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. 

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Women warriors for peace and a viral Punjabi music video

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A poetic dialogue between two neighbours separated by an insurmountable wall goes viral. Pictured here: Asma Abbas and Bushra Ansari, performing their sister Neelum Bashir’s poem.

There’s been so much going on that I haven’t shared any updates here for a while. On Tuesday 11 Feb., Bilawal Bhutto Zardari gave a talk on Pakistan and the Welfare State at Harvard that I reported on: “We can’t say we’re too poor to look after our people”, published in The News on Sunday, 17 Feb.  I was going to post it with an important paragraph that got left out of my report when I cut it down, but the Pulwama attack of 14 Feb overshadowed everything. I’ll share it at some point. Continue reading

Celebrating Fahmida Riaz in Delhi

Fahmida Riaz-Delhi prog

Post updated to add the programme just received from Delhi; gratified that it includes the poem I posted here earlier, “Palwashe Muskurao”.

Great to know that friends in Delhi are organising this wonderful event to commemorate the great poet Fahmida Riaz – Fahmida Khala to me, she called my father Sarwar Bhai. I love the poem of hope and inspiration she recited, Palwashe Muskurao (Palwasha, smile), at the commemoration we organised for him and the student movement he led. Here’s information about the upcoming event in Delhi, fittingly, on Valentine’s Day, that I put together for the Aman Ki Asha website.

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Happenings Fahmida Riaz-Delhi-Feb 2019

What: ‘Transcending Boundaries, Defying Taboos:
The Poetry of Fahmida Riaz’

When: Thursday, 14 February 2019, 6.30 pm
Where: India Habitat Centre, Delhi
Who: Open and free to the public
Co-hosted by the PIPFPD and India Habitat Centre.

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Tum bilkul hum jaise nikle
Ab tak kahan chhupey they bhai!

(You have turned out to be just like us
Where were you hiding till now, brothers!)

Fahmida Riaz wrote her prescient poem in 1996 when the BJP first emerged as the single largest party in the Lok Sabha. When she recited it nearly twenty years later before an Indian audience in April 201, “it carried a weight equal to the history of South Asia itself” say members of the Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace & Democracy. Continue reading

Bangladesh #FreeShahidul – my opinion piece in Washington Post yesterday

Shahidul Alam in Central Park, New York, 2012. Photo: Beena Sarwar

The Washington Post published my opinion piece about Shahidul yesterday. Below, a slightly earlier version of the final edited piece for those unable to access WP.

Here’s why Bangladesh made a huge mistake by jailing Shahidul Alam

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Soch Columbia: “Rethinking Partition: The Quest for Jinnah’s Nation”

L to R - Kapil Dev, Ameena Zia, Yasser Latif Hamdani, Qasim Rashid, Hira Azhar

Panel on Azadi: The Fight for Religious Freedom in South Asia: (L-R) Kapil Dev, Ameena Zia, Yasser Latif Hamdani, Qasim Rashid, Hira Azhar. Photo: Columbia Soch.

Delighted to have participated at the Soch (thought) conference organised by Pakistani students association that includes at least one Indian (love it!) at Columbia University in New York last weekend. I was struck by the boldness of the themes they chose as well as the choice of speakers, many known for their outspokenness against the ‘establishment’. Below, their press release (photos: courtesy Soch). Continue reading

The common sense of a socialist trucker in Boston

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“Defend Moslems. Stop Trump.”

He’s not shouting or holding up placards. Just sitting atop a green box by the Park Street Station at Boston Common, hands clasped around knees drawn up to his body. Wearing a bicycle helmet, purple rimmed reflector sunglasses, black t-shirt and shorts, sneakers.

“Stop racism,” he says to no one in particular.

I turn back to talk to him, and later notice the posters on the wall a few feet away from where he’s sitting. Fight for Socialism. Rent Control. Fight Fascism. Continue reading

#NotInMyName protests in India and elsewhere, June 28 and beyond

Not in my name-Orijit Sen

People in more cities are joining the #NotinMyName protest against vigilante violence and mob lynching, since the first one was announced in Delhi. Scroll reported that demos were planned in 9 (later updated to 11, and counting) cities including London, Toronto, on Wednesday.  Compiled below, the venues mentioned in the report as well as others: Continue reading

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