A Spinal Beetle update: striking a blow for Southasian land connectivity

Kanak collecting the earth from Fatehgarh Sahib outside Sialkot, the childhood village of 96-year-old Barkat Singh 'Pahalwan' of Jalandar, India at his special request.

I’m sure the Dixits – Kanak, Shanta and Eelum – have soon share photos, video and stories about their Spinal Beetle fundraising drive from Kathmandu to Peshawar but meanwhile, this brief update.

Many things about their journey were striking and moving. There’s the romance of driving from Kathmandu via Lucknow, Delhi, Agra, Amritsar, Lahore and Rawalpindi to Peshawar, much of it along the ancient Grand Trunk Road that dates back to the Maurya Empire (3rd century BC), later extended by Sher Shah Suri in the 16h century, from Calcutta to Kabul.

There’s the cause – raising funds and awareness for spinal injury rehabilitation, especially since Kanak miraculously made almost a full recovery from a spinal injury, and established the Spinal Centre Nepal.

There’s the touching request from 96-year-old Barkat Singh ‘Pahalwan’ of Jalandar, India who asked Kanak to bring back earth from his childhood village of Fatehgarh Sahib outside Sialkot. Here’s a photo of Kanak digging up the soil – which Barkat Singh’s family have already seen and commented upon on facebook and I’m sure showed him.

Barkat Singh’s family runs the Mayuri restaurant outside Jalandar – where Kanak (being Kanak) left all passports and documents and drove off. “The proprieter family, Prajapati, saved the day for us,” he writes.

The Spinal group spent Eid at the Taj Mahal in Agra and were at the Golden Temple on Guru Nanak’s birthday. After crossing Wagah border on Nov 14th, they watched Lahore’s Ajoka troupe perform their play Bhagat Singh. “Amazing, after the hyper-nationalistic flag-lowering tamasha at Wagah-Atari!”

They visited the Sher Shah Suri Dak post “left forlorn and uncared for by the GT Road post” near Wazirabad, and on to a grand welcome in Islamabad — “Beetle Heaven!” (They are now honorary members of the Volkswagen Society of Pakistan). Along the way, “Mayo Hospital Lahore offers two fellowships for post-doc in rehabilitation medicine for Spinal Centre-Nepal. Wow, Southasian solidarity!”

At a meeting organised by activist Tahira Abdullah and others organised, chaired by Kishwar Naheed, Kanak made these important points (outlined in an email):

* The Spinal Beetle Rally was to strike a blow for ‘land connectivity’, because only that will guarantee high volume people-to-people connectivity.
* There must be many networks across Southasia, and not all of them have to be across all Southasian countires.
* The problem child of Southasia is North Southasia, so we must concentrated on connectivity across the land borders of the various countries of the northern half.
* A person from Nepal has every right to speak about India-Pakistan rapprochement
* There should be networks of Southasia, such as for spinal injury rehabilitation, for Volkswagen beetle and a million other things.
* These networks may not even be talked of as ‘southasian’, as long as they connect people across borders. ‘Let ten thousand networks bloom…
* The religio-militarist coagulation is so deep in all countries of Southasia (in different forms) that you need commerce to pry open the fist. Also, culture, through audio-visual media, especially cinema. This is why documentaries and features films should now be made of a kind that should be able to do for all of Southasia what the Bollywood cinema has done for India.

They’re now headed to Rohtas Fort, then Taxila and Peshawar, where they will end their journey at the Paraplegic Centre.

Here’s a great comment to end with, from activist Bobby Ramakant who hosted in Lucknow along the way: “Friends, Kanak sahab told me the unbelievable – that Nepal citizens can get visa on arrival in Pakistan or on border – they needed special permission to take their car in, but look how easy it is already for people from Nepal to travel to Pakistan – Sandeep (Panday) bhai’s vision of visa free South Asia is so much a possibility and a compelling need!”

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3 Responses

  1. What an exciting journey it seems. Very well written.

  2. Oh, how I wish I could be a Nepali Beetle — or at least a Himalayan frog — and travel across Southasia free of visa hassles and border babu questions!

  3. [...] A Spinal Beetle update: striking a blow for Southasian land connectivity [...]

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