Divided by borders, united by aspirations



“Who and how can Southasia be said to be divided?” asked senior journalist Namrata Sharma, editor-in-chief of Nariswor (Voices of Women), Kathmandu. The divisions, she said, stem from “different policies.”

“My heart reaches out to you,” she added, addressing Lee Krishnan in Mumbai and Mohsin Tejani in Karachi, the facilitators of a workshop called “Writing for Peace.” “The way in which, in such a short time, you made us all write, think and connect, was magnificent.” Sharma was giving the closing speech at the event on the last Sunday in August, organized by the Southasia Peace Action Network, or Sapan. The interactions she had witnessed and participated in brought to light “the very essence of Sapan’s existence.”

Child at table

I have been part of Sapan since its kick-off meeting in March last year. Many of us try to take time out of our full-time jobs to help voluntarily organize this intergenerational network of activists, academics, journalists, researchers, technicians, and more. Sapan’s activities highlight issues that cut across South Asia, creating bonds around shared trials and tribulations.

I do my best to contribute more, but I am often unable to make it to events and meetings. Yes, guilty as charged! But the Sapaners treat me like that beloved family kid who is allowed to leave family dinners without feeling guilty. Not very “South Asian” at all!

This is how we welcome and accept someone. It’s the safe space we’ve created, where people aren’t judged or judged for who they are or what they do or don’t do.

Hearing about this event awoke a spark in me that had been dormant for years. I answered right away. Writing and literature have always been my passion. I aspired to create experiences, to bring characters and feelings to life. It was this family dinner that I couldn’t miss even as the cricket teams of Pakistan and India faced off in the Asian Cup.

bread friends

Lee and Mohsin, friends since meeting at the Andover Bread Loaf writing academy in Massachusetts 25 years ago, designed the workshop with Sapan’s ethics and values ​​in mind.

What they put in place gave us the opportunity to pause, breathe, reconnect, share and get to know each other better. The online writing workshop brought our community together to share, celebrate and cherish the bonds of love, friendship and harmony.

Both are long-time educators. Lee is a teacher, animal rights activist and co-director of the Andover Bread Loaf Rising Loaves summer program for middle school students. Mohsin is the Founder-Director of The School of Writing in Karachi, Director of Andover Bread Loaf and the current President of SPELT, the Society of Pakistan English Language Teachers.

Feminist activist Khushi Kabir in Dhaka hosted the event, calling it “one of the most enlightening, invigorating, energizing” she has attended.

Prior to the workshop, we had the In Memoriam segment as always, remembering the visionaries and mentors who dedicated their lives to the cause of peace in South Asia, as well as those who recently passed away. One of the most prominent names was legendary singer Nayyara Noor, as doctor and human rights activist Dr. Fauzia Deeba said while sharing the presentation made by journalist Sushmita Preetha in Dhaka.

His native Baluchistan awash in floods, on behalf of all of us, Dr Deeba also took a moment to speak about the devastation unfolding in Pakistan. Sapan has since issued a statement of solidarity with the flood victims and called on governments in the region to step in to help Pakistan.

We also had the Founding Charter of Sapan, this time read by educator and activist Benislos Thushan in Jaffna. “It is truly an inspiring experience to see Sapan, showcasing an action, the common humanity in this region,” he said.

His commitment to the cause of South Asian solidarity was also evident in his short-term adherence, undeterred by a power outage or the night bus to Colombo he was about to catch.

Rules to respect

Great things are made by a series of small things put together, to paraphrase a thought of the great artist Vincent Van Gogh. This is what Krishnan and Tejani did. They broke the workshop down into a series of prompts that helped participants think, imagine and enjoy.

The six rules preceding the exercise were as simple as our lives are complicated – rules to follow, not limited to a writing workshop. And it is nice that they were read in different languages ​​- Urdu, Hindi, English, Bengali, Tamil and Sinhalese.

Anyone who follows the first rule “Be kind”, will embrace diversity, be empathetic and open their heart to love.

The “Speak your truth” rule reinforces the need for authenticity.

“Write in any language” is a signal to be true to yourself.

“Don’t be afraid of your mistakes” is a reminder that we are human. Don’t be hard on yourself. We learn from our mistakes.

The “Share if you wish” rule gives participants a choice. If you don’t want to open up, THAT’S GOOD! Your presence here is enough – thank you for being here.

The last rule “Have fun!” is particularly essential

Lee and Mohsin then walked us through various prompts, gave us time to write, and then opened the floor for attendees to share if they wished.

envision peace

The guests invited us to share our vision of ‘peace’ – what does ‘peace’ taste, smell, sound and feel like? This sparked a wide range of ideas – from garlic and butter rosogolla; from chaat where flavors exist individually together to water on parched lips, giving a sense of hope and new life.

Some have associated the sound of peace with Bach’s symphony. For others, it invoked a reunion of the call to prayer, azaan and temple bells, or birdsong and joyful laughter.

What does peace look like? The “thumbs of a massage therapist”, or a sofa stuffed with goose feathers.

The variety of reflections gave participants the opportunity to experience ‘peace’ with all of their senses, while showing what peace meant to everyone.

The second prompt, “I dream of a world”, was an opportunity to conscientiously envision the world we aspire to – for ourselves, for future generations. It was comforting to hear the thoughts and ideas that evoked the image of a world without hostilities, a world that nurtures and gives birth; a world full of love, warmth and life.

Or as veteran activist Lalita Ramdas put it, “a world that allows you to meet your family in another country, a world without borders, without prejudice and without discrimination”. Her Pakistani son-in-law has not been able to visit her and her husband, retired naval chief Admiral Laxminarayan Ramdas, in India for more than five years now.

The flow of energy that this prompt set in motion was palpable. We were hopeful. We felt connected. We felt alive. We felt human.

The last invitation brought us together around a large table. As Lee said, this prompt was meant to bring out the richness and diversity of cultures we bring to the table. “What food we share, what conversations we have, ultimately that’s what we mean by family. Family doesn’t just mean blood ties, but shared values ​​and dreams.

The diverse range of cuisines at ‘our table’ ranged from daal bhaat and roast turkey to parathas filled with sattu in a mixture of atta and green spinach biryani. The conversations we noted were no less fascinating, encapsulating fashion, politics, sports, business, literature, art, history, science, and more.

The workshop provided a safe space to open up, share what we felt and connect with each other. This event made us feel like FAMILY.

And it made me write again.


Waqas Nasir is an educationalist who works as a senior project officer at Science Fuse, a social enterprise in Lahore that works to improve the quality of science education in Pakistan. He hosts an online talk show JALI Talk Show.

This is a syndicated feature of Sapan News originally published by Southasia Peace Action Network.

Sapan’s note on Southasia in one word: Following the example of Himal Southasian, we use ‘Southasia’ as a single word, ‘seeking to restore some of the historical unity of our common living space, wishing no violence on existing nation states’. Also, writing Sapan like that rather than all caps makes it a word that means “dream”.



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