Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Spreading the ‘Southasian\' bug

ISLAMABAD, November 16, 2011(Tehelkanews)

By raising $110,000 for the Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre in Nepal, the Spinal Beetle Rally has had moderate success. According to a tweet by veteran journalist from Nepal — as opposed to "Nepali journalist" — Kanak Mani Dixit, it has "raised about half of what we need".

This was on Sunday as he was leaving Lahore. The 10-day fund-raising road journey through three countries in a 1973 Volkswagen Beetle winds up on Wednesday.

But for someone who, as a founder member of the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA), has fairly easy access to the region and is a keen advocate of the "Southasian" identity, the journey has still been a learning experience.

In Islamabad on Monday for the last leg of the rally that saw him, along with his wife and son, drive down from Nepal, through the breadth of India, and into Pakistan, Mr. Dixit was pained by the eerie silence at the India-Pakistan border crossing at Wagah. Referring to the India-Nepal open border — complete with its chaos — as the ideal border for the region, he said: "That is what a South Asian border should be like; not the rigidity of the Indo-Pak border at Attari-Wagah."

If they were disappointed by the sluggish flow of funds for their spinal centre, the Dixits did not show it during an interaction with civil society here. Though they mentioned their fundraising effort — the target is to collect $100 per mile during the 1,100-mile road trip — not once did they directly seek funds and there was no sign of a collection box, to the surprise of some of those eager to contribute to the cause.

The Dixits, along with a mechanic and a driver for their backup vehicle, crossed into Pakistan on Friday after leaving their travel documents — passports included — at a roadside restaurant in Jallandhar. Having made friends all the way, one such friend of their son, Ilam, managed to get the message across to him through Facebook that the documents were in safe custody.


Once in Lahore, the family watched the Ajoka theatre group perform a play on Bhagat Singh and Mr. Dixit found it "amazing after the hyper-nationalistic flag-loweringtamasha[circus] at Wagah-Attari!" Besides, he tweeted: "Mayo Hospital Lahore offers two fellowships for post-doc in rehabilitation medicine for Spinal Centre-Nepal. Wow, Southasian solidarity!" For him, "Southasian" is one word since when separated the term "creates geographical barriers".

Their arrival in Islamabad on Sunday was delayed by hours because the Dixits took a detour to Fatehgarh, near Sialkot, to collect a fistful of earth for a 96-year-old Sikh they met in Jallandhar. As a result, they kept members of the Volkswagen Beetle Club of Rawalpindi and Islamabad waiting but they were still there cheering the family on Monday and ensuring that their vintage car was roadworthy for the journey to Peshawar; the last stop on this "Southasian" pilgrimage.

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