It is the written word which is the most powerful link with our ancestors who lived centuries ago, and the civilizations they created.
And it is the writers and intellectuals and creative people who can form bonds and friendships and relationships across borders because they understand that nationalism and religions and regions are narrow-minded concepts, and have got to be redefined in the context of global terror and terror of globalisation and imperialism. It is not, therefore, accidental that the most powerful voice against unilateral invasion on Iraq has been raised by the common people of the world. It is not accidental that one of the strongest indictments against the war has come from Nelson Mandela.
It is not for nothing that in Tony Blair’s own country millions of people marched the streets of London in chilling cold of February, and Hyde Park was so crowded that one could walk over the heads of people. It was not for nothing that people of the United States protested against the Vietnam war, and it is not for nothing that people are protesting all over America against the invasion of Iraq. These protests might not produce instant results, but history has strange ways of dealing with the criminals of humanity.
I wish our collective voice would have issued strong protests ! I wish our Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature had enough money to enable some of us travel across the region and collect signatures to issue a collective protest in defence of helpless citizens of Iraq who supposedly suffered under a totalitarian regime for no fault of theirs, and now are dying under a torrential rain of bombs.
I know that the primary and essential aim of SAARC should be a collective will and collective effort to eradicate poverty in the region, to deal with hunger and illiteracy, to try to eradicate malnutrition – the major killer in the region, because even in Sub-Saharan Africa only 30 per cent of the children are malnourished, versus 50 per cent in South Asia.
We, through our Foundation, are trying to bring the best creative writers and intellectuals of the Region closer, so that in times of any conflicts and wars in the world, and inner strifes -ethnic or of other types – voice of their collective protest should be heard with the respect it deserves. We, living in the SAARC region, are a major chunk of humanity inhabiting the planet earth. We should wake up to our share in the right of determining the destiny of humanity.
We are not a part of the arrogant tattoo of the boots of history, nor should we allow to be trampled under them. We are not concerned about what media likes to talk : the terrorist attacks, the death and the dying, the imperialist attacks by unilateral powers, the impact of globlisation, the glitterati at the so-called human rights conventions at Geneva which are more a ritual than genuine anguish of concerned people, the uprisings and military coups.
We are the mad dreamers who keep dreaming of a better and more homogenous and more just world. We are the mad dreamers who are like clouds and birds, floating and flying in our common skies, transcending all borders and boundaries. We are upholding the legacies of Yevgeni Yevtushenko, Pablo Naruda, Octavio Paz, Kabir, Sheikh Farid, Nanak, Kalidas, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, and hundreds of others, and of all the contemporary writers who are working to challenge the entrenched power structures of the societies in which we live.
Our endeavour is for freedom, social justice and respect for cultural diversity of this region, and above all making our voices heard and respected as a collective voice of sanity and compassion.
It is only the writers who done defy the arrogance of unilateral and totalitarian regimes, because totalitarianism is not practiced only by dictators but also by arrogant forces who ignore the voices of dissent in the world, and even of the United Nations. It is only the writer who has the courage to defy, the way the British Poet Laureate Andrew Motion did in January through his poem which was published on the front page of GUARDIAN :
They read good books And quote
We have to consolidate our voice for a better and more peaceful world for our children, by working to create a more just, sustainable and compassionate future for the coming generations by increasing our pubic visibility, our sense of interconnection, and our access to visions, stories, poetry and shared dreams for change : for a better and more just civil society where women’s issues, peace, civil liberties, food and shelter for everyone should be of primary concern.
We have only one tool by which we can contribute to this dream : the power of our words and our collective voice.
Our thrust is towards building bridges, and creating cultural connectivity because we believe that the people of the region can know each other with more understanding and compassion only if the writers of the region decipher the connecting cultural links and write about them. We are connected with each other not only geographically, not only through culture, but also through our common poverty, and illiteracy, and starvations, and malnutrition, and lack of basic medical facilities. We are connected with each other through our pains and sorrows, therefore there is an urgent need for a boundage of mutual compassion too.
My original dream of CULTURAL CONNECTIVITY launched like a paper boat in 1987 when I organized, single-handed and without a penny of support from anywhere, the first-ever CONFERENCE OF INDIAN AND PAKISTANI WRITERS writing in Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi. That dream has blossomed into cross-border friendships of creative minds, knowing each other intimately, profoundly and intensely, through sharing our creative works, and knowing each others’ problems through our writings. We are moving towards tracing our common cultural roots in our folklore and mythology, and learning to respect the otherness of others.
Writers should form a solid forum of creative voices, so that in times of internal strife and external conflicts this fraternity of writers and intelligentsia in the SAARC Region should be able to raise a collective voice of sanity and should be able to demand peace and tranquility in the region through the power of their pen, through collective campaigns, through resolutions to maintain peace.
Through our Foundation and its aim of cultural connectivity we are trying to create a strong forum of most eminent, most powerful writers and intellectuals who have the courage to speak out in defence of human rights and human dignity; who should raise their joint voices of protest for a just and peaceful and rational world, a world order with equal rights and equal opportunities for all, where governments don’t just rule but endeavour to create a welfare state that is free and just.
We have gathered here to share our common concerns, our common griefs, our common fears, our common aspirations, our common dreams !
Being next door neighbours we can compassionately identify with each other’s internal ethnic strifes, terrorism, atrocities, the political cricket matches that our rulers keep playing ignoring the miserable lives that the man in the dusty unpaved street is forced to live, ignoring the traumas of the misery of everyday life of the common man.
It is not that only our South Asian region is a disturbed area, every country in North America, North Africa, Australia, the Pacific, sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, Northern and Central Asia, West Asia, East Asia, South East Asia, and South Asia has suffered and is still suffering. Sometimes I wonder if we have become immune to the pain and anguish of carpet-bombing of Yugoslavia and Afghanistan and Iraq, of seeing the daily destruction of lives – as in a ritualistic sacrifice – in Palestine and Israel, and so many other killing fields of the world.
Let us share our concerns about the poor and the starving millions all over our SAARC region and through our writings compel our rulers to focus their attention on them. Let us be compassionately concerned over senseless killings in ethnic strifes and regional tensions.
Let us stand together and vow for the freedom of speech anywhere in the world, and let us vow to speak the truth even in the face of danger to our own lives.