No, politics please: ‘We are all one’, say traders at Alishan Pakistan

Traders and businessmen from Pakistan at the ongoing Pakistani lifestyle exhibition, Alishan Pakistan, at Delhi’s Pragati Maidan feel that no matter how the diplomatic ties are between the two nations, the common man in both countries have no hatred against each other.

Abdus Saboor Saleem, owner of the handicraft company Saleem Associates, says that it is completely futile to regard India and Pakistan as separate cultural or demographic entities.

 “It was one, and can be one if you keep aside the politics and religious fundamentalism apart,” says Saleem, whose company sells exquisite showpieces, from yacht-shaped clocks to flower vases, all carved out in green onyx with finesse. Green onyx is a translucent, colour-banded stone which is mined exclusively along the Pak-Afghan and Pak-Iran borders in Baluchistan.

Saleem, now in his fifties, recollects that his grandfather was born and brought up in West Bengal. His father, who worked as a chartered accountant, post-graduated in Arts from Aligarh Muslim University before he had to migrate to Pakistan in 1947. Saleem, too was preparing for his accountancy tests, when sensing a potentiality in trade of green-onyx, started his entrepreneurial venture in 1971.

“I have heard from the elders in my family that they did not want to migrate, but as you know the situation then was very hostile…something like what we saw on Thursday here,” Saleem says alluding to the anti-Pakistan protest by Hindu right-wing groups at the Pragati Maiden. “And yes,” continues Saleem, “I must thank the Delhi Police for controlling it so nicely.”

Ever since, Saleem started his handicraft business he has been visiting India. This is his fifteenth visit. “I like coming back to India again and again. It doesn’t feel as if I’m in a different country at all. And we have not faced, even an iota of hostility from any organiser or customer or business client ever,” Saleem adds.
Siddiq Ibrahim, co-founder of the Pakistani handicraft company, Pak Products, articulates the same sentiment.

“I have been to China and Libya with our handicraft products. There I feel like a complete outsider, but here in Delhi I feel at home. Food, dressing, language, nothing is an issue. As I say always, there is no alien feeling among the common man, it’s all about political boundaries,” says Siddiq.

Siddiq points out that if such an exhibition of Indian fashion products, handicrafts and jewelry is put up in Pakistan, it will attract a huge crowd and products will be grabbed.

Siddiq’s forefathers had met the same fate as that of Saleem’s. His great-grandfather was born in Rajkot and then shifted to Pakistan some years before the Partition. Siddiq too says that he has visited India a number of times after starting his handicraft business, and he feels completely at home while here.

Representatives at the Tehzeeb Foundation stall, an organisation working towards the spread of arts and culture in Pakistan, say that there is a good audience for Pakistani music in India and vice versa, and the scope for cultural assimilation is immense.

“A large number of people are coming to our stall and enquiring about CDs of prominent Pakistani musicians like Ustad Fateh Ali Khan. In this cultural scape, it seems the two nations are quite strongly united,” says Aaraya, an in-charge at the stall, who is also from Karachi.


This report was published on September 13, 2014 in the Hindustan Times.