The decision by the Pakistan government to turn the childhood home of venerable Indian actor Dilip Kumar into a heritage site is indeed a welcome one. Bollywood — and the music that comes with it — has been transcending South Asian borders since they were first put up, and Dilip Kumar has led the charge. Born Yousuf Khan in Qissa Khwani Bazaar, Peshawar, Kumar moved to Pune, and starred in his first film, Jwar Bhata, in 1944. Since then, he has established himself as one of South Asia’s greatest actors. Kumar has only come back to Pakistan twice since partition, but has signalled his willingness to attend the inauguration of the house.
Like Ivo Andric or Garcia Marquez, Kumar is not confined to his current national boundaries; his significance — and his life — spans the Subcontinent. While Kumar has already been awarded the Nishan-e-Imtiaz, Pakistan’s highest civilian honour, the move to declare his childhood home, currently dilapidated, a heritage site is one more step towards the recognition of those individuals on a regional scale. The house of Raj Kapoor, also in Qissa Khwani Bazaar, is also set to be declared a heritage site.
But beyond the deserved recognition of South Asia’s actors, the move signals a willingness by the government to accept a shared history, a pricklier idea. As far as Pakistan’s geography is concerned, ruins from the Indus Valley Civilisation, excavations in Bhambore, Buddhist relics in Peshawar all suggest a breathtaking unity within narratives of history which has been systematically shrouded from view. Our history writing is informed by the Two-Nation Theory, impossibly dissecting events, people and physical locations into ‘Pakistani’ and ‘Indian’ at a time when those divisions did not exist. To an extent, the laurels towards Kumar mitigate that charge. Kumar, a Muslim, chose to stay in India, but is being honoured all the same. A similar openness with other figures — Raj Kapoor is a start; Bhagat Singh also comes to mind — will only help bridge this historical and historiographical divide.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 19th, 2014.
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