Congress was humming along to “Sab Ki Yahi Pukar, Congress iss baar” (Everybody’s calling for Congress).

But the most revolutionary election song in South Asia has got to be the 1988 PPP’s (Pakistan People’s Party) “Dila Teer Bija … Jiye, Jiye Bhutto Benazir.” It was iconic because it unleashed melody publicly on the Pakistani masses after Islamization had virtually wiped out social music from making a public appearance; it was the promise of democracy after a long time; it heralded the return of hope to a region with the face of a popular icon; it got the masses in and around Pakistan to its feet. The music was catchy; still is.

“Let’s ask Ram about it!” is the start of a flirty Q&A sponsored by Nepal’s Election Commission and Democracy and Election Watch, which regularly employs Lok Dohori (Street/People Musical Performance) to coax the uninitiated population into the voting process. This video has four men and four women dressed in folkwear and featuring voter registration how-to. As is characteristic of most folk tunes, the rhythm has your head nodding in no time.

Rocking Indonesia
The most “rocking” note was in Indonesia. Current Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s (Jokowi) 2014 election can be partially attributed to his musical campaign, a precursor of which was the success of his 2012 Governorship campaign music video. Jokowi’s volunteers had created a parody of One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” that lamented Jakarta’s state of bureaucracy, the reason to elect him, of course. The Youtube video shows a twenty-something getting out of bed in a panic because he has to update his ID card. The panic grows as he is held up by traffic and then long queues at a government office; at long last, an official comes out to announce it’ll take years. Conclusion: Jokowi is the need of the hour!

Inside, Indonesia has reported that even musicians Sting and Jason Mraz and rock group Arkarna encouraged Indonesian voters to support democracy and get behind Jokowi in 2014.

Jokowi’s rival Prabowo Subianto tried to make music campaigning history by featuring a popular rock icon called Ahmad Dhani. However, it spectacularly back-fired, as it had Nazi-looking imagery and tones, completely annihilating the spirit of the song it was based on—Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” It was no competition for Jokowi’s captivating music-video and a sold-out open-air concert attended by tens of thousands, featuring a rapper called Kill the DJ and a crowd shouting and holding up two-fingered salutes—Salam Dua Jari.
#2 was Jokowi’s number on the ballot and it made music for him.

Priya Das is an enthusiastic follower of world music and avidly tracks intersecting points between folk, classical, jazz and other genres.

The Call of Qawwali–Fannah-fi-Allah

At the age of 15, Geoffrey Lyons left his Nova Scotia home with a one-way ticket in hand to find his spiritual home in the mountains of North India. He had heard Indian raga music and it called out to him. What he did not know at that time was that music would be his calling; that the world would know him as Tahir Qawwal.

“I was looking for a guru. I studied the Upanishads, practiced yoga, visited temples, got schooled in classical and spiritual music—bhajans, kirtans, even Baul music from Bengal.

But I could not connect with any of the gurus I met; somehow, something was missing,” reminisces Qawwal. “About when I was 18, I happened to walk into a Qawwali mehfil in Benaras. It was a thoroughly disappointing experience! I could not believe that the music of Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, whom I idolized, could be so misrepresented. That was when I decided to perform this music. I finished transliterating “Allah Hu” that very night.”

With him that evening, more than a decade ago, were Oregon based tabla player Jessica Ripper and Florida based singer Devanand (“he’s from a spiritual family”), both non Indians, non Asians; non desis, as Qawwal puts it.

The three of them decided to stage an experiment, to perform Qawwali as it should be and this is how Fanna-fi-Allah, their “band” was formed.

Ripper was transformed into Aminah Chishti and Anand, Laali Qalandar. By then, Qawwal had already put in months into studying the various Sufi poems, learning pronunciations and meanings.

This devotion shows in their rendition of “Allah Hu.” They are deliberate in their exploration of the lyrics, specific tones, and the experience. It is a journey in all senses.

Their first “experimental” concert was in Hawaii. “We continue to present Qawwali to unconventional audiences!” says Qawwal. They perform over 100 times a year, in all continents, including Australia and Africa. When asked which audience has been most appreciative, he says, “We play often in San Francisco, which is always great; the audience is part desi and part gora (white) like me. Half our shows are for the Pakistani community—we’re like a local American qawwali group. The other half is comprised of Indian and Sufi/bhakti/ yoga/spiritual events.”

In 2003, Fanna-fi-Allah created history in the Sufi world by being the first all-white group to be invited to perform at the Urs, the annual Qawwali festival in Pakistan. The festival, which was aired worldwide, attracts Sufi practitioners and performers and gained them immense popularity and more importantly, acceptance.

Chishti created a revolutionary milestone and is “indirectly the spearhead of a freedom movement for women in Pakistan” when she became the first woman to be admitted into a Sufi shrine to perform. Chishti’s playing is certainly bold and at the forefront of all their performances, especially so in a rendition of “Ya Mustafa.” This song is evocative of the spirit behind the name—Fanna-fi-Allah means annihilation into the infinite, into Allah.

Also part of the group, which is now based in Grass Valley, California, is son of tabla maestro Ustad Dildar Hussain, Abrar Hussain.

The group has released ten CDs thus far. The record label they created, called Tabaruq Records, recently published an album by the popular Qawwali group Rizwan Muazzam, called Amad. There is also a film expected to be out later this year, called Qawwali–Music of the Mystics. The project can be found on kickstarter.com.nevada_theatre_2014

In the last two years, Fanna-fi-Allah has been funded by the United States government to tour Pakistan in order to foster a peaceful relationship between the two peoples, leading to many high-profile and in-the-public-eye philanthropic events.

As Qawwal says, “We are really famous in Pakistan, people love us there.”

Fanna-fi-Allah will be performing in California in October, more details and music at fanna-fi-allah.com

Priya Das is an enthusiastic follower of world music and avidly tracks intersecting points between folk, classical, jazz and other genres.