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Meeting Oneself in Pakistan

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By Vipul Rikhi

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Towards the end of September 2014, the Kabir Project team went to Lahore to take part in the Kabir Festival organised by Aahang, a student body in the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). Our visas hadn’t come through till the last minute and we hadn’t been sure of being able to go at all. But we finally made it. When we crossed the border at Wagah, we found bright, young students from LUMS waiting to receive us.

It was a wonderful one week that we spent there. We were overwhelmed by the love and warmth with which we were taken care of by the student volunteers. The air in Pakistan felt very alive with political and religious churning (Imran Khan was leading a massive protest rally against Nawaz Sharif while we were still there). We set up a photo and video exhibit of our work at the intersection of mystic poetry and folk music, showed films, participated in some classes, and sang the Kabir and Bhakti songs that we’ve learnt during the course of our own journeys.

The moment I wish to describe is the last evening of the festival, on October 2, when Dr Anjum Altaf, Dean of Humanities, took to the mike to thank us for our visit. He described in beautiful words how our relationship took shape. He said that we arrived as guests, became friends by the next day, and partners by the day after that, and now, by the last day, they were us and we were them. Truly, in that moment, as through the whole duration of our visit, all differences seemed artificial and arbitrary. We mingled together to form one stream. It felt appropriate that a Hindu bhajnik mandali from the Cholistan desert in Pakistan was invited to sing with us on that final evening. As Kabir says, “Ham sab maahin, sab ham maahin / Ham hain bahuri akela” (I’m in all, all are in me / I am many and alone).

Vipul Rikhi is a member of the celebrated Kabir Project in Bangalore. This comment was published in Aalaap magazine in Chennai and is reproduced with permission of the author.

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