This woman was raised in Pakistan, married in Hindustan, and has helped artists like SRK, Jagjit Singh perform across the borderBinjal Shah
Woh Heeron ke Ranjhe, ke nagmein mujhko, ab tak aake satayein. Woh Bulleh Shah ke, takriron ke, jheene jheene saaye…
WohEid ki eidi, lambi namaazein, sevaiyyon ke jhalar. Woh diwali ke diye, sang mein baisakhi ke badal…
Patte kya jhadte hain Pakistan mein waise jaise jhadte yahaan, O Husna, Hota ujala kya waisa hi hai jaise hota Hindustan mein, O Husna?
The above lines are from Coke Studio’s “Husna”, an ode from Javed to his Husna, who he was separated from during the partition. As “Pakistan, the land that they are calling another nation now,” claimed his lover but left him behind. Javed echoes the predicament of all those separated not only from their loved ones, but from a piece of earth that used to be home, which gave them a sense of belonging, an identity. Suddenly, as realisation dawns on Javed of what has happened overnight, his memories are blacking out with confusion. A land he recognised each grain of, has now become forcibly alien. Raised partly in Pakistan, married in Hindustan, Tina Vachani has been the Husna as well as the Javed of that heartbreaking saga.
Born to a Hindu family in Karachi, in an eight-year-old nation, the country had barely managed to teach the children of its soil how to unlearn millennia of Indianness and behave differently. As a result, Tina and her friends –mostly Muslim, celebrated Eid as well as Holi with the same heartiness. The chasm widened only later, in 1967, when war broke out between the twinnations.
On the other side of the war, Tina was sent to India to live with her grandparents. “One of my earliest influences, which continuesto bother me till today, was having to leave my family at the age of 14. War broke out with India and Pakistan in 1971 when I was visiting my grandparents during my holidays, and I could not travel back to Karachi as all modes of travel between the countries were snapped. I had left my home, my toys, friends, dog and here I was in another country with no friends,” she recalls with an air of sadness. Becoming a product of Delhi University, the LSR graduate took her time to acclimatise. “Like any other Delhi girl, I was not as forthcoming in terms of enjoying Delhi, and was a bit reserved and shy.”
Tina’s heart ached, thinking about the experience of being torn away from family – and this incident of enormous grief pushed Tina further towards this cause. “I had slowly started absorbing the fact that I ws going to be here for a while. The war stopped and somebody informed me that I could go see my parents from the Wagah Border and they can come on the Pakistan side. This was like a dream come true. My parents reached, excited, at the Lahore side, but the authorities at the Indian side did not allow me to go up to the Indian side, due to some issue with permissions. I could only see my parents standing helplessly from a distance with tears rolling down my face.” That was the last time and manner in which Tina would see her father, as he passed away six months later of a heart attack.
Having lived on both sides of the border, it wasn’t long before Tina realised that the boundaries exist only on a political level. People on either side want peace, feel no animosity for each other and the differences are forced. In due course, she married an Indian business man, Ravi Vachani, from Delhi and settled down, all the while absorbing the culture, studying the beliefs and people in both lands and drawing patterns in them. Free from responsibilities once her two boys – Sahil and Nikhil –grew up, Tina found herself with a lot of spare time. She put her observations to test in the form of Routes 2 roots, an NGO that works towards cultural exchange among SAARC countries.
“Routes2Roots envisions this world as free from all these bondages of bitterness and ill-feeling, and believes art stands tall over all the conformist and orthodox ideas of forged borders, and transgresses it all to bind us together.”
From pieces to peace
Routes2Roots was engendered in October 2004 in Karachi, Pakistan, when Tina teamed up with Rakesh Gupta for her noble endeavour. “When I co-founded Routes2Roots, my latent desire and a strong urge came to the fore because of which I passionately work now for cross-border cultural amalgamation. I do not preach what is wrong or right, but instead enlighten the path of society at large for them to choose on their own a peaceful coexistence with all.”
She started out with the idea of inviting artists from all the SAARC nations for cross-border performances and even sending Indian artists abroad, to bring about a better understanding about our culture and values, and get them much deserved recognition.
However, any initiative that as much as broaches the topic of Indo-Pak relation invites the scrutiny and ire of several political and quasi-political bodies, who are staunchly opposed to peacemaking. “In our work with Pakistan, a lot of agencies and even sometimes the government tried to create obstacles, but in the worst of scenarios we have been able to continue our work unhampered.”
The Eagle has Landed
In the wake of controversy, their first little milestone was the 15-day Rajasthan Cultural and food festival in Lahore and Karachi. The second, grander one, was when the student exchange programme between students of India and Pakistan ended positively. The third, which proved that the eagle had landed, was when they celebrated the Faiz Ahmed Faiz centenary with the President of India, APJ Abdul Kalam, inaugurating the occasion. After that, even their numbers reconciled with their achievements.
More than 15,000 children have participated in their students exchange programme and 97 percent of children ended up changing their perceptions towards the land they are raised to see as the national enemy.
Routes2Roots has had successful tie-ups with ICCR, Delhi Tourism, Rajasthan Tourism, J&K Tourism and other governments and NGOs. It is also a member of World Association of NGO New York, USA. The funding of their projects varies from programme to programme, but they regularly find patronage in the Ministry of Culture and ICCR and various corporates. And as reputed personalities like Juhi Chawla, Anuradha Mahindra, etc., joined Tina in supporting her thread by thread; it has been successfully carrying out shows and exhibitions to achieve what they set out for. “I feel honoured and humbled, at the opportunity to bring together music maestros like Amjad Sabri, Asif Mehdi, Humera Channa, and Saira Naseem at Parchaiyyaan for the spellbinding evening we pulled off at Qutub Minar. And, I am proud to tell you that our baadshah, Shah Rukh Khan, was conferred the Honorary Doctorate in Arts and Culture to by Bedfordshire University Luton UK through the nomination of the same by Routes2Roots. Rishi Kapoor was also honoured by the Russian government for his outstanding contribution to Indian cinema.”
Very recently, Routes2Routessuccessfully executed the ghazal night with the unrivalled Asif Mehdi and the inimitable Jagjit Singh on one stage – in a heart-warming medley of cultures that are different in idiosyncrasies, yet similar in spirit and soul.
Tina, just returning from Baku Azerbaijan,where she accepted an award from the United Nations Alliance of Civilisations, says, “I feel I am flying at a supersonic speed without any height restrictions. Every morning I have a new challenge and goal, and every evening I have the satisfaction of overcoming the challenge and achieving my goal.”