India Insight

Remembering Reshma, Pakistan’s ‘first lady’ of folk music

Folk singer Reshma was born in 1947, the historic year when India and Pakistan gained independence from British rule. She was born in India, but her family migrated to Pakistan when she was a month old. Small wonder, then, that Reshma’s unconventionally husky voice won admirers on both sides of the international border.

Reshma, who died earlier this week after a battle with throat cancer, was best known for her distinctive rendition of Punjabi folk songs. For her fans, she was the “Nightingale of the Desert” and her death at the age of 66 was a fresh blow to the arts in Pakistan, coming a year after ghazal singer Mehdi Hassan’s death.

Despite her fame, Reshma was modest. She dressed conservatively in a salwar kameez and was rarely seen without a dupatta covering her head. And her mehfils (public performances) were devoid of histrionics.

“Reshma was a magician who could kill with her voice. She was the first lady of Pakistani folk music,” Shaukat Ali, Reshma’s friend and a folk singer, said by phone, speaking from Lahore, Pakistan.

Reshma’s talent was discovered in the 1960′s by a former Radio Pakistan producer, who heard her singing at the shrine of a Sufi saint. The young girl, used to singing in the open, was petrified when she saw a recording studio for the first time.

Delhi shaped South Asia’s Muslim identity, Pakistani author says

Raza Rumi is based in Lahore, but the public policy specialist and Friday Times editor’s new book is based in another milieu entirely. “Delhi by heart” is a kind of travelogue about a city that is the source of a shared heritage that spans hundreds of years.

By his own admission, it is a “heartfelt account” of how a Pakistani comes to India, an “enemy country”, and discovers that its capital has, in fact, so many things common with Lahore.

“I wanted to write the biography of Darah Shikoh, the great Indian Mughal prince,” Rumi said. “While researching for that, and while visiting Delhi all the time, I felt really it merits a Pakistani version as well because for these five years we have been so much cut off and we have misunderstood each other so much that it is time to sort of build bridges. Hence the book.”

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Despite rising India-Pakistan tensions, little planning for the next big crisis

In the very early days after the Sept 11 attacks on the United States, some in India, for the briefest of moments, believed Washington might be coming around to its point of view: that the problem and source of “cross-border terrorism” lay in Pakistan. Instead, an aggrieved India was forced to look on as Washington turned to its old ally Pakistan to help it fight the war in Afghanistan.

It was in that sour mood that New Delhi reacted with increasing anger to Pakistan’s support for Islamist militants targeting India in Kashmir and beyond. In October 2001, nearly 40 people were killed in a suicide attack on the legislative assembly of Jammu and Kashmir state in its summer capital Srinagar. When militants attacked the Indian parliament in Delhi on December 13, 2001 - an attack blamed on the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed - India mobilised for war.  Soon close to a million men were deployed on either side of the border in a tense standoff that was not resolved until the following summer, and only then after intense U.S.-led international diplomacy.

To those of us who witnessed the build-up to the 2001-2002 standoff, the rising tensions between India and Pakistan - with both sides accusing the other of escalating fighting on the Line of Control dividing disputed Kashmir - bear a troublesome resemblance to that time. Then and now are bookended by the U.S. presence in Afghanistan which began in 2001 and is due to end in 2014.

Firing on LoC: Blame game and spillovers continue

Firing between India and Pakistan along the Line of Control (LoC) in the disputed region of Kashmir has left five soldiers dead (two Indians and three Pakistanis). In India, the issue became a front-page story with the media expressing outrage over reports that the body of one Indian soldier was allegedly mutilated by the Pakistanis.

The incident fuelled tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours and Indian political parties have minced no words in their calls for retribution.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday called the act “barbaric” and said it was no more “business as usual” with Islamabad.

LoC killings: Is a third-party probe the way ahead?

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily of Thomson Reuters)

The death toll on the Line of Control in Kashmir is four since Jan. 6: two from India’s military, two from Pakistan’s. One thing is sure: neither side started it, judging by what you hear from both countries’ armed forces and from media reports.

The killings threaten to muffle talk of a thaw in relations, something that would have been welcome after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and years of fighting and death in Kashmir before a 2003 ceasefire.

from The Human Impact:

Malala: An icon for millions of girls who want to learn

When it happened two months ago, it shocked the world. Masked Taliban gunmen stopped a school bus filled with children in northwestern Pakistan, boarded it and shot 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai in the head and neck as she sat in the bus with her friends.

Her crime? She was a campaigner for the right of girls to go to school -- an act strictly forbidden by Taliban militants who are still active in Pakistan's Swat Valley.

This was her punishment for defying their edicts, the Taliban had said.

Fortunately, Malala survived and her story -- as well as her determination to continue to fight for girls to go to school despite the threat of death -- has captivated the world and made her into an international icon for girls' education.

Window closing on Prime Minister Singh’s planned visit to Pakistan

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Thomson Reuters)

It is eerily quiet on the fenced border between India and Pakistan in the southern plains of Jammu and Kashmir. Farmers are planting paddy, you can hear the sound of traffic in the distance from both sides of the border, and sometimes the squeals of children. Overhead in high watchtowers that can be seen from a mile, soldiers peer through binoculars at the enemy across while in the rear just behind the electrified fence with its array of Israeli-supplied sensors, soldiers are strung out in a line of bunkers. It’s a cold peace on one of the world’s most militarised frontiers.

Now the young chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, wants to change that, by cracking open the border and allowing the movement of people and trade through a road and rail route that have been shut since Partition in 1947.

India stepping up to the challenge of post-2014 Afghanistan

Racing through the deserted streets of Kabul at nighttime, you are likely to be stopped at street corners by policemen once, twice or even more. If you are a South Asian, as I am, their guard is up even more. “Pakistani or Indian?” the cop barks out as you lower your window. When I answer “Indian”, he wants me to produce a passport to prove that, and as it happens, I am not carrying one. So I am pulled out of the car in the freezing cold and given a full body search, with the policemen muttering under his breath in Dari that everyone goes around claiming to be an Indian, especially Pakistanis.

To be an Indian in Kabul is to be greeted warmly wherever you go, whether it is negotiating a security barrier or seeking a meeting with a government official. There is an easing of tensions (in Afghanistan, the fear uppermost in the mind is that the stranger at the door could be an attacker and you don’t have too long to judge), Bollywood is almost immediately mentioned, and your hosts will go out of their way to help.

To be a Pakistani is a bit more fraught. The body search is rigorous, the questioning hostile, and, more often than not, you have to be rescued by a Western colleague especially if you are entering one of those heavily guarded, unmarked restaurants frequented by foreigners.

Elsewhere in India: Maria Sharapova wins hearts, minds of cameramen

Here’s some more news that we found in the Indian press over the weekend and would like to share with you. Rather than present stories of great national importance, we would like to highlight some of the items that you are less likely to see in world news reports. Any opinions that the author might express are surely beneath contempt, and are not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters.

Tennis pro Maria Sharapova visited India. Gushing ensued. “The 25-year-old, here to announce her partnership with UK-based real estate company Homestead, sported an infectious smile throughout the interaction even though the lensmen could not get to focus enough of capturing the blonde beauty. ‘Well, it is just the hair and make-up you know. I don’t wake up looking like this,’ quipped Sharapova when a scribe called her pretty. Here only for a day, Sharapova said food and culture was something she would take back from India. ‘I arrived last night and asked the chef what should I try of the Indian food. I had a dosa which tasted really nice. I wanted to have this great Indian experience. There is so much energy in the city, I have been in some quiet areas recently, resting. I really like the culture and people. You all have been really welcoming.’” Final score: love-love. (NDTV)

Mulayam Singh Yadav’s interests spread wider than wrestling or politics. He is also a lover of poetry. “For more than 35 minutes, Mulayam Yadav analysed the content of the book, ‘Yatharth ke Aas Pas’, written by a Congress leader, Chandra Prakash Rai. “This collection of poems on some very sensitive issues like girls, female foeticide, loneliness, loss of faith and other human emotions must be read by everyone,” he said. (The Indian Express)

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Thirsty South Asia’s river rifts threaten “water wars”

As the silver waters of the Kishanganga rush through this north Kashmir valley, Indian labourers are hard at work on a hydropower project that will dam the river just before it flows across one of the world's most militarised borders into Pakistan.

The loud hum of excavators echoes through the pine-covered valley, clearing masses of soil and boulders.

The 330-MW dam shows India's growing focus on hydropower but also highlights how water is a growing source of tension with downstream Pakistan, which depends on the snow-fed Himalayan rivers for everything from drinking water to agriculture.

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