“Art for art’s sake is fine, but with a social consciousness it’s even better” – Nandita Das

IMG_5338-Nandita I met Nandita Das for the first time at the World Social Forum in Mumbai, 2004,  introduced by our mutual friend, the activist Shabnam Hashmi, sister of the late Safdar Hashmi. Since then I have caught up with Nandita several times, most recently at Brown University in Providence where she talked about her life and work. Here’s my article about her for The News on Sunday - it includes bits they had to delete due to space constraints. Also published in Times of India blogs.
Continue reading

South Asian University response to question re: students from Pakistan

Thanks South Asian University for the prompt response to my question about Pakistani students raised in my last blog post. See tweets: Continue reading

India/Pakistan: Asha ki Kiran

Tea with the lovely Nandita Das in Mumbai

Tea with the lovely Nandita Das in Mumbai

Found to be inoperable in Bangalore, young Kiran Soomro won over scores of hearts and has returned to Pakistan with a priceless gift of love – and homemade Singhar mithai. My article published in Aman ki Asha and TOI blogs today

On January 20, 2014, her seventeenth birthday, Kiran Soomro flew from Karachi to Bangalore on with her parents. They left with hope in their hearts and a prayer on their lips, expecting that Dr. Devi Shetty at the Narayana Health hospital would be able to surgically close the hole in Kiran’s heart.

Five days later, they learnt that her condition is inoperable by now. It would have been a fairly simple operation had it been looked into and treated earlier. Doctors initially discussed a heart-and-lung transplant. Dr. Balakrishnan, a well-known surgeon from Chennai drove down on his own initiative to examine Kiran in Bangalore. Continue reading

Update: Kiran Soomro in Bangalore

Happy birthday, Kiran. Photo: Haresh Jiwnani

Happy birthday, Kiran. Photo: Haresh Jiwnani

On Jan 19, 2014, friends and family gathered at heart patient Kiran Soomro‘s home in Karachi for a small send-off/birthday party. The following day, on her 17th birthday, Jan 20, 2014, she left Karachi for Bangalore with her parents, via Mumbai where her Indian ‘didi’ Nitu Jiwnani met her. The five hour flight delay had been exhausting. A skinny, exhausted, red-eyed Kiran clung to Nitu and wept. She didn’t want to get on another flight. But after a breather and some refreshments, she was ready to tackle the onward journey  (see my article in Aman ki Asha; also published in TOI blogs).

They landed in Bangalore late at night, and spent the following day, Jan 21,  at the police station undergoing the verification process that Indian and Pakistani citizens are required fulfill within 24-hours of arrival Continue reading

Nitu’s mission: Save Kiran

My column PERSONAL POLITICAL published in The News, TOI blogs, and Aman ki Asha

Kiran Soomro: "I want to live".

Kiran Soomro: “I want to live”.

Nitu Jiwani-1

Nitu Jiwnani: “Save Kiran”

By Beena Sarwar

Didi, I want to live,” 16-year old Kiran Soomro in Karachi tells her friend Nitu Jiwnani in Mumbai. “I don’t want to die.”

They are talking on Skype in Sindhi as they often do, since first meeting at Apollo Hospital, New Delhi, in May 2013.

Kiran had gone there with her parents to undergo surgery for her congenital heart defect (“hole in the heart”) that should have been operated upon when she was much younger. But her father Sikandar Ali Soomro, a tall, thin matriculate who earns daily wages selling potato wafers at a Karachi roadside stall could not afford the operation. Her parents were resigned to losing Kiran, a weak and sickly child.

But she wouldn’t give up. Pulled out of school when she was in class five, Kiran studied at home. A few years ago, as a spunky teenager, she realised that without the surgery, she would die. Continue reading

Pakistan, India and Aman ki Asha: The year that was, and looking ahead

Indo Pak Global Peace Vigil, London. Photo by Ali Mehdi Zaidi

Indo Pak Global Peace Vigil, London. Photo by Ali Mehdi Zaidi

Something I wrote last week for The News year-end special supplement, published Jan 1, 2014. I later remembered many special moments I left out, like the Mumbai and Karachi Press Clubs exchanges, the border security guards allowing violators to return instead of throwing them in prison, the Indian heart patient allowed to disembark without a visa in Pakistan, to name some. There are many others…

For millions of Indians and Pakistanis, Aman ki Asha is just that – a shared ‘hope for peace’ between our two countries. Despite falsehoods circulated by detractors targeting this peace initiative in all kinds of underhand ways since its launch on January 1, 2010, it has stayed the course, and continued to urge both governments to do so. In the process, Aman ki Asha has provided a platform and a way forward for aspirations of peace between India and Pakistan.

India Pakistan Global Peace Vigil

The year 2013 started out with a powerful expression of these aspirations countering rising tensions due to firing and the loss of lives at the Line of Control in Kashmir. In the midst of the cacophony of allegations and counter-allegations arose voices of sanity, coming together for a global vigil for peace between India and Pakistan. Continue reading

Play for peace: Mahesh Bhatt’s ‘Milne Do’

Mahesh Bhatt-Imran Zahid play

Mahesh Bhatt’s forthcoming play is creating a media buzz

My article in the Aman ki Asha page of The News, Dec 4, and in the TOI blog

Play for peace: Mahesh Bhatt’s ‘Milne Do’

A behind-the-scenes look at what is driving a veteran film producer and peace activist’s fourth stage production, coming up

By Beena Sarwar

It was Google’s “Reunion” ad released on the web that pushed Delhi-based actor Imran Zahid to move on an idea that he has been thinking about for some time, creating waves in the media.

Last week Imran messaged me, asking for story ideas for a stage play “to promote Aman ki asha and the concept of ‘Milne do’ (let them meet) to be staged in various cities of India and Pakistan in association with Mahesh Bhatt Saab”. Continue reading

India /Pakistan – That elusive visa: You can’t just ‘Google it’

My article in The News’ weekly Aman ki Asha page today (also on the website and TOI blog)

"Ye mein, ye Yusuf"... That's me, that's Yusuf...

“Ye mein, ye Yusuf”… That’s me, that’s Yusuf… Still from Google’s “Reunion” ad

Google’s tearjerker “Reunion” ad released on the web has tapped into a rising groundswell for peace between the people of India and Pakistan

By Beena Sarwar

The internet search engine Google’s moving, beautifully made little video “Reunion”, released on November 13 has gone viral. In less than a week, the ad on Youtube has been played over four million times, and shared endlessly on facebook, twitter and blogs, and posted on other video sharing portals like Vimeo (over 70,000 views). Continue reading

Google’s tearjerker ‘Reunion’ ad, and the ‘Milne Do’ campaign

“Reunion”, the moving, well made little video released by Google today is going viral. And it’s not just the one ad, there’s a playlist of five in the series – ‘fennel’, ‘cricket’, ‘Anarkali’, and ‘sugar-free’. If it doesn’t move you, you’ve got a heart of stone. And if oh, it was that easy. For Pakistanis and Indians to get visas to visit each other’s country is just short of impossible. Check out their visa requirements for each other’s nationals — Pakistan visa requirements for Indians, India visa requirements for Pakistanis – which includes the notorious Sponsorship Certificate “mandatory from 07/03/2011 for all visa applications”, to be signed and stamped by an Indian first class gazetted officer vouching for the Pakistani applicant. But let’s suspend disbelief for now, and  watch Google’s heartwarming Reunion video below. If you can’t access Youtube, here’s the Vimeo link.

AKA LogoIf the Reunion ad moved you, go to the Milne Do (Let people meet) petition link and sign (and share) the campaign against India Pakistan visa restrictions. Every voice counts. Text below. Continue reading

“Why are India and Pakistan at war?” asks 14-year old Kshitij…

Like father like son: Samir and Kshitij Gupta

Like father like son: Samir and Kshitij Gupta

My article published in The News oped, TOI blogs and Aman ki Asha on Monday, Nov 4, 2013 

“Why are India and Pakistan at war?”

Beena Sarwar

Some days ago I got a call from my friend Samir Gupta, on his way home after picking up his son, 14-year old Kshitij, from a Delhi train station late at night. Kshitij was returning from a school trip with some 30 other students from Delhi Public School, Ghaziabad. They’d taken an early morning train to Amritsar and watched the flag-lowering ceremony at Wagah Border.

Samir, a passionate advocate of peace and good relations between India and Pakistan, asked Kshitij about the trip. Continue reading

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