Our Bridge हमारा पुल ہماری پل

a cross-border link for journalists from India and Pakistan

Mapping Karachi – from NDTV

This is from the introduction to the NDTV documentary on Mapping Karachi – one of our group’s cross border reporting efforts between India and Pakistan

“We arrive in Karachi on a media exchange programme that gave us a choice to travel to either Lahore, Islamabad or Karachi. Our choice – based on Karachi’s reputation as a diverse, teeming metropolis, a microcosm of Pakistan, notorious for its violence – one that stems from both religious extremism and local gang warfare. Our guidelines did not allow us to report politics or religion, in some ways impossible to do as both shape almost every aspect of life in South Asia. We bring you a week long journey through this bustling, turbulent and violent metropolis, compared to Beirut, more like Bombay and once, way back in its history, also called the Paris of the East.”

Click here for the video:×7/mapping-karachi-414928?browserpush=true

Life in Karachi by NDTV
Life in Karachi by NDTV

The Female Boxers of Lyari, Karachi – NDTV


Mahira Khan talks to NDTV

The Women in Red in Karachi

Remembering Sabeen Mahmud

Our work. Our lives. Our hands reaching out.

What made today’s news different?

Not much.

But isn’t it always the same?

Life, death, corruption, desire, and hope; people, places and events that may be new, but  not if we think about what came before.

Good news. Bad news.

Bengaluru’s garbage raises a stench in nearby districts

INDIA Updated: Dec 28, 2016 15:37 IST

Vikram Gopal

What’s different is that we look at the news to remind us that life matters, that we are touched by the basics of our lives.

And so, we write about tragedies and joys again and again.


We also write, photograph and capture stories in video or audio that we think tell us what is important in our daily lives.

How do we make these unchanging stories new and alive?

We learn about our art. We learn all the skills we can. We push our understandings of what’s happening in the world around.


So, let’s share our skills. Let’s talk to each other about what we learned or want to learn. And in our small group, let’s reach out to help, to share, to encourage and to support each other.

Here, for example, is a wonderful photo package by Saumya about traveling everyday in Delhi. Can we do this also in Karachi or Lahore or Islamabad? Can we do the same in Hyderabad and Kerala and Chennai?


What else can we compare?

We’ve looked at health and justice. What other stories about lives in India and Pakistan can we create that tell us about the basics that are important?

Our thoughts?

Let’s share.


Ending Polio

Friday, November 13, 2015

Polio Eradication
What Pakistan can learn from India

Since my birth I am taught love for my country and hate for India. I grew up with mixed feelings of love and hate. Feelings of love kept growing while hatred diminished with age and maturity.

Logic has always guided my thoughts. I always move forward logically. Logic has always been the beacon of my thoughts. When it comes to defense we try to surpass India with all our energies. When India procured latest combat aircraft from Russia we got F-16s from United States. In 1998 when India conducted 5 nuclear tests we responded with 6. In cross-border firing incidents we have always responded fiercely. We taught good lesson to India in 1965 war but did not learn from our follies committed in 1971 debacle.  Pakistan is always proud to prove its superiority over India, but our pride was seriously dented on 24 July 2014 when WHO declared India a polio free country. So many Pakistanis like me kept on waiting that Nawaz Sharif may give reply to India by keeping our children safe from Polio like atomic blasts.

India receiving Polio Free Certificate
Pakistan’s resolve to outwit India in every field seems very fragile when it comes to eradicating polio.  We were quick to respond nuclear tests but failed in the health sector. I am anxiously waiting for the day when Prime Minister comes on state media and proudly announce eradication of polio from Pakistan.  Entire world thanked India for its success against polio while looking with suspicions towards Pakistan.  Several government officials including Prime Minister’s polio Cell former focal person Shehnaz Wazir Ali visited India to review the efforts made to eradicate polio. Pakistani delegation met with the Rotary and WHO officials. India showing magnanimity handed over the blue prints of Polio Elimination Strategy. During this time government changed, Aysha Raza Farooq replaced Shehnaz Wazir Ali but polio could not be eradicated.  Our enmity with India is like a pole star yet morality demands any good done by the enemy must be acknowledged.
I anxiously wanted to know the magic India used to eradicate polio. My wish was granted when Mr Fahd Husain selected me for a scholarship funded by a U.S. organization East West

Outside Lal Qila in Delhi Center.


In September when I arrived in Dheli and my keenness to meet Indian officials working for polio drive started growing impatiently. Ms Shalini the Communication Officer of Public Health Foundation India played a vital role to ensure my meeting with people at the helm of affairs. My first meeting was with Mr Deepak Kapur, chairman Rotary India. Mr Deepak was astonished to learn that Pakistanis were ignorant to the efforts made by Rotary for eradication of polio. In Pakistan people think Rotary belongs to the privileged class only.  I was surprised to learn that Rotary was contributing double the funds than International Gats Foundation. Mr. Deepak Kapur explained how the conscience of bureaucracy was shaken and efforts made to convince bureaucrats that polio was a deadly disease.

Their efforts forced Indian government to release funds and spare all resources for polio campaign. Religious clerics also requested to play their role to convince masses against polio and urge them to take Polio vaccine. Dr. Suneel Bahl briefed about role

With Dr Suneel Bahl and WHO staff in Delhi and efforts made by WHO in chalking out strategies and campaigns of immunizations and strict monitoring. They also spent force to identifying missing children in different areas of gypsies and construction sides. By adopting this approach vaccinators successfully covered missing child and so India thrown this disease out of their country.
On my return from India I met Rotary Pakistan Polio Plus’s chairman Mr Aziz Memon. The honorable chairman told me that there was no dearth of funds in Pakistan for Polio. He explained the reasons of Pakistan’s failure against polio; the reason is very simple-government’s priorities.  Pakistani government needs to turn

With Chairman Rotary Pakistan Aziz Memopolio campaign into a movement.

Should bureaucracy admit polio as a deadly disease nothing can stop Pakistan to eradicate polio.  WHO India’s focal person Dr Sunil Bhal also emphasized that polio campaign needs to be taken seriously and run like a movement. Administers of polio campaign and the recipients of polio drops will have to take this movement seriously. In India various incentives were tried to convince people for polio drops. Gifts for children like Balloons, chocolates and sweets were used as positive reinforcement. In 1988 more than 150,000 children were affected by polio in India. Yet India managed to eradicate polio. Dr Bhal says, “Health and sanitation conditions are far better in Pakistan than India, yet I fail to understand why Pakistan cannot deal with polio”.  Polio situation in 2014 was drastically alarming for Pakistan. 300 polio-affected

Ayesha Raza Farooq, Chairperson Polio Cell
children were reported. Pakistan had to face travel sanctions as well. In 2015 there was a sigh of relief. Polio cases are dropped by 70%. So far in 10 months only 40 cases have been reported.
Independent Monitoring Board for Polio acknowledges in its fresh report that Pakistan made considerable improvement.IMB declared the Peshawar valley and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) as a ‘conveyer belt’ of polio transmission and noted that this was possibly the last reservoir of wild poliovirus left in the world.
It is a daunting task but surely not impossible in any context. Government officials attend international conferences on polio, make tall claims but fail to deliver the goods.

Prime Minister’s polio cell will have to take the bull of polio by its horns to eradicate the deadly disease from the country and make Pakistan stand proudly beside the polio free nations. Folks look! India is Polio free and we are not……….
Posted by Jabbar Chaudhary at 3:09 PM


See also:

Searching for votes in Kolkata



KOLKATA: “Please come along and let us take you to mini-Pakistan in Kolkata,” says Bobby Firhad Hakim, MLA candidate of the incumbent party in West Bengal, All India Trinamool Congress, which is on its last leg of its canvassing and voters decide the party’s fate in the phase-wise West Bengal assembly elections scheduled to be held on April 30 and May 5.

While traversing the dusty, uneven roads in one segment of his constituency, Garden Reach, also the residence of the last king of Awadh, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, where he spent the last 30 years of his life, I am astonished by the lack of a cavalcade of vehicles that often accompanies ministers and low-level officials back home. Despite being a minister, only one vehicle follows Firhad’s car.

His car halts as a procession of party activists holding party flags walk by chanting slogans in favour of Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata “Didi” Banerjee. Upon seeing Bobby, the leading sloganeer starts to chant loudly: “Firhad Hakim zindabad, zindabad, zindabad (Long live Firhad Hakim). Pani ka mas’ala hal karnaywala, Firhad Hakim, Firhad Hakim (The one who has solved our water issues: Firhad Hakim, Firhad Hakim).” Others raise their hands and acknowledge him; sitting in his car Firhad, joins his hands in a namaste or waves at them. “There were no women in this rally?” I ask him. “No, Muslim women don’t come in such rallies,” he answers.

Read: Trinamool Congress leader beaten to death in West Bengal


Soon he descends from his car and is immediately surrounded by party workers and his security personnel. Clad in spotless white kurta and pajama and wearing joggers, Firhad is ready for door-to-door canvassing on a sultry day. This time I see women in Trinamool-print saris and am told they are Hindu and have no qualms in participating alongside men in campaigning.

Earlier sitting in his lounge at his home on Peary Mohan Roy Road, Firhad sells his election rhetoric to me by listing all the works carried out by his party in the last five years. Associated first with the Congress party, Firhad has been in politics for 34 years working his way up to the ministerial level and said to be a key member of Didi’s cabinet. I comment on his fluency in Urdu, which he speaks with a Bihari inflection, and he insists he is Bengali-speaking. “But you speak very good Urdu for a Bengali,” I persist with my query.

Fessing up he divulges his forefathers were Bihari.

“My paternal grandfather came from Gaya Zila in Bihar, settled in Calcutta and set up his business. My father Abdul Hakim was a law officer in the Calcutta Dock Labour Board. My mother was an assistant headmistress in Maulana Hasrat Mohani Girls High School. Her parents belonged to Faridpur, Bangladesh.” Popularly known as Bobby Firhad, a nickname his father bestowed on him after the Australian cricketer Bobby Simpson, “I wasn’t named after Dimple Kapadia!” he remarks referring to the one-time Bollywood heartthrob’s debut film Bobby, eliciting laughter in the room.

His entry into politics came due to his keen interest in the socio-economic issues in his area, as he became the go-to man for everyone. Firhad was eventually elected as a local councillor, a position he held for 15 years. Then he became a member of the West Bengal legislative assembly and is currently the minister for urban development and municipal affairs.

We begin walking in the squelchy narrow lanes of the neighbourhood that feel further constricted as more people join in and my ears start ringing with deafening sloganeering. With a fixed smile on his face, Firhad waves and gives candies to children. Banyan- and dhoti-clad scrawny men, children pouring water on themselves from water-filled buckets outside their flimsy homes, litter-heavy sewerage lines, young girls in black hijabs, men pumping water from hand pumps and bathing themselves on the lanes, kite-makers in their miniscule workshops, women gathered on rooftops of unpainted buildings, are some of the sights one observes.

Nearly all posters and graffiti on the walls are pasted and scrawled in Urdu: “Firhad Hakim (Bobby) ko kaseer votoun say kaamyaab karain”, “Urs Ghareeb Nawaz: Aap tamaam hazraat say guzarish hai is urs muqaddas main hazir ho kar hazrat Khwaja Gharib Nawaz kay fuyooz say malaan houn”, “Ishtihaar lagana mana hai”.

Firhad is right … This does feel like mini-Pakistan.

Exhausted with sweat pouring down my body, I straggle behind the crowd till I am no longer able to keep pace. Seeing me loitering around with my notebook in hand the men in the neighbourhood want to know what TV channel I work for. When I tell them I am from Pakistan, they break into broad smiles and tell me of their relatives who live back home.

I amble along the narrow lanes till I come upon a wide lane where a small stage is set up festooned with marigold and jasmine strings and poster of Didi and Bobby. Rows of green plastic chairs are placed on one side of the lane. The crowd waits for Firhad to complete his canvassing and address them from this stage. In the meantime, a local group stages a natak or drama cantering around Trinamool’s achievements.

Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2016

The power of the Qawwalli


As the evening stretches its arms over the skyline in the vibrant city of New Delhi, the historical Basti Nizamuddin comes back to life. Groggy with the day’s ordeal, the rest of the city hits the sack early. Unlike other localities, the Basti Nizamuddin is buzzing.

Thursday nights at the towering mystic Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya’s shrine are quite an affair. “Thursdays are special. They are qawwali nights,” says 23-year-old Rashid Nizami, as he navigates through the narrow street that leads to the large, airy compound.

Although the neighbourhood lies on the outskirts of Old Delhi, when it comes to the Sub-continent’s cultural thrust, it is right in the heart of the matter. Hundreds of devotees have already begun to emerge from the doorway to the place that symbolises humanity and tolerance.

Read: A divine rhythm

As the qawwals whisper to each other, Khusru’s own shrine watches them over from right across Nizamuddin’s. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

NIzamuddin is no ordinary mystic. He is known to have survived several reigns in the city that has been at the helm of power in the region for several centuries running. “Here is where these people learn about the Almighty,” adds Syed Nizam Ali Nizami, the shrine’s proud caretaker.

With the light gleaming in his face, the bearded man who appears to be in his 60s, oversees fellow caretakers scurrying in and out as they give final touches to the arrangements. Donning a white kurta pajama and an identical cap, Nizami explains his relation with Nizamuddin. “The saint never married. I am a descendant of his sister. We are all khadims [servants] who have been serving him for the last 700 years,” he adds, continually saying zikr on his rosary.


Syed Nizam Ali Nizami oversees fellow caretakers scurrying in and out as they give final touches to the arrangements.

Inside the white marbled structure, lies the saint burried. His grave is strewn with rose petals that have been scattered over green sheets. The light emerging from the building is evident.

The windows to the room are enmeshed in threads tied by the devotees who made wishes at the shrine. Once the wish is answered, the follower is bound to return, untie the thread and make some offering in the name of Nizamuddin.

Facing the shrine, Tahir Ali, Mahir Ali and Shakir Ali sit on the cool, naked marble floor with their nervous hands playing the instruments. The Pakistani qawwals are here for their moment to shine. Their musicians are almost ready.

The session will open with a famous eulogy penned by Hazrat Ameer Khusru. Khusru was the galactic understudy of Nizamuddin; a musician, a poet and a great mystic himself. “Qawwali is something that touches the soul. It moves the heart through its own language,” the lead singer Tahir tells The Express Tribune.

The windows to the room are enmeshed in threads tied by the devotees who made wishes at the shrine.

As the qawwals whisper to each other, Khusru’s own shrine watches them over from right across Nizamuddin’s. “When people listen to qawwali, it transports them to another world where they experience oneness with the Creator,” Tahir carefully adds.

Amongst the many trades of Khusru was qawwali, which he not only invented but developed for as long as he lived. Qawwali is literally in the air of this compound.

“This is where qawwali was born,” says Nizami as he returns after completing a chore. “When Nizamuddin started preaching Islam, the locals were attracted towards other religions whose integral part was singing and playing music. That’s the time when Khusru wove devotional poetry into classical compositions,” he explains.

Khusru is believed to have not only given birth to the tradition ragas, but also several instruments that changed Indian classical music forever.

“It is the devotion that has made qawwali immortal,” says popular qawwal Chand Nizami who lives nearby. His ancestors have been singing at the shrine for centuries and Chand is proud to uphold the legacy.

It is perhaps the very message of these mystics that transcends religious, social and communal demarcation; the message that continues to entice devotees from across the globe. As the qawwals tune their instruments and clear their throats, in a blink the crowd gathers around them, poised and silent; waiting to embark on a journey that continues to help wanderers to their destinations.

The writer is a staff correspondent who visited India as part of a journalism exchange program organised by the East West Center.

The story is the first of a two-part series revolving around the revival of qawwali in New Delhi. The second story will be published on the following Friday.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 25th, 2015.

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