How JNU shattered a Pakistani stereotype about India

Taimur Rahman is an academic, political activist and the lead musician of Laal Band of Pakistan. He is based in Lahore. For details, visit the band’s site and facebook page.

Taimur Rahman

Laal just launched its second album “Utho Meri Dunya” with Times Music in India. We just completed a massive tour of several cities and came back after an intense 13 performances in two weeks. We played in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Gurgaon, and Bangalore. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of our lives.

What made it absolutely amazing was the manner in which we were discovering India as we went from city to city and location to location performing for audiences, interacting with them, both on and off stage, and just traveling, eating, chatting with everyone we met along the way. Never has there been a better time to work for peace between India and Pakistan than today. To illustrate my point, I’d like to narrate one small incident that occurred our climactic May Day concert in Jawahalal Nehru University, which was an eye opener for all of us.

Before I left for India, some of our fans sent me a link of a TV debate in India on the question of Pakistan. The young Indian participants of this debate all took a very aggressive stance towards Pakistan. Before I left for my India tour, I promised my fans that I would address these sorts of concerns while in India and build understanding and peace between our countries.

Given this in the back of my head, I was totally unprepared for the India that was to greet me. I believe that it really shows how our perception of “Hindu India” is a complete construct and bears no relationship to the actual diversity that exists in India.

At JNU May Day concert, we had a guest performer who sang a Hindu religious devotional song to open for Laal. It was in Sanskrit and we could not understand it. We were backstage, and I was straining my brain to see how much Sanskrit I could understand. Barely a minute into the song, the crowd began to say “no” and wave their arms for the performer to stop. The organizers rushed backstage and had the song brought to an abrupt close. With that we came on stage and began our concert. What was totally shocking about this incident was that the crowd did not want to listen to Hindu devotional music on May Day (note: they all danced to Fareeda and to Laals leftist version of Laal Qalander, they had no issue with Muslim devotional metaphors within our leftist music at all).

I am trying to think of the Pakistani equivalent to such an event. I guess it would be something like a Punjab University crowd refusing to listen to Allah Hoo because they wanted to hear songs related to socialism and communism on May Day. In addition, the crowd would not object to religious metaphors from other religions (say Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism) for the cause of the workers. For me personally, I can never even imagine that could be a possibility in Pakistan. Even holding a concert involving all the students of Punjab University remains an elusive dream (thanks to the Jamiat).

Taimur and Mahvash at the concert/ photo: Prakash K ray

Granted JNU is one of the most Leftist universities in South Asia. Yet that does not take away from the fact that it is also part of the very India about whom we have ridiculous stereotypes. What this little incident underscored in my mind is how far the image of Hindu India is from the reality of India. India is diverse with so many different religions and political ideologies that it is arguably impossible to understand the true depth of this diversity from what we are fed via the mainstream media (which is anyway full of bollywood glamorized versions of the country). I’d like to leave my readers with the notion that we really need to get out of these ridiculous stereotypes and learn about each other in a much more meaningful way. I want to end this short comment with a stanza from the living legend Baba Najmi, one of the great Punjabi leftist poets in Pakistan today. Masjid meri tu kyun dhawain,
Main kyun torran mandar nu,
Aaja bay keh mil kay parriyay,
Ik doojay day andar nu