NEW DELHI/ LAHORE:
Famed Indian poet Gulzar, slated to take part in the upcoming Karachi Literature Festival (KLF), abruptly cut short his trip to Pakistan Wednesday morning, sparking widespread speculation that there were political reasons behind his departure.
The poet, who was in Lahore to record a song and to pay a visit to his birthplace Deena, near Jhelum, U-turned into India from Wagah just two days before the KLF commenced. Some reports said he fell suddenly ill, while others claimed that Indian authorities tipped him off about some security concerns.
Acclaimed drama writer and poet Amjad Islam Amjad told The Express Tribune that he was supposed to meet Gulzar for lunch. However, according to his account, an acquaintance of the Indian poet called Amjad and informed him that Gulzar was leaving the country after being briefed by authorities within the Indian government of some potential security problems.
“Travelling to Lahore was important to Gulzar because he has many ties to the city,” said Amjad. “I suppose this [his departure] is a backlash of the hanging of Afzal Guru [in India] and perhaps they [the authorities] wanted to pre-empt a reaction.”
Some sections of the Pakistani media claimed the Indian High Commission had advised Gulzar to return. However, according to top government officials in Delhi, the commission was not even aware that the poet was in Pakistan at that time.
Gulzar reached Pakistan on Monday, primarily to record a song for film ‘Dedh Ishqiya.’
With him in Lahore were producer Vishal Bhardwaj and his wife Rekha, Pakistani film director Shahzad Rafiq and producer Ayub Khawar.
In an interview with NDTV, Bhardwaj downplayed the political tensions between the two countries, saying that the poet had simply been too overwhelmed by the recordings and the emotional visits to his hometown, and to the grave of his mentor, eminent poet Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi.
“He was emotionally overwhelmed and stressed,” said a statement from Bhardwaj’s office in Mumbai. “He felt uncomfortable after reaching his hotel in Lahore, so Vishal cancelled his recordings and decided to escort him back home. There was nothing political about it. We plan to visit Pakistan again for recording as soon as Gulzar saab feels better.”
Corroborating this version, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that Gulzar has left for India of his own will.
He said on his official Twitter page, “[Gulzar] had valid visa. He [has not been] deported. I arranged fool proof security in Kar [Karachi] but he did not visit there.”
In a second tweet, Malik added “I attended to the matter of Mr Gulzar personally. His friend from [the] USA had called him and misinformed him that he might be attacked [in Karachi].”
Meanwhile, Ameena Saiyid, the managing director of Oxford University Press, expressed disappointment at Gulzar’s departure, as he has a large South Asian fan base.
“I didn’t have chance to speak with him. There is a sense of disappointment … we were really looking forward to seeing him,” she said.
According to her, adequate security arrangements had been made for Gulzar. However, the KLF was only responsible for Karachi, and his Lahore trip was a personal one.
Over 2,000 speakers and writers will attend the KLF, including Shobha De and Barkha Dutt from India, as well as Indian-born Farokh Dhondy.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2013.
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