It was shameful, says Pakistani author Jamil Ahmad that Ajoka theatre group had to go back from Jaipur without staging Kaun Hai Yeh Gustakh? in Japur on January 16. The decision to cancel the play, he says, was ironic.
“I am very sorry to say that, after this incident, India’s image fell a notch in my eyes. Sending them back was humiliating. They are artistes and artistes are passionate people,” he says. He has a high regard, he says, for Ajoka’s director Madeeha Gauhar, who has been an ambassador of peace through her works.
On the Man Asian Literary Prize shortlist in 2011 for his debut novel The Wandering Falcon, this year Ahmad was part of the session ‘The Flight of the Falcon’ on day one of the Jaipur literature Festival. He is also critical of the protests that demand bans on the participation of Pakistani artistes and writers in festivals like these following tensions between the two countries.
“People, in the past, used to fight on a moral high ground,” he rues. “Now they are happy, rather prefer, to fight on a low ground!”
Reacting to press reports of Pakistani writers being asked to refrain from ‘inflammatory speeches that hurt sentiments’, he says.
“You know it’s very difficult. While talking, people say a lot of things in wider contexts and have different meanings. How will one understand what will hurt people’s sentiments and what not?” he asks, a tad perplexed. All the same, this Jalandhar-born retired civil servant is thrilled to be here in India after nearly 66 years. It is but natural that memories, of living here, of that house in Old Delhi—‘just 400 yards from the Yamuna’—come crowding back.
“We would go fishing in the river, play on its banks,” he recalls a happy light in his eyes. “But the Delhi I knew exists no more. Now I hear, there is garbage dumped all along the Yamuna’s banks, and a many other things, which dishearten me,” the sadness back in his eyes and voice.