Just before the 26/11 carnage in Mumbai, there was a feeling of camaraderie in the air. Politicians were making noises about dialogue with neighbours, Indian cricketers toured the country with Indians talking about 'warm hospitality' and the feelings seemed mutual. Then came 26/11 and those feelings evaporated very quickly.
Hate, mistrust, finger pointing and calls to go to war against Pakistan replaced the spirit. While the stridency may have become muted nearly four years after 2008, the mistrust remains.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, guru of the Art of Living (AOL) made a three-day visit to Pakistan recently. It was his second visit. He had gone earlier in 2004, but that was before the terror attack. Post 26/11 the Indo-Pak scenario is very different and much more complicated.
From an interview:
Q: You went on a three-day visit to Pakistan from March 12 to March 14 is that correct?
Q: Were you invited to visit Pakistan? If yes, who invited you?
Ans: Several civil society members, Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and religious leaders jointly invited me.
Q: Where, specifically, did you go to in Pakistan, which places did you visit?
Ans: Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi.
Q: You say your aim was to foster peace through this visit
Ans: Yes of course! I have been saying, 'Vasudev Kutumbhakam', the world is one society, fostering peace within individual/communities is the basic aim of AOL.
Q: You first visited Pakistan in 2004. This was your second visit. Could you tell me the primary difference between both visits?
Ans: In 2004, we could not go around freely, people would have to come to the hotel to visit me. This time, the Pakistan Govt. had made elaborate security arrangements. I could visit a University, colleges and we also inaugurated our peace centre in Islamabad and Karachi.
Q: In 2004, 26/11 had not yet happened. This time, you went post 26/11. That has vitiated the atmosphere between the countries. There is mistrust and many Indians cannot forget
Ans: Pakistan is as much a victim of terrorism as India is. Now, people want a way out; they are tired of terrorism and fanaticism. They appreciate diversity, interfaith dialogues, most of all inner peace. The AOL has transformed life of thousands of people in Pakistan. Our volunteers were also engaged in flood and trauma relief activities in 2010. We must leave the past behind and move ahead and extend the hand of friendship. It would be wrong to term a whole nation / community responsible for the act of few. There are several teachers and regular AOL courses happening in three cities, shortly we will be starting another centre in Pashtoon-Peshawar.
Q. Were you asked questions with reference to 26/11?
Ans: No, but they asked me questions of sharing of river water, visa relaxation and about the polytheism of India. My answer to them was that the Asian continent has abundance of water. We don't need to fear an inhuman attitude from India. India has always upheld a humanitarian approach and I would always support that. Next, increase in trade will make the continent stronger and help eliminate poverty. I cleared the misconception of polytheism in India, Hinduism also believes in one god, but with many manifestations. Like Islam, has 99 names for Allah, Hinduism has many forms and names for one 'Parmatma'. This was greatly appreciated.
Q: What do they say about their country being labelled as a terrorist hub the most dangerous place in the world as it is called?
Ans: They are at a loss and they really don't know what to do.
As I said, they are fed up with the extremist approach, they don't know what to do. More than terrorism or perception of other people, it is corruption and their politics which is bothering them.
Q: Are ordinary Pakistanis, youngsters especially curious about India?
Ans: Young minds, especially in the urban areas, are curious about our spirituality. Even the biggest venue for our program became small. We cannot judge them all. Pakistan is a country of 190 million people and 70 per cent are youngsters and there are all types of youth. I had overwhelming response from young people.
Q: Realistically, the great India-Pak divide may never be breached. Do you agree?
Ans: Realistically, the great India-Pak divide will never be breached. There can be never a political unification and there should never be also. But unity of hearts and minds, people-to-people communication is essential for peaceful coexistence. This will marginalise the empty war rhetoric, which some people use to garner votes.
Q: You have reportedly said you want the Taliban to de-stress? Is that true? Do you think you can teach people who blow up girls schools and shops that stock music, to de-stress? Is it true that you wanted to talk to the Taliban? And, do they want to talk to you?
Ans: I was replying to a query from media, what do you say about The Taliban? I said, I would like to talk to them. I got indication that some of them are curious. The energy in Pakistan was so positive. They received me with so much love, enthusiasm with music, flowers, gratefulness and vegetarian food for all those who came for our program. The atmosphere was of love and celebration and people brought dholaks. Unlike with politicians, with the spiritual leaders people have a sense of belongingness, which is beyond nationality and religion. Some of them came to express their gratitude and others came with their personal issues. All in all, the atmosphere was very cordial and full of reverence. Sufi tradition being alive in Pakistan, people come to spiritual leaders for asking 'Dua'.
Q: Did the issue of Kasab come up during your visit? Were you asked any question about Kasab?
Q: Your Pak visit too, reports say, comprised mainly of an audience of elite, upper class, ladies- who-lunch kind of audience. You are accused of being a guru for the elite, in India too.
Ans: In three days, I had several meetings, one of which was held in Sheraton hotel in Karachi, that began at 10.30 pm and comprised of elites and the who's who of Karachi. All other programmes were attended by youngsters, students and rural folk. In India, all our programmes are held in vast grounds with millions of people. We have great outreach in tribal areas, even as this interview is going on, right from Pakistan I landed in Gazipur district of eastern UP. I will be touring 11 rural districts of UP. And you should see the enthusiasm.
Q: Are the Pakistanis greatly conflicted? On one hand, they are US Allies in the war on terror, on the other, the US is sending drones? What do young Pakistanis think about the US?
Ans: With US, youngsters feel so confused. It is like a sweet stuck in the throat. They can neither swallow nor spit.
Read the article on MiD DAY.