RIP Kuldip Nayar: My Friend, The Man For Peace
Kuldip Nayar lighting a candle for peace with late Asma Jehangir
Khushjamalon ki yaad aati hai
Bemisaalon ki yaad aati hai
Jaanewaley kabhi nahin aate
Jaanewalon ki yaad aati hai
That’s what he was Khushjamaal (Beautiful) Bemisaal- (Peerless)
I never thought I would be writing these lines for Kuldip Nayar. He was alive, active, articulate until the very last when I spoke to him on the phone from Amritsar exactly one week ago on Independence Day.
A group of us had gone to the Wagah border to light candles upholding the Kuldip Nayar tradition. For 23 years the candles had been lit on midnight of August 14/15. He had a few comrades, specially two young men from Amritsar Satnam Manek and Ramesh Yadav who stood by him for a quarter century of his struggle to bring these two beleaguered countries on the Aman Dosti Path. For many years he enabled Pakistani and Indian friends to stand on the either side shining their candles to dispel the darkness and distance between the two neighbors. On either side, the BSF and Rangers were mute witnesses to this courageous tableau. No matter which government was in power they could not stop this movement; although it was carefully contained within the lakeers on either side.
This year it was Kuldip who flagged off the Yatra from Gandhi Darshan. A dozen of us, led by the indomitable Mohini Giri herself in a wheelchair, Ram Mohan peace crusader from Panipat the land of Sufis went to invite him to flag off the Yatra. We were received with the usual Nayar hospitality. Bharati ji was at his side with the same spirit I witnessed personally eighteen years ago in 2000 at Wagah. He sat at his desk while we crowded around, all smiles. On August 12 he came to Gandhi Darshan for the flag off. In the hall where all had gathered, he walked to the stage with support; he even climbed the two steps, sat down, listened to the speakers, and spoke poignantly of 1947 and the tragic exodus from West Punjab. He reminisced about his student days when Mohammad Ali Jinnah came to his college and young Kuldip asked him a question about the fate of Hindus and Muslims in case partition happens. His mind was crystal clear, his speech was soft, his expression was sad but with a glimmer of hope. At that moment I got a strong feeling that history was being penned as he was speaking. I asked a colleague who was recording on his phone to keep it safe as a precious record.
Amritsar was waiting for Kuldip’s caravan of Aman Dosti. The event was organised at the Natshala. It began with remembering Madeeha Gauhar and Asma Jahangir but every few moments people spoke about Kuldip. They recounted how he had seeded the idea, how for several years he got thousands on both sides of the border to listen to Hans Raj Hans. His presence was all pervasive in that packed auditorium. No one thought that the very next year it would be Kuldip who we would be commemorating. His friends Yadav, Manek and Bali told me that they were planning a big event in his honour in Delhi in September. I know they will still hold it.
From Amritsar I spoke to him on the phone every morning, reporting on our day. He had a very bad throat but I heard the keen edge and trace of joy in his voice. I could sense how keenly he listened when I recounted bit by bit our movement through the day leading to the midnight vigil at Wagah. I spoke to him about his friends, how they were missing him and how they were hoisting his flag of peace. I spoke to him three mornings in a row and got the feeling that he was waiting for my call. ‘We will come and see you as soon as we get back’ was the last sentence he hared from me. Sadly I called him not immediately but two days after our return to learn that he was in hospital and not allowed visitors.
I spoke to his staff yesterday; being Eid it was my special day to pray for him. I have to say that never have I a spent a sadder and more desolate Eid. The sadness had no name; just a blanket of grief which negated any thought of celebration. And the day after Eid early morning Kuldip Nayar, Midnight’s Child, Candle Bearer at borders and boundaries, flag bearer of Peace between India and Pakistan has left us for ever.
He was the gentle giant of India Pakistan Peace. Both countries should honour him by opening the borders for a massive memorial meeting which should be held in his karmbhoomi Amritsar. That should be a start of opening the way for the two countries to begin a Kuldip Nayar - Asma Jahangir Peace Dialogue to fulfil the dreams of these two stalwarts who lived and died for the cause. And to bring solace to the hearts and minds of millions of Indians and Pakistanis.