By Sidrah Roghay and Ammar Shahbazi, The News International
Dressed in a kurta pyjama, Prakash Akolkar, chairman of The Mumbai Press Club and deputy editor of Maharashtra Times, a leading Marathi newspaper in India, landed at the Karachi airport and walked his tall thin self through Customs. Worried about his poor Urdu, he asked an immigration officer, "Sir Hindi chalega?" (Sir, will Hindi do?).
The officer replied, "No Sir, only Urdu or English."
"I told him I do not know Urdu," said Akolkar, narrating the incident to a packed audience at the Karachi Press Club. "The officer looked bemused and replied, 'But sir you are speaking Urdu!'"
It was then that Akolkar realised that his concerns about language before arriving in Pakistan were unfounded, and the language spoken in Karachi and Mumbai are pretty similar.
Akolkar was a member of the 22-journalist delegation visiting Pakistan from Nov 14-21, 2011, at the invitation of the Karachi Press Club and the Pakistan Institute of Labour Research (PILER).
Besides acquiring a deeper understanding of the city and the state of media through conferences, workshops, and meetings with political leaders, the visit achieved a historic feat: A memorandum of understanding signed between Karachi Press Club and The Press Club of Mumbai pledging to use acceptable language while reporting events regarding each others' countries and try to eliminate words which propagate hate and create mistrust among the nuclear neighbours.
The presidents of the Karachi and Mumbai press clubs, Tahir Hasan Khan and Prakash Akolkar, respectively, agreed that certain measures must be taken to improve cooperation between journalists from India and Pakistan, like exchange programmes between journalists of Karachi and Mumbai every alternate year, internships for young journalists, and exchanging literature to strengthen the ties.
"The people who are there to protect the borders should do their duty. We are here to extend our friendship and do our duty," said Tahir Hasan Khan in his welcome speech at Karachi Press Club. He emphasised that there are "extremists and fundamentalists on both sides" and this should not be a reason to subvert the potential to build a lasting relationship.
The Mumbaikars, who dress, eat and talk much like most Karachiites, had several preconceived notions about the city. Some were conscious about keeping their blackberry phones out of sight because "everyone gets mugged", others thought all Pakistani women were forced to wear burqas and live in the four walls of their houses. They were curious about the freedom of press here, whether the man on the street was a religiously extremist, and if Pakistanis are as war-obsessed as the television news projects us to be.
Although bogged down with conferences and seminars, Vinod Mahanta, a reporter for The Economic Times, was excited about the visit and itching to get out to the man on the street. "I will buy a kurta now, and pay attention to my 'qafs' and 'khays'. Then I'll roam around in a rickshaw and pass for a Pakistani," he laughed.
Journalists from both sides agreed that the two countries need to end their war-like relations, increase cultural exchange and trade and most importantly, allow journalists from both sides to cross the border more easily.
"The Maruti-Suzuki which is made in India, goes to Dubai, and then is imported to Pakistan. Imagine how much foreign exchange is lost because of our sour relations," said one finance reporter from India.
Surendra Gangan of DNA was curious about how the Pakistani youth perceive India, and their stance on Kashmir and extremists. He was pleasantly surprised by both the overwhelming welcome he received and the vibrant life in Karachi.
What most Indians don't get at home is a soft image of the Pakistan. As one journalist said, "Bollywood crosses the border, and brings people like Shahrukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan to Pakistan. What is needed is cultural export from Pakistan (beyond the musicians and singers), so that people see the other side of the story, that the news media fails to bring to them."
Talking about divided families across the two countries, Anahita Mukherji of The Times of India said that she lived in a Sindhi neighbourhood of Mumbai. She knows families with relatives in Rajasthan and Karachi, who cannot meet because of visa issues.
"When I was coming here my friends and family told me I'll have problems finding vegetarian food here, but it's been no issue so far," she said, excited about seeing Mohatta Palace and Jinnah House, for this is where heritage and history lies together.
Jyoti Shelar of the Mumbai Mirror admired the Karachi Press Club's Victorian-era building that she compared to The Mumbai Press Club. "That is a trendier one-storey building with a bar as soon as you enter. We have dance classes and sports events for journalists; it is a very happening place."
Despite their tight schedule, the Mumbai journalists managed to visit the National Museum and the beach, and spend time at the Hyderabad Press Club, three hours drive from Karachi, where they were regaled with a musical programme that had many of them up and dancing. Between conferences and seminars, they took time to go shopping on their own - the female journalists broke the security protocol and took off in a rickshaw. Local retail therapy zindabad!
Caption: The pen is mightier: A warm welcome for Indian journalists at Karachi airport; Prakash Akolkar, Chairman of The Mumbai Press Club and deputy editor of Maharashtra Times addressing a seminar at Karachi Press Club with Pakistani journalists Ghazi Salauddin, Tahir Hasan Khan and Moosa Kaleem; Indian journalists at the seminar. Photographs by Zahid Rehman
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
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