By Mitali Chakravarty

Penguin

Sameer Arshad Khatlani is an author-journalist based in New Delhi. He has been a Senior Assistant Editor with Hindustan Times, India’s second-biggest English newspaper with a circulation of 10 million daily, since July 2018. Khatlani worked in a similar capacity with The Indian Express, India’s most influential newspaper known for its investigative journalism, until June 2018.

Born and raised in Kashmir, he began his career with the now-defunct Bangalore-based Vijay Times in 2005 as its national affairs correspondent. He joined Times of India (TOI), one of the world’s largest selling broadsheets, in 2007. Over the next nine years, he was a part of the paper’s national and international news gathering team as an Assistant Editor. Khatlani has reported from Iraq and Pakistan and covered elections and national disasters. He received a master’s degree in History from prestigious Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi.

The other side of the divide coverKhatlani is a fellow with Hawaii-based American East-West Center, which was established by the US Congress in 1960 to promote better relations and understanding with Asian, and the Pacific countries through cooperative study, research, and dialogue. Penguin in 2020 published Khatlani’s first book, The Other Side of the Divide: A Journey into the Heart of Pakistan. Eminent academic and King’s college professor, Christophe Jaffrelot, has called the book ‘an erudite historical account… [that] offers a comprehensive portrait of Pakistan, including the role of the army and religion—not only Islam’. In this exclusive, Khatlani talks of his learnings from the journey into Pakistan and his extensive research on these issues.

 

Your book is about your around a week-long sojourn to Pakistan as a journalist for Times of India. What event were you covering for TOI and which year was this? Was it prior to Modi being elected the PM?

I went to Pakistan in late December 2013 for my first and last trip to that country at the invitation of the World Punjabi Conference for a peace conference in Lahore. This was five months before Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in the summer of 2014 and around the time my former employer—Times of India—was involved in a campaign called Aman ki Asha for promoting greater people-to-people contacts between India and Pakistan for conflict resolution.

Ramayana is an age old epic said to have been written by Valmiki, who was himself a reformed dacoit called Ratnakar. Ratnakar took to crime to feed his hungry family. 

Uttara Kanda, the seventh book of Ramayana explains it all in details. Sage Narada, a character who shuttles between heaven and Earth in Hindu lore, asked the bandit to check with his family if they would stand by him if he were punished. When they said they would not, the dacoit turned to God. Ratnakar was so ferocious that he could not pronounce the name on which Narada asked him to meditate and said ‘Mara‘ which means death. Eventually, he was covered by an anthill and the ‘mara‘ had become Rama. Then he created one of the greatest epic in the history of mankind Sanskrit, Ramayana.

Down the ages, it was converted to multiple languages, some of them being — Persian in the Mughal court, Awadhi Hindi by Tulsidas (1532-1623), Kannada, Tamil and more. The Tamil one was translated by famed novelist RK Narayanan into English as far back as 1972. Now, it has been proliferated into dozens of lore by the likes of Devdutt Patnaik, Chitra Divakaruni, Amish Tripathi and many more.

Recently Dastangoi revivalist, Mahmood Farooqui, adapted this lore for the inmates of Tihar jail, a prison in New Delhi. He used a version by Raghunandan Sahir which fulfilled the needs of uneducated prisoners in Tihar.