A Pakistani Artist & A Sikh Taxi Driver Collaborate To Remember Partition

A Pakistani Artist & A Sikh Taxi Driver Collaborate To Remember Partition

At the stroke of midnight, August 15, 1947, India and Pakistan strode towards their individual freedom. The ‘ethnic cleansing’ that followed was rife with communal violence and despair like India had never witnessed before and is till date, remembered with sadness, even as both countries celebrate their Independence Days, a day apart. A few people, however, have chosen to remember both sides of the story.

By now, you’ve heard all about Taxi Fabric which successfully beautified some of Mumbai’s taxis. The latest designer to work her magic on one of the city’s iconic black-and-yellows, however, lends a new layer to the project that’s particularly well timed and conceptualised. By bringing 29-year-old Pakistani designer, Samya Arif, and an elderly Mumbai taxi driver, Satmant Singh, together, the brand new upholstery for his seats symbolises a new dialogue between neighbouring countries, partitioned 69 years ago on this very day—one that’s speckled with the commonalities between the two cultures, even as it mourns their separation.

Image courtesy: Aashim Tyagi

While speaking of the field in Pakistan, Arif says, “Design jobs are restricted to sell-out advertising agencies and a handful of publication houses in Pakistan. Also since design is a widely undervalued field in Pakistan, the monetary aspects of it can seem bleak at times.”

Considering that, she believes that the best jobs here come through freelance or personal work. It’s no surprise then that she’s been a fan of Taxi Fabric ever since she first heard about it. “It’s lovely to see an idea realised and affecting the daily lives of so many people in such a positive manner. Not only are the people being exposed to better designs but are also being given the opportunity to fully experience them,” she adds.

Her work is broadly inspired by Pakistan’s heritage—intricate textile work and Mughal architecture are big influences. Additionally, much like Indian states, each Pakistani province has its own additions to add to the mix. But in an effort to find a ‘connecting point,’ Arif has chosen the ocean as her motif for this particular project, as she believes that it—and water in general—plays a role in both, India and Pakistan. While the sea is the underlying theme to her design, she has layered geometric shapes, patterns, and hand gestures common to both cultures, such as dua or namaste on top.

Image courtesy: Aashim Tyagi

There is also something strangely poetic that the taxi driver she was assigned is an elderly Sikh man by the name of Satmant Singh. In fact, Seeing such a beautiful cross-border initiative and collaboration in the art space makes you wonder why our governments can never seem to agree on anything. It isn’t something that’s gone unnoticed by Arif either, who says, “I’ve always had a great love for India. Sadly, I’ve never been, though I would love to go. This project allowed me, as a Pakistani, to work with a bunch of brilliant and talented people from India, which otherwise would’ve hardly been possible. It also showed me how we are very much the same people culturally and otherwise.”

While Arif never actually got to speak to Satmant, she discovered, through Taxi Fabric that his favourite colours are red and white. Talking about her design, Arif says, “I based my designs on the idea that Indians and Pakistanis are essentially the same people, coming from similar roots and focusing on our commonalities and unique characteristics at the same time.”

Meanwhile, Singh is thrilled that his taxi was chosen for a makeover—that too by a Pakistani artist. He was extremely touched by her gesture and the message Arif tried to convey through her designs. If you do ever happen to ride in Singh’s taxi, which zigzags through Mumbai’s chaotic streets, you’ll notice the little standout rectangle of fabric stitched behind his seat, with the words:

India and Pakistan.

Separated at birth,

Siblings who grew up and

Forgot how much

They love each other

New Delhi and Islamabad, can you hear the hum of Singh’s engine?

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