Winning hearts

Feb 15 2015

The Friday Times

Fahmida Riaz

At the sixth Karachi Literature Festival, Fahmida Riaz received a prize on behalf of a friend with a heavy heart
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It was a pleasure and a privilege for me to have received one of the KLF Peace Prizes on behalf of dear friend Raza Rumi, for his book, ‘Delhi  By Heart: Impressions of a Pakistani Traveller’. This is a book that I know rather well. I saw it being written and when I read its drafts I realized that a younger writer was continuing the struggle to shed stereotypes about the ‘enemy’ India and highlight the common civilization that we share. I told the audience that the book is about our shared heritage and history with India written by a Pakistani with profound insight and that each chapter deserves a separate prize.

As a poet and writer I found his book merging sensibilities of Urdu literature with the English language. How Delhi’s past – that is our past too – has influenced and shaped our language, culture, habits, poetry and mystic beliefs. Very few people of the younger generation actually make that effort.

Talking about our shared heritage with India and a common past is also a crime, as Pakistan has desperately tried to invent a new history for itself, and today younger generations only know that. At the same time Pakistan’s efforts at recreating history have been outdone by Hindutva ideologues who are mutilating history beyond recognition. This is why Raza’s book is so important. It challenges official doctrines and also presents the social and cultural history of Muslims in the subcontinent.

I received the prize with a heavy heart, almost a deep, haunting grief. I was in India when extremists tried to kill Raza and sprayed his car with bullets in March 2014. His driver succumbed to the wounds in the car and this peace advocate, in blood stained clothes, tried to stop the speeding cars on that busy road so that the driver could be taken to the hospital in time. After a few weeks, feeling insecure, Raza left the country because he was not prepared to get another driver or guard killed for his sake. Having lived in exile myself I know exactly how it feels to be forced to stay away from your own people and the land you love.

After five years of engagement, he was absent and this was a void we all felt

Raza Rumi has been an active part of every KLF, bringing life and a certain sparkle to every event where he spoke or moderated. After five years of engagement, he was absent and this was a void that many of us felt. Raza was so dependable that in the literary circles of Lahore, he had come to be closely associated with Karachi! He could not come but I am glad that he is safe and alive.

The jury obviously noted that the worthy son of our homeland, who risked his life for human rights, always wrote and spoke for peace. And peace not just against the internal enemies of Pakistani people -the extremists – but for peace with a neighbouring country that has a symbiotic relationship with us.

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Raza had asked me to thank the jury, the sponsors, OUP especially Ameena Saiyid, Harper Collins, his family and friends on that occasion. Even though he has been banished from the country, I was happy that his efforts were recognized at KLF.

Despite the violence he faced, I am sure Raza will continue to advocate for a tolerant Pakistan at peace with itself and abroad.

(At KLF peace prizes were awarded to Ziauddin Sardar for his book “Mecca”, Ali U Qasmi for his book “Ahmedis and the politics of religious exclusion in Pakistan”; Moonis Ahmer for  “Conflict management and the vision of secularism in Pakistan” and Raza Rumi for “Delhi by Heart”).

 

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We’re dying from apathy, not terrorism

Sitting in the semi-lit lounge at the Washington Plaza Hotel, Raza Rumi narrated the details of the fateful Friday in March when his driver died in an attack that targeted Rumi.

Raza’s driver, Mustafa, could have survived, had a good samaritan carried the injured driver to the hospital in time. But that didn’t happen.

Raza pleaded with the passersby to carry Mustafa to the hospital after they were attacked by the Lahore-based Taliban, but no one obliged.

“I was literally throwing myself on the cars, but still no one stopped,” Raza told me as his eyes teared up.

The militants came with the intent to kill. They missed their primary target, Raza. The passers-by near Raja Market in Garden Town, Lahore, or the doctors at the nearby hospital who refused to treat Mustafa, did not intend to aid the murderers. But this is precisely what they did.

Their apathy towards the dying driver supported the murderous designs of the militants.

What happened to Mustafa is not new. It happens every day in Pakistan where victims are left to die on the roadside.

On September 17, 1997, the same fate met five Iranian air force cadets and their Pakistani driver. They were ambushed near Choor Chowk in Rawalpindi by the sectarian militants who showered their vehicle with bullets. Continue reading