Movies that make you think: Sindhustan and Midnight Traveller

Both these must-watch movies were featured in MAMI Film Festival 2019 and highlight the world from the inner eye of refugees

The smell of Sindhi kadhi almost wafts off the screen to make its way into some rudimentary trigger of a childhood memory. Sapna Bhavnani’s documentary Sindhustan was the top of my must-watch list for MAMI Film Festival. I went into Sindhustan prepared with a lot of research about Sindh and Sindhis, and within the first few minutes, as the narrative unfolded interspersed with poetry by Shah Abdul Latif, all my research was just a bunch of bland facts in contrast to the deeply emotional storytelling of Sindhustan. Sindh walks on Sapna’s tattooed legs and feet onto each frame of this movie- she is the land, and the land is her.

The documentary also features personal interviews of Partition survivors who migrated from Sindh. One of them, an elderly doctor,quipped that after all these years, she still tells anyone who asks where she’s from, that she’s from Shikarpur (Sindh).

No one anticipated the havoc Partition would bring, no one ‘plans’ to be a refugee, no one wants to put their children on an escape boat, no one prepares for a literal upheaval of their lives. My biggest fear is that someday, I could be in that old doctor’s place, having to tell young people what destruction befell the people of my time. Just as the survivors of Gujarat riots and the Rohingya refugees and the Kashmiris and the detainees in Assam have to tell and retell the stories of how their world is falling apart.

History teaches us important lessons and unless we pay heed, we are doomed to repeat it. Sindhustan reminds you of these lessons, of the heartbreak of Partition, the circumstances of suddenly becoming refugees because someone, somewhere decided what’s “good for the people”. The trauma of a lost home lingers in your bones making its way down generations, but so does love. Sufism has flown down the spines of Sindhis like the river Sindhu linking them all forever even if their feet cannot touch the land of Sindh. So be it the recipe for Sindhi kadhi, the traditional inking of one’s body, or the songs that match across borders, home is where the love is, or as Sapna says, “Home is where the legs are”.

It was fitting that I went on to watch Midnight Traveller a couple of days later. Shot entirely on three cell-phones, Midnight Traveller documents the real-life journey of filmmaker couple Hasan and Nargis Fazili with their two daughters, as they escaped the Taliban. After repeated refusals to their asylum applications, they make their way across Afghanistan with the help of “refugee smugglers” to reach the European Union where they hope to be safe from the certain death that awaits them at the hands of the Taliban.

Their tumultuous journey spanned years of travelling on unsafe terrain, fearing the kidnapping of their young daughters, and periodic stays in desolate refugee camps. At one such camp, their children are pictured playing with other children of refugees. It is a heart-breaking scene because even their games were about being smuggled and escaping the police/army. The next time you see children in your families play house (ghar-ghar), think of the countless children who are playing the ‘smuggling and hiding from police’ game because that is the only reality they know. They don’t get to go to school or bring their favourite toys or feel safe or have a place to call home. In another poignant scene, one of the daughters breaks down crying because she’s bored, and you can feel her frustration, her fear, all the turmoil in her mind distil itself into the word ‘bored’ when her tears were about so much more.

At one of the refugee camps they were housed in at Bulgaria, local citizens protested against letting refugees into the country and even assaulted the refugees urging them to “go back”. Sound familiar? How many ‘go back to your country’ or ‘go to Pakistan’ comments do we read on our social media daily?

In early 2019, Indian authorities ceased to recognize the UNHCR-issued refugee cards of Rohingya, effectively taking away the little amount of legal protection some 18,000 registered Rohingya refugees had in the country. Hate crimes against Rohingyas abound and many groups have issued inflammatory statements against the entry of Rohingya refugees in India. Over the past 2 years, India has been deporting Rohingya refugees (including children) to Myanmar where they face genocide.How deplorable does one have to be to ask for the ‘removal’ of people who have lost everything trying to escape death?

Do we feel nothing anymore? How about for our own citizens- how can one be okay with people being herded into detention camps and with people being sequestered in a lockdown state? While it is appalling to see people cheering such moves, what also rankles, is the neutrality and silence of others. As long as you are sitting in your homes, as long as it is happening to someone else, as long as you are safe; will you remain unaffected?

But one day the fight could come to your door, one day it could be your rights taken away, one day you might lose your home, one day you could be on the other side- a refugee- and that day, you will care. It will be too late.



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