The coronavirus pandemic has added a new wrinkle to the old India-Pakistan story. Away from the hostilities on cricket field, at SAARC dialogues and the LOC, a new camaraderie and nostalgia is taking shape on Instagram as the two neighbours remain in Covid-19 lockdown.
While tension continues on the LOC, Pakistani singer and writer Ali Sethi is doing increasingly popular Instagram live sessions, in collaboration with Indian celebrities, and has opened a brand new gateway for post-Partition nostalgia. Instagram is the new Wagah border and Ali Sethi with other artists and writers is holding the peace candle on the social media platform.
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Singers without borders
But a statement by the Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE) released on 12 April might blow these candles too. The dhaaga of art and music, which Ali says unites the two countries, is going to get weakened since the federation has warned Indian artists against collaborating with artists from Pakistan, even virtually.
The FWICE statement said, “Some members are blatantly violating the non-cooperation circular …… anyone found cooperating or working in any manner with any Pakistani artistes, singers and technicians in any mode or media of entertainment will be subject to strict disciplinary action.”
But before the LOC politics came crashing the Instagram politics, the artistes had already created some history.
One of the ‘home concerts’ for which music lovers on both sides of the border thanked Ali Sethi and God alike, was the one with legendary singers, Farida Khanum, Rekha Bhardwaj and director-producer Vishal Bhardwaj.
Ali could not be a part of the live session because only two Instagram handles can go live at the same time but he earned praise from fans for ‘creating history’.
During the session, an elated Rekha greeted ‘Farida ji’ with an ‘assalamalaikum,’ and lovingly pulled her husband Vishal close when Khanum sang the famous romantic song, Aaj jaane ki zidd na karo. Khanum’s granddaughter also appeared in the live and conveyed Ali Sethi’s request to Rekha Bhardwaj asking her to sing the song Phir le aaya dil.
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Fans and ‘foes’
Fans, who could not imagine this union ever happening, were virtually sitting in the living rooms of these celebrities.
An Indian user commented during the live, “Legends in one frame. This is a blessing in such trying times. Bhagwan aap sabko lambi aur khush zindagi ada karein (may god bless you all).”
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Here is a full video from our historic session yesterday. If there’s anything we can learn in this difficult time, let it be the value of cooperation across borders. LOVE CONQUERS ALL ♥️♥️♥️ A very special thanks to Faridaji’s genius granddaughter @mehrunnisaiamin for setting this up, and to @anthonysoshil and @bhangusayeen for making the video #alisethi #rekhabhardwaj #vishalbhardwaj #faridakhanum #india #pakistan #lockdown #coronavirus #music #collaboration
The music sessions are also peppering the otherwise lonely lockdown blues. Indian singer Shilpa Rao also featured in a live video along with her family, where viewers thanked them for “making super depressing quarantine period better,” and insisted on more such collaborations.
The sessions dripping with romanticism and love appear unreal, and are in complete contrast to what’s going on Twitter, WhatsApp groups, TV channels and LOC.
Recently, even cricketers were not spared on Twitter when they extended a helping hand to their colleague in Pakistan. Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh were badly trolled and called ISI agents when they made an appeal to help Shahid Afridi’s organisation in the fight against coronavirus. The comment section was full of ‘shame on you’ remarks with trolls even asking Yuvraj Singh if he is donating the money for “jihad”.
Ye paise j!had ke liye de rahe ho?
— Mask 🎭 (@Mr_LoLwa) March 31, 2020
But a look at the comment section under Sethi’s live video sessions shows there is another planet out there. “Love from India” is one of the most repeated comments.
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Lahore to Banaras via Insta
In another live session with comedian Zakir Khan, nostalgia about cities kicked in again, when Zakir said how Mehdi Hassan, the inimitable singer is from his ancestral place and Ali shared how his mentor was from Delhi.
Another recent live session of Sethi was with lyricist, screenwriter and comedian Varun Grover who recited a poem about the peculiar characteristics of different cities like the narrow lanes of Banaras or the Golden Temple in Amritsar, written along the famous lines “Jinne Lahore nahi vekhya o jamayai nai,” which translates to “One who has not seen Lahore has not lived”.
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I feel like @vidushak is a pied-piper of our times — someone who leads us, with his songs and screenplays and subversive standup acts, into a happier and always more inclusive place. In our live session the other day I bored him with my rendition of his mashhoor-tareen gaana ‘Moh Moh Ke Dhaage’ (on popular demand!), but I am so-so-so excited to make the tune for ‘Jis Lahore Na Vekhya’ — check tay karo! #instalive #quarantine #lockdown #music #banter #alisethi #varungrover #stayathome #washyourhands
The India-Pakistan relationship is complicated. There are strict restrictions on the movement of people and things across borders.
Given the prevailing conditions, Grover disputed Javed Akhtar’s choice of words for a song he wrote long ago for Refugee — panchi nadiyaan pawan ke jhonke, koi sarhad na inhe roke — saying that, “kabootaron ko roka hai, rivers bhi baant liye hai but I think music ko rokna thoda mushkil hai.” (We have caged pigeons (birds) and have divided rivers but I think it is difficult to restrict music.)
While music has the power to melt hearts and bring people closer, there are always those who would continue to oppose such initiatives to further their agenda. With FWICE’s strict statement against music collaborations, I’d say, think again, Varun Grover.
Views are personal.