By Vijay Darda | 03-08-2015
In our public domain, we always perceive the image of Pakistan as an enemy. After all for the last 68 years we have been at loggerheads with each other. There have been four wars, and the two nuclear-armed countries aren’t really making any friendly moves towards each other. Recently, we had the terror attack in Gurdaspur which had the familiar footprints of training that comes from the Pakistan’s ISI. True to form, Pakistani officials have denied any knowledge of such attackers being sent across the border. But no one can deny that the India-Pakistan relationship is in a bad state of health. But it is interesting that it is in this atmosphere that a Bollywood film – Bajrangi Bhaijaan (BB) – the fascinating tale of bonding between a deaf and mute Pakistani girl and an Indian man – has been a roaring success in Karachi and Islamabad. After a grand screening for the Pak celebrities it has been a big office hit with the cinegoers in Pakistan. The fact that this Salman Khan-Kareena starrer is even beating the records of Hollywood films in Pakistan tells its own tale of bonding at the people to people level.
For an Indian film to be screened in Pakistan is a big leap of faith. The powers that be can always find some or the other objection to stop that film from crossing the border. But then surely there could be nothing objectionable even for the toughest Pakistani censors to stop a film that shows us how Salman as Bajrangi takes the hand of a little Pakistani girl -Munni – lost in India (who can’t say where she’s from but can communicate the same through signs) and vows to take her back home. This is good news, especially when the film was timed for an Eid release. Salman Khan is a big hit across the border and the film distributors eagerly await his movies. Besides, the internet has the power to make things viral, and the BB trailer had only whetted the appetite of our neighbours. So, the movie is a big hit there. Even otherwise, the film is going great guns worldwide.
However, it is not the rather predictable success of a Salman Khan starrer that engages us. It is real life story in the wake of the film’s success that makes us appreciate the bonds of humanity and friendship. After BB was screened in Karachi, we have got to know the real life story of a 23-year-old Geeta now living at Edhi Foundation shelter in Karachi’s Mithadar. According to Faisal Edhi of the Edhi Foundation, a humanitarian trust, the Punjab Rangers brought her to them some 13 years ago and since then they have been trying to locate her family or her hometown so that she can return. Initially, she was brought to Lahore, but then she was moved to the shelter in Karachi where Bilqees Edhi named her ‘Geeta’ and has become quite close to the girl.Now there are umpteen similarities between their Munni and our Geeta. If Munni worships at the mosque, then Geeta prays at the temple. Interestingly, just as Bajrangi respects this similarly the shelter home’s staff have created a separate praying room for Geeta, adorning it with colourful posters of Hindu deities, and an earthen lamp on the table.
As Geeta gets up and prays, Faisal points toward one of the figurines: “This is the Ganesh that I got for her from Nepal. Both Munni and Geeta communicate only through signs. In Geeta’s case the only communication she has managed with the Edhi staff is recognising the Indian map on a mobile phone and breaking down into tears. Sobbing silently, she frantically points first at the Indian state of Jharkhand and then at Telangana, trying hard to tell something of her past that may be a clue for them. Her desire to come home is strong that she has refused to settle down in Pakistan, even though Bikees Edhi has offered to find her a Hindu boy suitable for marriage. She has also conveyed that she has seven sisters and four brothers.
But then she keeps a smiling face doing household chores and the staff at the shelter describe her as an excellent cook of vegetarian dishes. The big difference between Munni and Geeta is the one that separates real life from Bollywood fiction. Munni finds her home whereas Geeta is still struggling with that effort. The only possible clue being 193 that comes when Faisal draws a house on a piece of paper and hands her a pen, Geeta takes it, smiles, and jots down the numbers beside it. ‘193’, it seems, may be her house number.
But hidden underneath the tales of a Bollywood Munni and the real life Geeta is the actual story of human warmth and humane concerns among the people of two countries that are perceived as enemies. No one has a case that we should minimise the significance of our disputes. Without doubt, these are genuine conflicts and cannot be simply brushed aside, nor do they yield themselves to easy quick fixes. However, these two episodes though separate like fact and fiction do underscore the desire of the people that the leaders settle these disputes at the earliest, so that our lives could be back to normal. Is it too much to ask our leaders on both the sides to come to an understanding – not a resolution of the conflict – so that we can all live like good neighbours? One does sees some hope in the decision of the Pakistani censors to allow BB to be screened over there. But then sharing the pleasure of watching the same films is just one part. Why should there be hurdles in enjoying all that is common amongst us – food, culture, religion and above all the caring for each other, at which we usually excel on crossing the borders one way or the other?
Before I conclude…
The on-going session of the Parliament is proving to be a big disappointment. There are well documented figures of the loss this causes to the public exchequer. It is simply a sign of the inability of the entire political class to come to terms with the demands of discharging their responsibilities. They need to evolve a mechanism for dispute resolution among themselves. Merely indulging in a blame game would not help anyone. The responsibility of course rests with the ruling party and it should not only make suggestions but also walk the talk.