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Weekly Blog

Friday, February 5, 2010

Beyond Borders, Beyond Identity

On Jan 29, 2010, Pakistanis, Indians, Muslims, Hindus and South-Asian Americans came together to watch Shabnam Virmani's powerful film, "Had-Anhad: Bounded Boundless; Journeys with Ram and Kabir." After watching the film, the audience broke up into smaller groups to reflect on what their own identities. Thereafter, we came together as a larger group, to share reflections. Here is a video capturing some of the reflections.

A big part of our intent was to encourage our community to be the change. In this spirit, here are two people who stepped up. Ali Kapadia writes,
if I can be given some help in getting in touch with some great thinkers/writers/personalities of the south asian community for interviews, and sharing ideas in a documentary, it will be a very good motivation for me to start a documentary in this direction to address the issue from the Pakistani side of the situation (i do film stuff as a hobby).
Amjad Noorani has a radical idea. He wants to take Indians on a trip to Pakistan, showing them beautiful (and safe) parts of the country, doing hiking trips. In fact, he has already done this with one Indian friend and wants to offer this to others who are interested. Both Amjad and Ali are on the Sarvodaya mailing list - all you have to do is indicate your interest, and they will get in touch with you.

We also asked folks to share their personal reflections after the event, and got several responses. Here are some portions of their personal reflections:
Abhinav Agrawal: One of the singers hailing from Karachi (Fariduddin Ayaz) gave a hint in terms of the path to realizing one's true potential, meaning and purpose in life. He suggested that one would only be able to find Kabir when one loses himself in the pursuit, to the extent that he forgets about who he is and in the process stops identifying himself with his ego. I see a parallel between this pursuit of finding Kabir and my everyday life. I remember faint moments when I am pursuing an activity of deep interest to me and I loose awareness of everything around me except that one activity that I am involved in. Looking back, those activities are the ones that have been most satisfying too. If I am to find more meaning and pleasure in my life, I need to make those faint moments last longer by identifying the activity that prompts me into that state of selflessness and then pursuing those activities with dedication. That I think would be the path to finding my Kabir :)
Kapeesh Saraf: From the movie - the story about the moth and the fly at the end. Also loved how the movie used Kabir as a metaphor to talk about identity.
Parul Raj Lodha (also our impromptu cameraman): Follow your passion, everything else falls in place. :-)
Suraj Pradhan: I feel the only way to eliminate the divide between hindus and muslims, or india-pakistan, or any other hostile groups is to increase interaction and exchange of dialogue between the two groups, because really we are all the same at heart.

3 simple steps you can take to help the cause:
1. Make a new friend who identifies with the opposing group.
2. Keep in touch with that person.
3. Tell others to do the same.
Michael Zeligs: I was inspired by our coming together. What was most interesting was a point that was well-described in the film--that often ego attachment to identity gets in the way of cooperative understanding. In our reflections we, like many people today, were very apt to introduce the "other". What was going on between our countries was obviously caused by someone else. And if we could only get that person to change.

What is the much more subtle response is to accept personal responsibility immediately. Not to have to defend, not to have to be right. Only then can we have a constructive conversation, one of encounter rather than conflict.

I think overall we achieved at least a new look on the role of spirituality in conflict. That in order to become one community, we must burn down everything, give up having to "be ourselves".

We have a choice. To, in every aspect of our lives, begin dismantling the cycles of violence and revenge and regret that proliferate everything from bombings to long standing resentments. And the only way to do that is to fully surrender responsibility, even if we didn't start it, even if it would comment somehow on this identity that we are so vehemently attached to. Then we will begin to heal, then we will begin to listen.
Miriam Ellora Marks: My deepest take-away from the film and reflection sessions was the power of art/music to bridge deep religious divides.
Piyush Shanker: Education is not a measure of wisdom. The people who the film is centered on are not essentially educated in the sense of the term that is commonly associated with today. They are wise and have learned from their personal experiences. They are wiser than most educated people on this planet today and show no animosity towards other people or their religion. Experience and self-realization are the true teachers.

The main theme of the movie was to be limitless or boundless. In other words, not to live for recognition by certain groups of people or organization. By striving to learn more from books and religious texts, one is only trying to become a part of the so called academic elite or the religious elite.
Somik Raha: Toward the end of the reflection session, suggestions were made about business being important to normalizing ties between India and Pakistan. To an extent, this might help, but as one can see in the Indian Premier League fiasco, owners of teams chose not to buy players from Pakistan as it wasn't a good business decision for them. That did little for the feelings of Pakistanis, who felt insulted. It didn't help that the government jumped into the fray. There is something deeper beyond business that tells us that what happened was not right, and we don't know what to call that feeling (just like Mukhtiar Ali points out - the heart is our true north). It is a sense of brotherhood, a sense of connection, and I think we should honor it by recognizing it.

I was amazed at how many organizations came forward to help with the event - everyone wants peace and friendship, and yet, the loud voices we hear are those of politicians. In this day and age, the internet allows us to reach out directly and connect with people like ourselves. Perhaps we can put in a little effort to make such connections. What about a mailing list to discuss a South Asian Union (which received the highest votes in attitudes survey sent out prior to the event)? There is a facebook group already devoted to this, for those who are interested.
Kranthi Kode: I felt that the film and the event evoked different responses from the attendees. If there is anything common in all these responses, I think it is the profundity.

One of the attendees I talked to apparently came to the event with a mindset of winning the 'debate' with his instigating remarks about the other country. The movie had mellowed him so much that he never got to talk in the tone he hoped to speak, rather, he reflected upon the problem deeply and in fact, offered a possible way of creating harmony between the two countries by the end of the event.

Another person came to the event with an arsenal of statistics and quotes from various articles and hoped to contribute to the discussion in a big way. After watching the movie, he was still hoping to touch up on all the factors he thought were complicating the issue. But, after listening to others' take on the problem during the discussion, he was convinced that all those factors were trivial and solution lies in somehow losing the identity itself as the movie seems to be implying.

These are an indication to me that an event like this can have a profound effect on all of us and as someone suggested, if we can have such events at as many places as possible we can see some real change. I left the event with a sense of hope for rapprochement between the two countries and better yet, felt that we might be closer than we think.
Finally, those who want to watch the remaining Kabir films (or Had-Anhad if you missed the event), all four films are available in the Green Library (thanks to Linda Hess). For those who want to purchase the films and the lovely music, follow this link.

Piyush Shanker... as you state... Self realization has a deeper connotation... in English it simply stands for reaching stage of enlightenment (kaivalya jnana)! Gaining self realization means becoming a man God like Mahavira, Gautama Buddha, Jesus Christ or Prophet Mohammed!

Reaching stage of self realization announces culmination of all things spiritual! The stage of self realization can be reached by any establishing absolute control over five senses and mind. Furthermore practice of absolute celibacy for a minimum period of 12 years in continuation is also necessitated! Self realization is the highest stage that can be achieved by human beings!

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