By Hasan Mujtaba:
In Jamshedpur which lies in Jharkhand, an eastern state of India, there is a shrine of saint Miskeen Shah where visiting pilgrims leave with thousands of Xeroxed copies of their passports with wishes and aspirations of getting jobs in gulf countries or IT jobs in America or leisure trips abroad. He is known as the ‘saint of travel abroad’.
But what is unknown to many is that Syed Miskeen Shah originally hailed from a village of my native Sindh’s Matiari (you may have seen Matiari in Jameel Dehlavi’s film ‘Immaculate Conception’ where Shabana Azmi is shown to be acting as an heiress of local elderly feudal lord. “I want you to go abroad to be taught more than Benazir Bhutto,” the grandfather tells Shabana Azmi).
Miskeen Shah, a wandering dervish of Sindh opted for the arduous journey of India by foot in 1920’s. He came, lived, and died in the then Bihar (1934 in Jamshedpur) and is buried there.
Had the travel saint Miskeen Shah lived in the times post India-Pakistan rivalry, he would have never made it to today’s India because he would have been most certainly denied a visa.
The above story about Miskeeen Shah is also written by Indian Sindhi writer Laxman Komal in his biography ‘Wahi Khatay Ja Panna’ (The Pages of the Ledger Book of My Life). Laxman Komal, at the age of 12, was forced into India with his parents during the Partition and recently died in Delhi. His ashes were brought back to Sindh of Pakistan to be immersed into the river Indus according to his Will.
I placed his 735 page book, and Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Indian Journals’ in my luggage to read during my scheduled 14-hour travel from New York to Delhi when Teamwork Arts invited me as a speaker at the recently concluded Zee Jaipur Literature Festival 2016 (January 21 to January 25). An invitation letter was sent to me, my editor, and J.P.Vaswani, India’s renowned spiritual figure and social work celebrity who has written the foreword of my book ‘Glimpse Of Beloved,’ an English translation of selected poems of 18th century Sindhi poetry Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai. I was scheduled to speak on January 21 on the poetry of Shah Abdul Latif with the book’s compiler-cum-editor, and Rita Kothari.
I went to apply for an Indian visa to the New York Consulate General of India through an outsourced company with all the relevant documents including political clearance from the Ministry of External Affairs and event clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs on December 24, 2015.
The process of applying for an Indian visa is so sickening and humiliating if you were born in Pakistan. You are made to unduly wait at every step and told that this is because you are of Pakistani origin. It is a really nasty and nauseating experience I underwent.
“Come on,” I told them, “I fled Pakistan some 17 years ago. Never went back, nor am I willing to going back. I am an American. I am a writer-in-exile from Pakistan.” But you are neither treated as an American, nor as a writer but as ‘Pakistani.’ For the first time in many years, I was reminded by the Indian visa section officials that I was ‘Pakistani’. Otherwise, Pakistanis think I am pro-India and Indians think of me as a ‘Pakistani’ (suspect, you never know).
“After spending so many hours in the Ministry of External Affairs, there is a chance you get clearance in a day or so,” one of my organizers Sharupa Dutta, responsible for the clearance of delegate writers outside India told me in her email message. “Here is the good news. Find here a ‘No Objection’ letter from the ministry of External Affairs,” Sharupa’s email said on the following day.
Carrying the ‘No Objection’ and other forwarded emails from MEA officials, I excitedly rushed to the Indian Consulate General’s visa section and submitted the documents to the visa office, again. Again, unmoved across the wall of glass, the official returned a paper, highlighting “A Pakistani national” in red.
I wrote back to my organizers and their response was: “We are told by the ministry here nothing more could be done from Delhi.” I met with the cultural attaché next day; she said, “No way can you get a visa without clearance from Delhi.” So was the answer of visa officer across the glass window.
Perhaps India is the only country in the world whose diplomatic missions single you out on your ‘Pakistani origin’, it doesn’t matter that you abandoned the country years ago. “It is easier for the Japanese to get a Chinese visa than Pakistanis to get an Indian visa or Indians to get a Pakistani visa,” my 19-year-old says to me.
It is mean-spirited and harsh. India is way ahead in IT, still her visa officers don’t google you when it comes to a visa. Al least they should have googled me in their own media.
“Indian potatoes can come to Pakistan but not poets,” poet Ahmed Faraz has said. Recently, Pakistanis did not allow 10 Sindhi Indian writers to attend a literary conference in Karachi this month. On the other hand, India refused a visa to a writer and poet like me who was forced to leave the country because I wrote on the persecution of Hindu minorities. I also wished to meet many of my former Sindhi Hindu class fellows who left Pakistan either because their sisters or cousins were forcibly converted, or their parents and brothers were kidnapped, hounded and harassed. I wanted to track the footprints of Allen Ginsberg in Delhi. I wish they had read the poems I wrote on terror attacks on Mumbai, selling of Amrita Pritam’s house, and love and cricket matches between India and Pakistan, or the earthquake in 2005 in Kashmir. Nevertheless, it is typical ‘saas-bahu ka jhagra’ where I got caught in the cross-fire and became a ping-pong between the Indian Consulate New York and the ministries in Delhi.
Pakistan allowed the ashes of prominent Indian Sindhi writer Laxman Komal to be immersed into river Indus but there are many Hindu families in Pakistan who were not allowed to bring ashes of their dear ones to Ganges in India.
“Tum bhi hum jaisay nikle” (You also proved to be like us) Urdu poet Fahmida Riaz had said a few years ago in India which triggered an uproar from extremists. I would say of Indian diplomats and bureaucracy, “you proved yourselves even worse than us.”
No writer, poet or artist has ever been found harming India and Pakistan or spying on them. However, many Sindhi writers and poets in Pakistan including doyen of Sindhi poetry Shakh Ayaz spent months and years writing poems for peace during the wars or intervals of peacetime between the two neighbours.
This article was originally published here.