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Bridging the gap between India and Pakistan through art, music, poetry, and films

Paaq Bandhu is an online forum started in Lucknow by Shreya Mazumdar for people in India and Pakistan to engage in dialogue and activities based on various art forms.

Bridging the gap between India and Pakistan through art, music, poetry, and films

Thursday April 13, 2023 , 5 min Read

Thirty-two-year-old Shreya Mazumdar grew up hearing about the long-drawn conflicts between India and Pakistan. However, in 2014, she was moved when she saw both countries come together and pray for Pakistan during the Army Public School attack in Peshawar.

Touched by this solidarity, Mazumdar wanted to stir a dialogue around the persistent hostility between the two nations by bringing to light the commonalities of the two countries.

In 2015, she started Paaq Bandhu—or pure friends—an online forum for people in India and Pakistan to engage in dialogue and activities based on various forms of art such as music, film, and poetry to promote harmony and understanding through shared interests and experiences.

“There are all sorts of revolutions: political, economic, scientific, artistic. No matter what one changes, the world will never get any better as long as people themselves remain selfish and lacking in compassion. In that respect, human revolution is the most fundamental of all revolutions, and at the same time, the most necessary revolution for humankind…..and that is what I aim to do with Paaq Bandhu,” she tells SocialStory quoting her mentor Daisaku Ikeda, who is a Japanese Buddhist philosopher, educator, and author

Remnants of separation

Paaq Bandhu

Shreya Mazumdar's last picture with her grandmother

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Every spring, while setting up a swing for Mazumdar in her house in Lucknow, her grandmother would reminisce about her own childhood in Sindh, Pakistan.

After leaving Pakistan during the partition in 1947, her grandmother could never revisit her ancestral home, the memories of which stayed with her until her last breath.

“I have grown up listening to my grandmother’s stories, and the image I carry of Pakistan transcends beyond these man-made boundaries and perceptions doing rounds. For me, it is just the two sides of the same coin,” she says.

Where borders lose meaning

Mazumdar, who has a background in filmmaking and works as a communication officer, knows the power of storytelling. She believes that art is a conduit that connects people on a deeper level, and Paaq Bandhu embodies the same.

With the help of mutual friends and word of mouth, the online forum gradually gained traction. However, Mazumdar still believes a lot needs to be done as the platform is still very “lowkey.”

The platform organises online antakshari sessions wherein members from both nations unite to bond over music. They also conducted Paigaam-E-Cinema Film Festival in 2017, in which they screened Pakistani fiction and non-fiction films in India to open a conversation about similarities between the two nations in the second session. In January 2023, a film screening took place in Lucknow, wherein films made by Indian and Pakistani filmmakers were screened together.

Paaq Bandhu

Paigaam-E-Cinema Festival 2023

The online forum also conducted a series of interactions between musicians, poets, filmmakers, acid attack survivors, LGBTQA communities, storytellers, and activists from India and Pakistan between 2018 and 2020.

The organisation holds three interactive sessions a month where participants engage in discussions on pre-selected themes.

The platform also has a segment called Rubaroo Online Interactions. It comprises interviews with famous Pakistani artists and activists. about their journey and work and discussions on identity, nationality, religion, and creative resistance to draw a parallel between the nations. During COVID-19, the platform also held late night interactions to keep in touch and share their experiences.

Paaq Bandhu

Online interactions

Navigating the rough terrain

Mazumdar says she faced much backlash when she started with Paaq Bandhu, including hate texts commenting on her nationality and gender because of her work.

The situation was not very different at home. “My mom and dad asked me, ‘Aur kuch nhi mila karne ko (did you not find anything else to do?),” she recollects. Also, many of her friends have been reluctant to accept the nature of her work.

“I told my parents and friends that this is what I am passionate about, and I can’t change it,” she says.

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She believes the platform has not yet garnered much attention from the authorities. However, arranging their film screening sessions has been quite a task.

“We were planning our first screening session, and no one was ready to let us their place. As soon as they heard we would be playing Pakistani movies, they used to refuse us,” she recalls.

Despite all these roadblocks, Mazumdar has been strong in her endeavor and has built a community of more than 2500 members.

Sheema Kermani (Dancer and Social Activist), Samarth Mahajan (National Award winner Documentary Filmmaker), Ahsan Bari (Lead, Sounds of Kolachi), Kavish Seth (Indie Folk Singer), Adeel Afzal (Actor), Kami Sid (Transgender Model and actress), Satchit Puranik (Actor and Theatre Practitioner) are some of the notable personalities who have been part of Paaq Bandhu.

Paaq Bandhu

Celebrating International Youth Day with Indian and Pakistani members of Paaq Bandhu

She believes that her platform serves as a stepping stone in fostering a peaceful relationship between the people of the two countries.

“In the sessions, people from either side of the border interact and resonate with each other on realising how similar they are and how they share common social problems, which pushes me to keep going at it,” she says.

Mazumdar has been drafting a petition and plans to soon appeal to the government to allow Pakistani artists into India again. Also, she and other community members plan to make documentaries about the common issues the two nations face.

“Though eternal peace may seem like a distant dream, I believe that every great achievement starts with just a conversation, and that is what Paaq Bandhu is brewing,” she says.

Edited by Affirunisa Kankudti