‘For me Lahore is like Paris or Brussels’ – How famous German novelist Christoph Peters fell in love with Pakistan

Visiting Pakistan for the fourth time, the Hesse Rheingau Literatur Preis winner is particularly drawn to Sufism in the country

This is the fourth time, famous German novelist and author of short stories, Christoph Peters is visiting Pakistan. Intrigued by the culture and customs of Pakistan, he is particularly drawn to Sufism in Pakistan, which he believes is rather intense and deeper than what he experienced in Turkey.

2009 recipient of literary prize of Hesse Rheingau Literatur Preis, Christoph Peters published his debut novel Stadt Land Fluss in 1999 for which he won the 'Aspekte' prize for the best German literary debut. The success was followed by a collection of short stories in 2001 with his first English novel The Fabric of Night (Random House) published in 2007.

We met up with the Berlin based storyteller and writer to hear his story about Pakistan!

How did your story of ‘Pakistan’ start?

I first visited Pakistan last year at the Karachi Literary Festival and it was, in fact, during my first trip I fell in love with Pakistan. I travelled to Lahore too for a session and to Hyderabad for a reading session at one of the leading cafes. During this time, I had the opportunity to discover people and have experiences that I had not expected. I also had a chance to join in an exclusive Sufi conference in Karachi and explored the city filled with cultural diversity. At the same time, I met a Sufi Sheikh whose conversations were deeply inspiring. This is now my fourth trip, which I planned with Zaffer Iqbal of National College of Arts. I am looking forward to more trips and discovering Pakistan.

Any apprehensions or perceptions while visiting Pakistan for the first time?

Well, I expected a very close society run by extremists and conservatives. I was really surprised when I took a tour down the city only to discover one of the most magnificent architectures in the world. I saw the places and buildings made by the Mughals that I had not heard about before or found in our books in Europe. The cities are full of surprises with architecture varying from the very Mughal era to the British Raj and the present age contemporary designs. It’s simply spectacular.

Also, it turns out the prejudices I brought along with me were false. I found people in Pakistan to be very open minded and discussing much diversified topics. Everything I experienced was opposite to what the media in the west projects. In fact, at times I found people here to be more open minded in crowd than back in Germany such as I found conservatives talking to atheists here, and both are comfortable expressing their views.

What brought you back to Pakistan?

I am doing a story telling workshop at the University of Culture and Arts in Lahore, which is funded by Goethe-Institut Pakistan and Annemarie-Schimmel-Haus Pakistan. We have developed a story-telling program for all kind of people with performing arts or literary background. These include writers, filmmakers, storytellers, scriptwriters, artists and so on. The base is story making and storytelling. We are doing a lot of experiments and I encourage them to get into it wholeheartedly. We can only talk about things if we have deeper knowledge about subjects like religion, culture, family structure etc, which are very important subjects to people here.

We are not just a globalized world but a globalized culture which is knitting closely. It’s interesting to note how much I can learn from the students here, while they learn from me. Our cultures are fusing and it becomes all the more interesting when we tell our stories.

People are so fond of comparing Pakistan with its neighbouring country. What’s your opinion?

I am very subjective, and in fact, I was in Pakistan before I went to India. It’s very different there although I enjoyed being there. Personally, I feel it’s rather difficult to relate to the Hindu culture than Islamic world in Pakistan. The two cities I went to in India, Bombay and Puna, were very regulated. Whereas in Pakistan, the cities are free and artistic. So I enjoy it here more. I admire Indian art but I really don’t get very much into it. On the contrary, when I visit a mosque or mazaar I feel so familiar. I can relate to the overall feel of it. Plus, people in Pakistan are more friendly than in India.

How has your experience been so far?

Only good experiences! Everyone I meet is so friendly to me. Especially in everyday life, I’ve almost never had the feeling someone wants to betray me or charge me more money simply because I am a tourist. I enjoy the Sufi culture in Pakistan.  I am surprised by the high quality of art in Pakistan. It’s so different to western art. The modern art here is very interesting and the new miniature painting simply splendorous. I also enjoy the traditional music… I enjoy it. Everything is here is so spontaneous. For instance, a meeting might get cancelled but then you’ll end up meeting someone with whom it wasn’t scheduled. So I enjoy that spontaneity!

Would you encourage your friends and fellow artists to visit Pakistan?

Yes always! I keep posting all the amazing experiences and things I discover to my Facebook page to show what a beautiful country it is. I’ve already suggested my friends back home to take a chance on discovering this country. For me, Lahore is like going to Paris or Brussels.

As an advocate of art and culture, what’s your message on peaceful coexistence?

We are all humans and we all try to have a peaceful life. Don’t do to others what you don’t want people to do to you – that’s the fundamental belief of all religions. Meet each other without prejudices and with an open mind. Accept and see others like yourself no matter what their belief is.

In the end, all religions are based on peace. It’s the basic belied of all religions to be friends with others. So no matter what your belief is, try to understand other beliefs without losing your belief. There’s a lot to learn from everyone since we all reveal aspects of the one universal truth.

Marian Sharaf Joseph is an independent journalist. Her work for local and global publications focuses on culture and community affairs

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt