Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Book Review: THE GREAT DIVIDE - INDIA AND PAKISTAN by Ira Pande


The mere mention of the word Pakistan is enough to drive an Indian to extremes of behavior: ranging from a devout hoping for peace and brotherhood, to outright hatred. This is a subject that is fraught with bitter memories, blood and betrayal; a subject that is extremely hard to deal with sans emotion – at least if you are either an Indian, or a Pakistani. Therefore, for the above reasons, the book under review is a special surprise, a treat and a treasure; an experience to be savoured, a moment to be treasured – and a lesson to be learnt. A book which is head and shoulders above any I have read on this topic… a true delight; a collectors’ item. 

This book is a collection of essays by various Indian and Pakistani personalities on this subject. If you were expecting fireworks, think again. The book is singularly devoid of any fireworks; and in fact comprises a remarkably controlled and informed set of essays, which are well thought out, with the subject matter well presented. The book deals with the issue very delicately – and in a mature manner; yet fully, leaving nothing out.  And that is quite a tremendous achievement, given the nature of the  subject at hand. 

Every single facet of the India-Pakistan relationship finds a mention here: comparisons of growth, Kashmir, the art and culture scenario, journalistic comparisons, history, terrorism etc. I cannot offhand find a single point which has been left out. This gives an in-depth look at the entire relationship, as well as gives a fairly good idea of the road towards normalcy, and the challenges that lie ahead. The piece de resistance of the book is the presentation by both Indians as well as Pakistanis; which gives a 360-degree look at the problem. 

Through this book and its component essays, one gets a look at the situation inside Pakistan; for the primary focus of the book is Pakistan. You begin to form a basic idea of the pulls and pressures within that country, its multiple power centers and the scale of the challenges it has created for itself, largely due to its own short-sighted approach. And from that realization comes the realization of the true face of the problems that are bedeviling this relationship, and consequently us Indians. For example, the myth that the people at large want freedom, and that the politicians don’t, has, to my mind, been well and truly shattered.   This assumption does not take into account the increasing radicalization of the society, as becomes evident from the various essays  that deal with Pakistani History. This factor indicates that while at present, the educated elite may want peace and friendship, but there is no guarantee that this will continue, given the radicalized educational set-up and POV presentation. 

“The common belief in Pakistan is that Islamic Radicalisation is a problem only in FATA, and that  madrassas are the only institutions serving as Jehad factories. This is a serious misconception. Extremism is breeding at a ferocious rate in public and private schools within Pakistan’s towns and cities. Left unchallenged, this education will produce a generation incapable of co-existing with anyone except  strictly their own kind. The kind of mindset it creates may eventually lead to Pakistan’s demise as a nation-state… “ :  Pervez Hoodbhoy, in Newsline,  January 2009

And yet, the very fact that such bold words can appear in the Media, from the pen of a Pakistani, holds out hope that perhaps, given the chance, the forces of positive change and peace may win out. While on the one hand, it serves as a warning to us not to relax, on the other hand, it underscores the need for patience and peace – not rhetoric and diatribe. A Pakistani contributor has gone so far as to state that India may have to absorb some more terrorist attacks before things stabilize – as Pakistan internally struggles to cope with the serious internal threats it faces to its own existence. The alternative, as the essay points out bluntly, does not bear contemplation. I agree. 

One of the most powerful and enlightening essays is the interview of a terrorist, with the police officer a muslim and the interviewer also a muslim. This is an eye-opener; read it to experience it. The book also covers the art, culture, music and related scenarios, with poignant lamentation at the loss of a once highly-regarded tradition as a form of music suffers under the new dispensation post-independence. The food habits and specialities, reminiscent of a time gone by; and the memories of partition not heard before – the good ones; as shared in another essay just add spice as well as dimension to the book, giving it a complete 360-degree approach. 

In conclusion, it can be gleaned from  the book that the assertion of some people  - Pakistan is not paranoid about India, and does not harbor envy   - is just hogwash. This is evident in the war-game story, wherein Indian and Pakistani retired generals played a war game; while Indians attacked the terror training camps, the Pakistani side attacked Infosys! Reason: symbol of India’s growth! This is also borne out by the views of a general of the ISI! At the same time, this book is one of the most powerful presentations of peace that I have ever read; as it brings you face to face with the internal contradictions within Pakistan, its multiple power centers and its serious self-created issues; as well as the inescapable fact that there are some within that country that desire development, growth, and most of all… peace. The learning is that we, the elder, more mature society and people, had best not react – for our own sakes, as well as that of the younger child of Mother India…

Can we ever be friends? I somehow doubt it. But can we co-exist? As to that, only time will tell… or, rather, only Pakistan and its future will tell. For the ball is firmly in Pakistan’s court; and is likely to remain there for quite a bit of time… the road is long and arduous, and the challenges huge, and varied.

Coming Book Reviews:
1.      Operation Red Lotus – (The Real Story Of The First War Of Independence) by Parag Tope
2.      Asian Juggernaut: The Rise Of China, India And Japan by Brahma Chellaney
3.      What India Should Know by V Lakshmikanthan / J Vasundhara Devi
4.      Kill List – Frederick Forsyth
5.      Bankerupt – Ravi Subramanian

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