The story behind the viral ‘gwandne’ song

Collage of Bushra Ansari’s YouTube channel screenshots, 4-30 April 2019.

I wrote this piece a few days after Neelum Bashir’s Punjabi poem ‘Humsaye Maa Jaye’ (children of the same soil) went viral over India and Pakistan. Originally published in The Wire, 6 April 2019, the updated piece below includes the revised poem-script that Neelum Apa kindly sent me. Her talented performer sisters Bushra Ansari and Asma Abbas’ musical rendition caught public imagination, cutting through the rising tensions between India and Pakistan after the Pulwama attack, forcing even the Indian media, including television channels in the thick of hectic pre-poll reporting, to take note. Updates include the the jump in Bushra Ansari’s YouTube channel subscriptions, from 34 to over 25,000 in just three days, and to nearly 70,000 by 30 April, besides millions of views and shares. 

A catchy music video that went viral, countering ongoing India-Pakistan tensions, combines the power of women, poetry, music and dance. Behind it lies the story of a courageous and talented family of writers, singers and actors with a history of fighting for peace, against dictatorship and fascist politics.

As relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbours nosedived following the Pulwama attack of February 14, some young friends of the Punjabi writer Neelum Ahmad Bashir in Lahore pressed her to write a poem about the alarming situation.

“I have my own strong feelings about the issue,” says Neelum, better known for her short stories. “I couldn’t refuse them.”

Neelum Bashir reciting her poem. Video grab.

She wrote ‘Humsaye Maa Jaye’ (children of the same soil) practically in one sitting. The young people, who run a small company called Buzzer Media, filmed her reciting the poem, a dialogue between two women neighbours. Shared to her Facebook page as a public post, the video bears the hashtag #PeaceIndiaPakistan.

Speaking in Punjabi, Neelum starts by offering her “dear friends from India” a large bouquet of flowers placed before her. “Even the dupatta I’m wearing is a gift from dear Indian friends,” she says.

The Indian friends who gifted the dupatta had visited Pakistan just months earlier, and Neelum had taken them to Narowal – the proposed Kartarpur corridor area. But relations between their countries have since dipped to the extent that such visits are even more difficult now.

Ahmed Bashir

Neelum’s father Ahmed Bashir was a well-known progressive journalist, a beloved maverick who fought for the related causes of democracy, peace and freedom of expression. During General Zia’s military rule in the 1980s, when the authorities banned his work, he wrote newspaper columns under different bylines. I was privileged to know him when he was a contributor to The Star (now sadly defunct) when I first started working as a journalist.

He supported his wife Mehmooda Bashir, now 87, in following her passion for singing though she never did it professionally. Their five children – four daughters and a son – inherited their father’s wit and their mother’s musical talent. The three who pursued their passions professionally are the eldest Neelum, an established writer, and the youngest daughters, actors Bushra Ansari and Asma Abbas.

Neelum’s poem particularly struck a chord with the Asma, the youngest, who joined the field of performing arts relatively late, about a decade ago. Married off young to a Pakistan army officer, she raised a family while moving from cantonment to cantonment. It was only after her husband retired and they settled back in Lahore that she was able to pursue her passion.

Last year, Sonika Bhardwaj, a young fan across the border in Ludhiana, Indian Punjab reached out to Asma. They became friends on Facebook. Asma would ask Sonika to find music and dance materials for her. Sonika, a web designer who runs a small IT company, started Asma’s official Facebook page that she manages.

At Neelum’s request, she is the one who initially contacted me via Aman Ki Asha, the India-Pakistan website I run, to give a heads up on the upcoming musical production before it was released.

“They are not technical, these Bashir sisters,” says Sonika affectionately.

Moved to tears

Neelum’s poem moved Asma to tears. It reminded her of her friendship with Sonika. “We talk frequently in Punjabi to each other and have become close.”

Screen grab from the video

When she shared it with Sonika, the young woman who she has never met was also moved to tears. Obtaining a visa to each other’s countries is difficult. Sonika insists that Asma has to come to her wedding – whenever that happens. It’s an exhilarating thought but then, the reality of the endless tensions between their two countries dampens the excitement.

Neelum’s poem is based on such emotions – the excitement of connecting and finding common ground, food, music, dance, the realisation that children on both sides go hungry, the pathos of looking at the birds that fly freely across and the moon and sun that light the skies on either side. And then the reminder that we’re meant to be ‘enemies’ and both sides that are nuclear-armed.

The poem had to be shared more widely. Asma discussed the idea with sister Bushra Ansari.

They initially thought of doing a theatre production. No, a music video would be around longer. They visualised it literally as two women neighbours, separated by a high wall impossible to climb because of the broken glass on top of it. They can’t see each other but carry on a dialogue, set to a catchy beat that emerges naturally from the poem’s rhythm as recited by Neelum.

Neelum made some revisions. The younger sisters got to work organising the video. It was difficult – they are rarely in the same place at the same time, with hectic shooting schedules in different cities.

Based in Karachi, Bushra organised a studio, video and sound equipment, music and film crew. The sisters managed a three-hour session to record the audio one afternoon. A Sunday was dedicated to filming the performance. The video editing and post-production took another couple of days.

Screen grab, 4 April 2019

Within three days, they had put together what’s described on Bushra’s YouTube channel as a “music video that goes beyond war and borders to the hearts of people living so close, and yet so far away”.

The video, viewed over four million times on YouTube alone since it was first posted on 3 April 2019, speaks to the people’s aspirations for peace and good relations. The 34 subscribers to Bushra’s Youtube channel on 4 April shot up to nearly 26,000 over the next three days. By the end of the month, she had nearly 70,000 subscribers. That is in addition to the thousands of times the video was shared on various social media platforms.

Screen grab, 30 April 2019

“Weren’t you afraid to make this statement at such a time?” someone asked Asma.

“Afraid?”

The thought never occurred to any of the sisters. Where ever he is, I’m sure Ahmed Bashir is looking down approvingly and smiling his wicked smile.

Poem:

Children of the same soil

By Neelum Bashir

Initial, rough translation from the original Punjabi

Neighbour oh neighbour, my lovely neighbor
Come closer and listen to me
I hear there’s some trouble between our two countries
Oh.. let it be
Let’s laugh it off
It’s just politicians playing games

Come, let’s talk of something else
I often wonder your home is like
And I wonder the same
I think we have similar homes and lives
We have the same skies over our heads and watch the same moon at night

They say on TV.. that you are my enemy
I have also heard that you.. hate me terribly

Dear sweet neighbor… what should we cook today?
How about some spinach…or maybe lentils?
Whatever we cook, let’s exchange it with each other

Dear sweet neighbor… we watch the same moon and stars
Get light from the same sun
Draw water from wells in the same way
Mother Earth belongs to both of us

You have India, I have Pakistan

We have the same issues of food, water, electricity
Your children go hungry, so do mine
The glass on the dividing wall knows nothing of our pain

We draw water from wells in the same way
We both work hard
Mother Earth is ours and so are the skies

Neighbour, dear sweet neighbour
I hear from TV that you have an atom bomb
I heard the same, that you have an atom
If the atoms explode… the birds and the crows will die
We will also die like sitting ducks
Humanity will perish
Come, let’s take these damn atoms and throw them in fire!

Let’s make an item number of these bombs and dance a wild dance
Let’s sing and dance
Let’s climb this dividing wall
How shall I climb, my dear?
The glass pieces on the wall will pierce my heart…
Bleed my soul

Please pluck out these glass pieces, throw them out
Let’s dance when the fireworks begin
Let’s be happy and soothe our souls
Ease the pain of our wounds
And if nothing else
Let’s exchange our chunnies
Let’s sing
Dance a giddha
Be happy
Laugh a lot
Let’s not pay attention to petty issues
Our precious neighborhood is very dear to us

Let’s just throw the bombs in fire and dance… whirl twirl… smile and laugh
My sweet neighbor
Like a jasmine flower
Let’s spread love

Revised, updated script from Neelum Bashir

نغمہ برائے امن ہندوستان پاکستان

عنوان: ہمسائے ماں جائے

پاکستانی عورت: ہمسائی ہمسائی پیاری ہمسائی
بات سن بات سن
کان لگا کے بات سن

ہندوستانی عورت: بات کیا ہے بتا تو سہی
کچھ بول کچھ ہنس تو سہی
کیوں مجھے تڑپاتی ہے
ہمسائی ہمسائی میری

پاکستانی عورت: کہتے ہیں کچھ گڑ بڑھ ہے
میرا کلیجہ دہل رہا ہے

ہندوستانی عورت: ہنسی ٹھٹھہ ہے بھئی
سیاسیوں کا ٹولہ ہے
چھوڑ پیاری ہمسائی اور کوئی بات کر

پاکستانی عورت: سوچتی ہوں دیوار کے اس پار تیرا گھر کیسا ہے؟

ہندوستانی عورت: میں بھی یہی سوچتی ہوں بھلا تیرا کیسا گھر ہے؟

پاکستانی عورت: ایک جیسے صحن اور ایک آسمان ہے
لگتا ہے یوں جیسے یہ ہمارا جہان ہے

ہندوستانی عورت: ٹی وی والے کہتے ہیں کہ تو میری دشمن ہے

پاکستانی عورت: میں نے بھی یہی سنا ہے کہ تو بڑی زہریلی ہے

ہندوستانی عورت: پیاری ہمسائی بھلا آج کیا پکائیں؟
ساگ چڑھائیں یا دال پکائیں؟

پاکستانی عورت: جو بھی پکائیں دیوار پر رکھ کر بدلائیں

ہندوستانی عورت: پیاری ہمسائی کئی بار سوچتی ہوں
رات کو چارپائی بچھاتے ہیں تو ہم ایک ہی چاند کو تکتے ہیں
چڑھتے سورج سے روشنیاں مانگتے ہیں

پاکستانی عورت: کنویں کے میٹھے پانیوں کو محنت سے بھرتے ہیں
ایک ہی ہماری دھرتی اور ایک آسمان ہے
تیرا ہندوستان ہے تو میرا پاکستان ہے

ہندوستانی عورت: روٹی، پانی، بجلی کا بڑا جنجال ہے
بھوکا تیرا بچہ ہے تو بھوکا میرا بچہ ہے
دیوار پر لگے کانچ کو کب یہ خیا ہے؟

پاکستانی عورت: پیاری ہمسائی۔۔۔! ٹی وی پر یہ کہتے ہیں تیرے پاس ایٹم ہے

ہندوستانی عورت: میں نے بھی یہ سنا ہے تیرے پاس ایٹم ہے

دونوں عورتیں مل کے: آ جا دونوں ایٹموں کو چولہے ہی میں جھونک دیں
پھٹتے پٹاخوں پہ ٹھمکے ہی لگا دیں

ہندوستانی عورت: جھمکا بریلی والا، کانوں میں ایسا ڈالا
جھمکے نے لے لی میری جان، ہائے رے میں تیرے قربان

پاکستانی عورت: کالا سیاہ کالا،
میرا کالا ہے دلدار تو گوروں کو پرے کرو

دونوں عورتیں مل کے: ایسے ایسے کر کے کمر ہلائیں
آئٹم نمبر آئٹم نمبر ناچ کے دکھائیں

ہندوستانی عورت: فیس جمع کر کے بچوں کو پڑھا لیں
آنے والی نسلوں کو پیار سکھا لیں

پاکستانی عورت: پیاری ہمسائی بات سن بات سن
چڑیاں اور کوے جب اڑ اڑ آتے ہیں
داؤ لگا کے میری چُوریاں چُراتے ہیں

ہندوستانی عورت: وہ کب دفتروں سے ویزے لگواتے ہیں

پاکستانی عورت: میری پیاری ہمسائی، میرا جی کرتا ہے چڑیا بن جاؤں
جب میرا جی چاہے، اڑ کے تجھے سینے سے لگاؤں

ہندوستانی عورت: سنا ہے ایٹم پھٹے تو چڑیا مر جائے گی
کوے مر جائیں گے
ہم بھی یہیں بیٹھے بیٹھے مر جائیں گے
سارے کے سارے انسان مر جائیں گے

پاکستانی عورت: آ جا دیوار ذرا پھاند لیں
اور ایک دیا جلائیں
ہم بھلا دلوں میں نفرتوں کو کیوں پالیں

ہندوستانی عورت: کیسے میں دیوار کو پھاند لوں
دیوار پر لگا کانچ ہمیں چبھ جائے گا
چیر دے گا دل ہمارا، خون بھی بہائے گا

پاکستانی عورت: کاش کوئی آئے، اس دشمن کانچ کو نکال دے
اور دل کے زخموں پر مرہم کوئی رکھ دے

ہندوستانی عورت: اور کچھ نہ سہی چُنی ہی بدلا لیں
ماہئے ٹپے گا کے مل، خوشیاں منا لیں

پاکستانی عورت: کہنے دے زمانے کو جو بھی کہنا ہے
اپنے ہمسائے ہمارے لئے گہنا ہیں

ہندوستانی عورت: چھوٹی موٹی بات کو دل پہ نہیں لیتے
تو میری ماں جائی ہے پیاری ہمسائی ہے

دونوں مل کے: آ جا دونوں ایٹموں کو چولہے میں جھونک دیں
مل جل کے گِدا ناچیں اور خوب ناچیں۔

(ends)

One Response

  1. […] April 3, 2019, when actor Bushra Ansari released a music video based on a peace poem by her older sister Neelum Bashir, Neelum asked a young friend in India (who […]

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