South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Journalist Zeeshan Khan’s book Right to Passage: Travels through India, Pakistan and Iran is interesting, informative in many ways. It is not a mere travelogue. It is more than that. The author tries exploring historical, spiritual places on the way and connects it with the similar places in other countries. In 2011, he began his travel from Dhaka to Europe via India, Pakistan and Iran. Most of his journey was on buses, trains and cars. He had no other options but to fly to India from Bangladesh, Pakistan from India and Iran from Pakistan. It took him nearly 60 days. Finally he left for Turkey from Iran.

The book covers first leg of his journey from Bangladesh to Iran. He selected cities, towns meticulously. He flew to Kolkata from Dhaka and then to Patna. He found graceful professionalism at Kolkata’s International and domestic airport and experienced a new India. Even in Patna railway station, where he went to book Patna to Delhi and Amritsar to Delhi tickets, officials were helpful. The author is British-Bangladeshi citizen. He also noticed little difference in Bangladesh and West Bengal’s Bengali. Before leaving Dhaka, he thought he may find little difficulties in India as he is a Muslim. But, he never felt discrimination. Similarly, he thought he will find difficulty in Pakistan as he is from Bangladesh. Even in Pakistan, he never felt discrimination.

It is not easy to enter by road to other country in South Asia. Zeeshan Khan went up to Attari on India-Pakistan border but had to return to Delhi from Amritsar to take flight to Lahore. The Pakistani High Commission in Bangladesh did not give him visa to cross border on foot. So, though he was barely 30 km away from Lahore he had to go to Delhi which is around 450 km from Amritsar. He was in Patna on Eid, the day after the holy month of Ramzan. Surprisingly, author has used word Ramadan, which is not South Asian. The word Ramadan came to South Asia with the petro-dollars and money coming from mid-east countries.

Bodh Gaya is the most sacred place for Buddhist. Here, Siddhartha became the Buddha. He also travelled to Rajgir and Nalanda in Bihar. Twenty fourth and last Jain tirthankara Mahavira spent fourteen year in Rajgir. The cave at vulture’s peak was Buddha’s favourite place. Nalanda was called one of the ‘first great universities in recorded history’, formally commenced in 3rd century, during the regime of Gupta king Kumaragupta. Author also visited Delhi, Amritsar. Apart from Golden Temple and Jalianwala Baug, he went to Attari {popularly referred as Wagah) border.  Author writes the atmosphere is carnival like. It is all about nationalism. Daily hundreds of people visit to watch lowering of the flags ceremony. Zeeshan Khan watched the ceremony from other side also when he travelled to Pakistan.

In Pakistan he visited Lahore, Islamabad, Taxila, Multan, Quetta. Pakistan is fighting for its survival but at the same time Saudi funded Wahabi movement growing inside it like a tumor, felt Zeeshan. Taxila was originally called as Takshashila. The book says Takshashila was named after Taksha, Lord Rama’s brother. Factually, it is incorrect. Taksha was the son of Lord Rama’s brother Bharata.  After Mohen-jo-daro, Taxila is the most visited site in Pakistan. Takshashila and Nalanda were two most popular universities. Takshashila produced some of the finest minds in the fields of history, mathematics, science, medicine, law etc.

Though Pakistan is not safe and secure but Pakistanis are fabulous he writes. They say their city or country is as safe and secure as any other country or city. This spirit keeps them enjoying every moment. He writes about collapse of train system in Pakistan. Trains never run on time. Once he missed train as train was on time. He travelled to Quetta in train to get firsthand experience. While in train they were told that 26 Hazara Shias were pulled off from a Taftan-bound bus and shot dead at Mastung near Quetta. They were going to Iran for a pilgrimage. Zeeshan’s original plan was to take a train to Zahedan in Iran. But, he came to know that Iran has stopped train years ago following incidences of violence. Iran is a Shia majority country and Pakistan Sunni. Iranian province of Sistan va Baluchistan has a sizeable Sunni population. To cross over to Pakistan, Zeeshan had no other option but to fly to Zahedan. He could not cross border on foot or vehicle.

He travelled to Zahedan, Kerman, Rayen, Mashhad, Yazd, Esfahan, Tehran and couple of other cities in Iran. Masshad is Iran’s second largest city and holiest and it means ‘the place of martydom’. Imam Ali ar-Ridha, the eighth of the Shia imam was buried here. Yazd has the largest Zoroastrian community in Iran.

It took three and a half years to write the book. He did lot of research on historical cities of India, Pakistan and Iran. The cities were selected on the basis of their significance, relevance in the history. The book is full of cultural, historical, religious references.

The book Right to Passage is meant for the South Asian audience. The book is enjoyable to read. It has 390 pages and is priced Rs. 595. The book is published by Sage.

By: Jatin Desai