War and Peace – Jang aur Aman

It was ten years ago, as an 18 year old, that I decided to spend a hot summer afternoon watching a show of Anand Patwardhan’s film War and Peace at India Habitat Centre. I did not know who Anand Patwardhan is but I had read good things about the film. I had not been fond of documentaries, but it was a time when I was exploring everything – cinema, food, yoga, literature – to find my bearings in the new, adult world that I was entering.

And find my bearings I did. The film had several scenes which moved me deeply and made me feel strongly about issues that I had not given a thought to earlier. Why do some Indians and Pakistanis hate each other? Why does the Indian right wing speak so often about destroying Pakistan? Why is the Pakistani army seemingly complicit with Islamic terrorists? What happens to the poor in both these countries while those who can grab the headlines do so by shouting slogans of war?

A particular episode in the film remains most strongly etched in memory. Patwardhan travels with his camera to an elite all-girls school in Lahore and witnesses a debate in Urdu, taking place in a classroom. The girls – all 14 or 15 years old – are debating whether Pakistan should have tested its nuclear weapons after India did the same, or not. A few girls make impassioned statements about Pakistan’s pride and self-confidence, which has apparently been enhanced by the tests. A few others appeal to our sense of peace and togetherness and argue against the tests. There is applause for both sides, often from the same people in the audience. After the debate is over, Patwardhan speaks with this group of girls and tells them that he feels India’s nuclear tests were most unfortunate. The antagonism on the political level has found almost no reflection among the common persons Patwardhan has been meeting and filming in the streets of Pakistan – the phone operator, the labourer, the weaver, the money exchanger. As we have seen, they have all welcomed Anand with genuine love, invited him to their homes and offered him food.

The girls tell him that they too feel a sense of affection towards India. Patwardhan asks the girl who spoke most vociferously in favour of the bomb: “How come this stark difference between what you spoke in the debate and what you speak now?” The group breaks into giggles. The girl, smiling embarrassedly, says, “I spoke for what will get most applause”. Patwardhan says, “Now think about it seriously. Our politicians do precisely the same thing. They speak for that which will get them most applause”. There are a few more giggles. The girl looks down, a smile still on her face. A few moments later, she looks up, her eyes glaring, and says, “ye ghalat hai, hum maafi chaahte hain” – “this is wrong, I ask to be pardoned.”

It is a movingly honest moment that appears suddenly in an atmosphere that has been marked by playfulness and performance. The group of teenaged girls is unable to fully absorb what has just happened, and they break into giggles again. But the deep seriousness on the face of the girl who spoke tells us that this courageous affirmation of one’s own mistake, and even guilt, has suddenly taken everyone in the room, and those watching the film, by surprise. It has moved them by becoming a witness to that underlying fact – our shared humanity, despite our superficial differences – a fact that is perhaps taken for granted and then lost in the banter of daily life.

The section ends with the girls standing together to sing a song. The camera gently moves across them, capturing the innocence, buoyancy and bits of self-consciousness on their faces closely. They are the future of our world, and we must hope that they make a better world.

chanda suraj laakhon taare
hain jab tere liye saare
kis baat pe hoti hain phir taqraarein

kheenchi hain lakeerein is zameen par
par na kheencho

beech mein do dilon ke ye deewarein

duniya mein kahin bhi
dard se koi bhi
tadpe to humko yahaan pe
ehsaas usske zakhmon ka ho
apna bhi dil bhar bhar aaye,
royein aankhein

ishq dava hai har ek dard ki
ishq hai jo saare jahaan ko aman bhi de


As I saw these moving scenes, I wondered where these girls are today, fifteen years later. Many of them must be married, perhaps some of them have children, some of them are homemakers while others are making a career in the world. I wonder if in the relationships they have formed over the last 15 years, have they emanated love, openness and idealism, or have they spoken about national pride, strength, and vanquishing the enemy? With which of these feelings about their giant neighbour will these girls’ children grow up? Much of the film is a witness to those who speak of the latter values, both in India and Pakistan.

Today, when I saw this film again after ten years, I had moist eyes at exactly the same places as I did ten years ago. This time, the moisture also turned to tears which flowed down my cheeks. More than once, I was deeply moved. When an elderly Japanese man who was a child when Hiroshima was bombed speaks about his experiences and remembers losing his parents and siblings to the after-effects of the atom bomb, a chord is struck deeply within me for this man, much older, from a totally different culture, weeping for a tragedy that took place several decades before I was born. The filmmaker asks him, “Do you feel angry at those who bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki?” The elderly man pauses, and says quietly, “I used to when I was young”. “But the Buddha says that hatred can never be overcome with hatred.” There is no sense of pride or triumphalism on his face. He simply speaks what he knows is true. He takes out from his bag four small stones, wrapped in tissue paper. He gives them to the interpreter, bows gently, and walks away in his dignified, noble manner, quietly affirming that no sorrow can overcome the basic human truth that we are all deeply connected. The camera focuses on the stones and the subtitles say, “stones from Hiroshima river, for Indian children”.

I write this blog piece on a day when a man has been killed in Pune by right-wing forces – only because he belonged to a particular religion. It is the same forces that advocate strong responses to Pakistan, even destruction of that country, and consider all Pakistanis their enemies. On the other side of the border lies a country that is being ravaged by its own people becoming terrorists. In the rhetoric around our recent elections, many of us have dreamed the dream of India being a superpower. What is the purpose of being a superpower when what make our lives worth living – love, compassion, openness – are sorely missing? These are reasons that War and Peace is as relevant today as it was a decade ago when it was made. It will remain relevant because it speaks of one thing that can be made to fade away in the haze of our indifference, but never destroyed – our shared humanity.

~ by tdcatss on June 5, 2014.

2 Responses to “War and Peace – Jang aur Aman”

  1. I should watch his documentary soon. Thanks for once again bringing a gem! True that the documentary is valid even now…

  2. thanks

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