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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 September 2005, 11:20 GMT 12:20 UK
BBC's concert for S Asian peace
The BBC's Hindi and Urdu services organised a live concert for peace linking Karachi and Mumbai (Bombay) on Tuesday as part of the BBC's Who Runs Your World? season.

Shubha Mudgal
Why are you so far away? Come here and we will never let you go back
Shubha Mudgal, Indian singer

Pakistan's Abida Parveen and India's Shobha Mudgal sang respectively from the two cities for the concert, entitled Sur ka Rishta (Bond of Music), while panellists discussed the power that music holds over hearts and minds.

The BBC News website's Aamer Ahmed Khan was at the event in Karachi.

The live satellite link was up and Pakistan's legendary singer Abida Parveen found herself looking at her counterpart Shubha Mudgal in Mumbai.

"You are looking so pretty, Shobhaji," said Abida Parveen.

Shubha Mudgal laughed: "What about you, Abidaji? You have captured Mumbai."

Shubha went on: "But why are you so far away? Come here and we will never let you go back."

It was Abida's turn to laugh. "Why do you say I am so far away? We are looking at each other, talking to each other. Isn't that a miracle?"

Simple words? Indeed. But few outside the subcontinent can appreciate the power they pack.

Especially when it comes to people-to-people contact between the two nuclear capable neighbours.


More often than not, the desire for peace in the two countries seems as extreme as the warmongers' gospel of hate.

Abida Parveen
Music lives in the hearts and minds. It needs no visas and knows no boundaries
Anwar Maqsood, Pakistani writer

But while the world may be all too familiar with the political venom that characterises relations between India and Pakistan, not many get an opportunity to see the two smiling at each other.

Indeed, the smiles have broadened in recent times - thanks mostly to the slow but steady peace process that the two countries have been grappling with for over a year now.

Here's a sampling of the exchanges between the panellists of intellectuals on either side. Three people each from either side associated with arts and culture were invited to discuss what music can do for the troubled neighbours.

Playwright Shoaib Hashmi from Pakistan: "It is the desire that matters. And the desire for peace is there. Not only that, it is now irreversible."

Film maker Govind Nihalani from India: "It is a reality - however sad - that our worlds are run by politicians.

"We need to empower the people so that our politicians cannot ignore what the people truly desire."

Writer and critic Anwar Maqsood from Pakistan: "Music lives in the hearts and minds. It needs no visas and knows no boundaries.

"I remember the BBC playing Beethoven at the height of WWII. In the world of music, we are you and you are us."

Actor Kirron Kher from India: "I believe there should be no line between India and Pakistan. We should only have soft borders."

'War movies'

Every time something was said - whether profound or frivolous - the audience automatically turned to the giant screens to see the response from the "other side".

Panellist on screen
Panellists spoke across the divide

That, perhaps, is the greatest of all obstacles on what can only be a long and winding road to peace.

Even for the peaceniks, the "other side" is very much there - not all of it warm and welcoming.

When quizzed about the spate of war movies that have recently emerged from the two countries, Indian film maker Javed Akhtar gave us a taste of the darkness within.

"You send your people to Kargil so we make a movie on war. And what about you, even your state-controlled TV makes war movies," he shot back.

It was a sobering moment, reminding all present of the enormity of the task at hand.

And it could have turned uglier but the level-headed and mature handling by the BBC's veteran Pakistan reporter Zaffar Abbas eased the situation.

"If we make war movies in times of war and peace movies in times of peace, then it is truly the politicians who run the world, don't they?" he quipped, triggering nervous laughter in the audience.

And a fair amount of nervousness was there right from the beginning.

Spiritual experience

It was almost as if no one wanted to go back with a bad memory of the evening but were scared that they may be hoping for too much.

Concert audience
Some in the Karachi audience talked of a spiritual experience

It will perhaps be a long time before this nervousness is history.

In contrast, what is very much a reality is the awareness of the role that technology can play in promoting peace in the region.

The Karachi-Mumbai concert was originally scheduled as a webcast only. But by the time it got underway, select private radio and TV channels in Pakistan and India were also broadcasting it live.

There were many in the audience who were overwhelmed by the "reality" of this technology-based cross-border interaction.

Some said it may not be long now before other media organisations adopt the idea.

"It was almost a spiritual experience," said Karachi's most relentless civic awareness campaigner Naeem Sadiq.

"The BBC has clearly done something quite remarkable here."


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