This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
Shabana Azmi is extremely angry with the abrupt cancellation of the Pakistani Ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali's concert in Mumbai.
She feels political parties should not interfere in cultural matters. "Shiv Sena should put its energies for the cause of farmers' suicides, infant mortality and many other issues. But that requires hard work. So much easier to hit headlines by attacking artistes." Baffled by the sudden turn-around in a cultural issue Shabana wonders, "What happened? Ghulam Ali has performed in India hundreds of times including at the Sankat Mochan Mandir in Varanasi!"
Tragically Ghulam Ali Saab was to perform in the memory of the Indian Ghazal maestro Jagjit Singh.
Shabana gives the Maharashta chief minister an all-clear in this matter and lays the blame squarely on the concert organizers. "I wish the organizers had not cancelled the concert because it was to commemorate our beloved ghazal singer Jagjit Singh. The Maharashtra CM had reportedly offered to provide all security and it's the State's duty to ensure law and order is maintained. The organizers should have stood up to the threat and audiences would have braved their way to the performance, as they did recently with Agnes Of God."
Shabana is all praise for the way Ghulam Ali reacted to the setback. "Ghulam Ali Saab has reacted with hurt not anger and with grace."
She feels Pakistan welcomes Indian artistes without hesitation. "Let us not forget that hundreds of Indian artists have performed plays in Pakistan. Our writers have participated in each other's lit-fests. Lata Mangeshkar is held in very high esteem across the border. They love our films."
Rather than boycott cultural exchanges Shabana recommends a better give and take of artistes between the two countries. "Instead of succumbing to tit for tat retaliation policies, artists should push boundaries and create a climate in which equal exchange at all creative levels and healthy trade become possible."
She feels we often mistake governmental policies for the will of the people. "We must not confuse the government of each other's countries with the people of either country. Our government must keep the pressure up on the Pak government to stop their nefarious activities. But contact on a human and individual level, student exchanges etc must be strengthened to create harmony and peace."
By stopping artistes Shabana feels we play into extremist hands. "Stopping artists helps people like Hafiz Syed who want a wall between our countries. But there are many many people from civil society in India and Pakistan who want peace. Whose cause do we wish to serve? That is the question that begs to be asked."