‘Stop Culture Exchange With Pakistan’ - The Sentence Indian Art Fraternity Hasn’t Stood Up To Say

Atif Aslam (Bollywood Hungama/Wikimedia Commons) 
  • Any cultural connection with a clear refrain of violence flowing beneath the pretty surface of art and culture must be, and deserves to be, ceased.

Contemporary art won't heal terror-struck India. It has largely been a thing of pleasure, protest and cultural exchange with Pakistan - and often mistaken as 'culture' by many Indians in the recent past. A lot of blame lies with the Indian art fraternity's cynicism and indifference towards our soldiers, their unending fight against Pakistan-perpetrated terror, and cold-blooded killing. Screaming in the backdrop is their deafening silence on Pulwama. No issues, but they as a whole don't seem to bear responsibility towards the Indian security forces.

The overall absence of a strong, nerve-shattering artistic response to a tragedy of Pulwama's magnitude, is still a thing alien to the ideologically-tilted Indian art fraternity, perhaps. May be, it is too much to expect to see the gigantic Indian art fraternity standing together, to say: "We hereby cease cultural interaction and exchange with the Pakistani art fraternity. Until they support us in our cause towards the safety and security of Indians - including Kashmiris, and security forces, cultural ties would remain snapped. The Indian government, too, may read this as our resolve, and our mark of respect to the Indian security forces and para military forces." Like in art, as in life, some things stand best when they are imagined. May be not.

This needs to change. There has been no end to emotional outpourings from Indian citizens following the dastardly attack on the CRPF convoy in Pulwama. The exchange of bitterness between mourners and celebrating non-mourners has advanced into a script perfect for the unoriginal, self loathing, liberal playwright. The space left vacant by the absence of artistic response has been overtaken by memes, some - as dastardly as the act of terror. The change of narrative has been deployed. The forces of the leftist discourse are ready.


Flesh and blood scattered, squished, spluttered, strewn around. Some body parts frozen in a lifeless mudra managed to dodge the IED impact and the resulting rip. They remained intact but lifeless. Remnants of the uniform stay on as a reminder of duty bound men on the enemy's bloody canvas spread in Pulwama. Why does the picture stay on? No one can answer.

The men who protect us day and night, month after month, leaving home their ageing parents, wives, siblings, and children, close to 40 of them, have been killed.

Curators of peace immediately took over the proscenium. Some became uneasy with the pictures from Pulwama. Remove this picture. Remove that picture. It is disturbing. Someone sums it all as "violence".

The Jaish-e-Mohammed suicide bomber, who attacked the CRPF convoy in Kashmir has left a trail of red. The red of blood. It didn't let you sleep. That was the purpose. To make us lose sleep. Isn't it? Purpose: to provoke you numb, sleepless, as your brothers lay lifeless and their families, bereaved, numb, dry eyed with sorrow, wailing, and devastated.

To provoke, they say, is the motive of good contemporary art, too. We are provoked. We shall stay sleepless and patient for the dance of Bhadrakali.

The pictures from Pulwama are disturbing. They trigger provocation. Some for guns, some for brush, some for lit fests organised in the neighbouring country. One such event was cancelled somewhere in Karachi, a city in Pakistan. Artistes who cancelled their trip to Karachi announced their decision. It should not have made news. It still did. Soldiers ripped by hatred, especially when they are Indians, do need a constant dose of favours from some Indian citizens. It's a culture. Why do they quickly lose sight of a fervent cultural exchange between India and Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal? Are they not our neighbours?

In a constant conflict with the enemy, the nation and its protectors have to go through the stale exercise, again and again, of hearing that cultural exchange must take place with Pakistan. Statements of cultural exchange or event getting called off are cycled and recycled until they solidify your pain. That fit of guilt for snapping cultural ties - the thing of the previous decade. Its takers become hysterical when guilt hovers over them.


By the standards of a true global personality led by and nourished by the arts, an artiste is expected to respond to an act of violence. Sometimes he does. One example. Anish Kapoor's red wax palettes which he uses in his work, firing them on a white wall from the mouth of a canon, are the most powerful depiction of blood and violence. Foreign artists have assembled their expression of anger and sadness on the plight of Syrian refugees at Indian art fairs. Good sign. Pain is a universal emotion.

Yet, it is hard to see the Indian soldier — because of whom India lives in peace to be able to pursue the arts in all expressions and diversity of thoughts, and see a thriving art market, and fairs, and a bienniale — have no place in depiction through the arts. Forget gratitude. He is sometimes projected as a power packed villain in theatrical undertones and subtle art works. In the Indian context, the artistic response to war or insurgency-related pain or sacrifices, has barely included the unknown Indian soldier, the sacrificing jawan, and our security forces. He is not a person. He is not Indian. He doesn't make a community or people. He is excluded.

People of some nations operate out of sheer self respect. Some years ago a world renowned musician with Indian roots, celebrated for the lineage, got a taste of her own activism medicine. Two nations - traditional arch rivals, were locked in a war like situation, back then. Outside the sphere of rockets and radars, a thick standoff unfolded on Facebook. The musician had written a scathing post, deciding to take sides, decrying one nation. People of this nation - patriotic to core, are known for how they celebrate life, and music in every sphere of life. They take soft power seriously. These guys felt harshly brushed by her verbal tirade. After some polite returns, they took it up bravely and countered her views. Within minutes the thread heated up. She royally 'boycotted' her audience - people of the country she ideologically and politically disagreed with. She is a great performer. It would be unfair to expect a word of condolence from her on Uri or Pulwama.


Throwing up peace in fear is an exercise - much like throwing up a cultural exchange. India has done it in the recent past. It has thrown up peace through the gut of culture. All exercise. No long lasting collaborative brilliance. Pakistan is often presented as a worthy partner for cultural exchange by the many Indians elites and haves living in Delhi and Mumbai. All in the name of culture. All in the name of people.

Before we get on to that, it is important to understand a few contrasts. Try to build a picture of political pit stop standing on a rickety base. See it against a civilisational dais. The latter is your home, Indians. The enemy has an ‘image’ to save for its survival.  You have a civilsation to preserve for generations to come. A reservoir of this civilisation lives in the arts, including eight classical dance forms, two traditions of classical music, numerous folk and tribal art traditions, which have inspired and thrilled the world audience for nearly nine decades - almost a century.

Pakistan would use what it has been able to keep alive in culture, to showcase as soft power. Fair enough. Its weather friends are high on soft power. The soft power would keep a window of give and take flowing. Culturally, India has been a giver and a proud global collaborator. Not a taker. It has an ocean to give and a world to collaborate with.


India is constantly working towards preserving and propagating the arts, practitioners, subaltern voices and expressions. India is making the arts reach the common man, every day, through a number of platforms and initiatives. Let us ask culture narrative curators a question. Would present day Pakistan understand, even acknowledge, or help nourish any art tradition that sees art as a sacred representative or manifestation of the almighty? Islamic art and architecture, Sufi music, and Sufi movement traditions, literature, inter-religious music cusps, enrich India's culture diversity. There is no room for lessons in spiritual diversity - from there.

Cultural exchanges must happen with nations that propagate art and human interactions with an aim to borrow some, lend some, weave some, knit some, make and generate some in emotion, in peace. The only greed, if any, should be creating something beautiful by digging deep into civilisational values and richness. Jugalbandis happen between equals, who have the courage of love, of knowledge. Any cultural connection with a clear refrain of violence flowing beneath the pretty surface of art and culture must be, and deserves to be, ceased.

A question. What was Uri, the film based on the surgical strike, doing in the middle of this contest, which should have been a moment meant for only mourning, tributes and resolve, instead? "How is the Josh" the motivational slogan used in the film, became an instrument of taunt to soldiers and government, overnight. The attack on the film, which celebrates a victory of Indian soldiers against terrorists, has led to a series of serious realisations.


Co-incidentally, some Indians who want to culturally give Pakistan a chance, seethe at the fiber of Uri. Intense is their hatred for the film. Deep is the hatred for a good product cheering soldiers, that it is being seen as reason for Pulwama attack by some peace curators. It is just a film with solid, course-changing narration, and stellar music.

India, for its own task, must unculture the culture of hating what's generated in India by Indians to pay a tribute to our spirit and our soldiers. The hub of disdain for our culture, diversity, soft power, and emotional outpourings - of pride, anger and celebration directed, can neither be a destination, nor audience, not, putting it coldly, culture-client.

The fight for Indics is complex. Wrench the space from left, its repelling hegemony on India's cultural narrative, and oodles of hatred for the Indian security forces. Reach the grassroots. Stun the enemy with the culture of good art. This is essential to back our self respecting and emerging nation, whose journey into becoming a super power would be strengthened by its soft power. How a self respecting nation treats and uses its soft power to firm up hard power, would speak for it post Pulwama.


Use super power by snapping the use of super power with Pakistan. End the sham of building peace by using culture and art here. The canvas is blood red. Leave some space for Bhadrakali.

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