Poet and writer Javed Akhtar’s blunt observations in Pakistan about Pakistan

By Mayank Chhaya-

Mayank Chayya

Sitting in Lahore, the cultural heart of Pakistan, poet and writer Javed Akhtar went straight for the jugular in reminding his host country a thing or two about its egregious failure when it comes to its relations with India.

Akhtar, who was visiting Lahore last week to participate in a festival in memory of the legendary Pakistani poet and activist Faiz Ahmed Faiz, seamlessly sewed two disparate themes that have characterized the country’s ruling elites for decades now—cultural exclusion of Indian artists as well as terrorism as an instrument of Pakistan’s state policy.

Apparently responding to a comment from someone in the audience, Akhar first spoke of how Pakistan had never reciprocated to the unfailing hospitality and admiration India has always extended to its artists over the years. He spoke of how Faiz was received like a head of state whenever he came to India. “We have hosted major events for Nusrat (Fateh Ali Khan), Mehdi Hassan. In your country, there was never once an event hosting Lata Mangeshkar,” Akhtar said even as many in the audience cheered him.

Saying that there was a need to lower tensions between the two countries, he said, “We are from Mumbai. We have experienced how our city was attacked. Those people (attackers) did not come from Norway or Egypt. Those people are still roaming about free in your country. If Indians complain about this, you should not take offence.” He was referring to the November 26, 2008 multiple terrorist attacks in Mumbai by ten young men trained by the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group that killed 164 people and wounded hundreds.

In this era of video virality as a benchmark for success it was inevitable that a video showing Akhtar holding forth on such themes would go viral and it has. At some level coming as it did from a poet, writer and no-holds-barred sociocultural commentator this can potentially have a much greater impact on Pakistani people than how it might have been received had it been said by a political leader or diplomat.

The 78-year-old Akhtar is often viewed with a great deal of derision and resentment by the political right notwithstanding the fact he has spoken with such candor for a long time. His blunt comments about the 2008 terrorist attacks are going down well with the same political right even if grudgingly so.

One reaction emblematic of how the political right has lapped up Akhtar’s comments was in the way actor Kangana Ranaut reacted on her Twitter handle. Ranaut, who has unambiguously identified with the political right and is often seen as a vocal antagonist of the left-liberal class, applauded Akhtar saying in Hindi, “Ghar mein ghuss ke mara…ha ha. (You attacked them in their own home.)”

Given the kind of profound emotional dissonance between India and Pakistan at the political level, it becomes the role of those outside the political-diplomatic establishment to articulate India’s long justified anger. What lent weight to the observations about the Mumbai attacks orchestrated by elements of the Pakistani state as well the country’s policy of cultural exclusion of Indian artists was that they came from someone who is not just widely admired on both sides of the border but someone who frequently locks horns with many constituencies in his own country.

It is not for the first time that Akhtar has spoken out such issues. He has appeared on Pakistani television and other interviews to assertively make similar observations.

Akhtar’s observations may not move the needle when it comes to the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment that controls the country’s India policy irrespective of which political dispensation is in power in Islamabad. But to the extent that they are heard and watched by ordinary Pakistani citizens, they have the potential to at the very least make them reassess the way their own governments have acted.

No one should hold their breath Akhtar’s plain speaking will cause any significant policy change, but it will certainly earn him more admirers in both countries.


[Photo courtesy:http://javedakhtar.com/]

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