In Jamshedpur which lies in Jharkhand, an eastern state of India, there is a shrine of saint Miskeen shah where visiting pilgrims leave with thousands of Xeroxed copies of their passports with wishes and aspirations of getting jobs in gulf countries, or IT jobs in America or leisure trips abroad. He is known as the ‘saint of travel abroad’.
But what is unknown to many, Syed Miskeen Shah originally hailed from a village of my native Sindh’s Matiari (you may have seen Matiari in Jameel Dehlvi’s film ‘Immaculate Conception’ where Shabana Azmi is shown to be acting as an heiress of local elderly feudal lord. “I want you to go abroad to be taught more than Benazir Bhutto,” the grandfather tells Shabana Azmi). Miskeen shah, a wandering dervish of Sindh opted for the arduous journey of India by foot in 1920’s. He came, lived, and died in then Bihar (1934 in Jamshedpur) and is buried there.Had the travel saint Miskeen shah lived in the times post India-Pakistan rivalry, he would have never made it to today’s India because he would have been most certainly denied a visa .
The above story about Miskeeen Shah is also written by Indian Sindhi writer Laxman Koomal in his biography ‘Wahi Khatay ja Panna’ (The Pages of the Ledger Book of My Life). Laxman Koomal, at the age of 12, was forced into India with his parents during the Partition and recently died in Delhi. His ashes were brought back to Sindh of Pakistan to be drowned into the river Indus according to his will.
I placed his 735 pages book, and Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Indian Journals’ in my luggage to read during my scheduled 14-hour travel from New York to Delhi when Teamwork Arts invited me as speaker in the recently concluded Zee Jaipur Literature Festival 2016 (January 21 to January 25). An invitation letter was sent to me, my editor, and J.P.Vaswani, India’s renowned spiritual figure and social work celeb who has written the foreword of my book ‘Glimpse of Beloved,’ an English translation of selected poems of 18th century Sindhi poetry Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai. I was scheduled to speak on January 21 on the poetry of Shah Abdul Latif with the book’s compiler-cum- editor and Rita Kothari.
I went to apply for my Indian visa to New York Consulate General India through an outsourced company with all the relevant documents including political clearance from the Ministry of External Affairs and event clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs on December 24, 2015.
The process of applying Indian visa is so sickening and humiliating if you were born in Pakistan with no fault of yours. You are made to unduly wait at every step and told that this is because you are of Pakistani origin. It is a really nasty and nauseating experience I underwent. “Come on”, I told them, “I fled Pakistan some 17 years ago. Never went back, nor willing to going back. I am an American. I am a writer- in-exile from Pakistan.” But you are neither treated as American, nor as a writer but as ‘Pakistani.’ For the first time in many years, I was reminded by the Indian visa section officials that I was ‘Pakistani’. Otherwise, Pakistanis think I am pro-India and Indians think me a ‘Pakistani’ (suspect, you never know).
“ After spending so many hours in Ministry of External Affairs, there is a chance you get clearance in a day or so,’ one of my organizers Sharupa Dutta, responsible for clearance of delegate writers outside India told me in her e-mail message. “Here is the good news. Find here No Objection letter from the ministry of External Affairs’’, Sharupa’s e-mail said on the following day. “Catch a flight of the United Air direct to Delhi tonight” a friend from Delhi told me.
Carrying No Objection and other forwarded e-mails of MEA officials, I excitedly rushed to the Indian Consulate General’s visa section and submitted the documents to visa office, again. Again, unmoved across the wall of glass, the official returned a paper, highlighting “A Pakistani national” in red.
I wrote back to my organizers and their response was: ‘‘We are told by the ministry here nothing more could be done from Delhi.” I met with the cultural attaché next day; she said “No way can you get visa without clearance from Delhi.” So was the answer of visa officer across the glass window.
Perhaps India is only country in the world whose diplomatic missions single you out on your ‘Pakistani origin’ no matter you abandoned the country years ago. “It is easier for the Japanese to have Chinese visa than Pakistanis to get Indian or Indians to get Pakistani visa,” my 19 year old says to me.
It is mean spirited and harsh. India is way ahead in IT, still her visa officers don’t google you when it comes to visa. Al least they should have goggled me in their own media in case.
‘’Indian potatoes can come to Pakistan but not poets’’ poet Ahmed Faraz has said. Recently, Pakistanis did not allow 10 Sindhi Indian writers to attend a literary conference in Karachi this month. On the other hand India refused visa to a writer and poet like me who was forced to leave the county because I wrote on persecution of Hindu minorities. I also wished to meet many of my former Sindhi Hindu class fellows who left Pakistan either because their sisters or cousins were forcibly converted, or their parents and brothers were kidnapped, hounded and harassed. I wanted to go on tracking the foot prints of Allen Ginsberg in Delhi. I wish they had read the poems I wrote on terror attacks on Mumbai, selling of Amrita Pritam’s house, and love and cricket matches between India and Pakistan, or the earthquake in 2005 in Kashmir. Nevertheless, it is typical ‘saas bahu ka jhaagra’ where I got caught in the cross -fire, and became a ping pong between Indian Consulate New York and the ministries in Delhi.
Pakistan allowed ashes of prominent Indian Sindhi writer Laxman Koomal to be drowned into river Indus but there are many Hindu families in Pakistan who were not allowed to bring ashes of their dear ones to Ganges in India. “Tum bhi hum jaisay nikle” (You also proved to be like us”) Urdu poet Fahmida Riaz had said a few years ago in India which triggered an uproar from extremists. I would say of Indian diplomats and bureaucracy, “you proved yourselves even worse than us.”
No writer, poet or artist has ever been found harming India and Pakistan or spying over them. However, many Sindhi writers and poets in Pakistan including doyen of Sindhi poetry Shakh Ayaz had to spend months and years to write poems for peace during the wars or intervals of peacetime between the two neighbors.