Fingerbillard in East Berlin

by Arif Naqvi

Earth, how are you doing? (Issue I/2018)


I'm from Lucknow, a city in northern India which lies some 500 kilometers east of Delhi. Similar to Weimar in Germany, Lucknow is known as a cultural city in India. People are especially proud of their linguistic culture, as Hindi and Urdu can be heard there in equal measure. After school, I studied literature at the University of Lucknow and worked on radio plays and stage adaptations for a theatre. When I graduated I went to a theatre in Delhi for two years.

But I was keen to explore the theory of drama and I was particularly fascinated by Bertolt Brecht, whose work was often performed in India back then. In the Autumn of 1961 I got the offer to go to Germany for a dissertation. Due to the intensive relations between India and the GDR there was a lively cultural exchange during this time. Shortly after the Berlin Wall was built, I arrived in Leipzig, my first stop in Germany. I attended a German course there for half a year. They recommended I stay for a one-year course, but that seemed disproportionate for a three-year stay.

In 1962 I moved on to Brecht's workplace, to East Berlin. I was involved with the theater, but after about a year I was offered to work as a Hindi and Urdu language teacher at the Humboldt University and as a foreign correspondent for PTI's Indian News Agency. These jobs kept me so busy that I shelved Brecht and my doctoral project. I had written since my youth, but it was only then that I began to publish my poems and stories in Urdu and Hindi. That's how I became known in India as a writer. During my travels home I not only visited my family, but also introduced my books and met many new people. For example, I had a long friendship with Indian actor Sunil Dutt despite the distance.

Although I knew that I had moved to a newly divided city, the wall had little impact on my life. As a journalist from abroad, I was able to move freely and make appointments on both sides of the border. There was also the division of Korea and the 1947 demarcation between India and Pakistan which made the inner-German border seem less an isolated case and more part of a worldwide dynamic. I never had a problem getting into the new country and culture. Although I personally did not experience any discrimination, I still felt that India was considered by many to be uncultured. I was then chairman of an Indian association and wondered what I could do boost awareness of Indian culture. I thought of the traditional kites used in competitions and fights in India. But they need a certain climate to fly well. Then I remembered a board game that was widespread in India and that I often played as a child and that was hardly known in Europe: Carrom, where players sink billiard-like small wooden discs into the four corner pockets. The "white ball" is a slightly larger disc that is flicked with a finger.

Since the foundation of our association in Berlin, we have managed to get many people excited about the game and to establish it in Europe. In 1986 the German Carrom Organisation was founded, followed by the world association ICF in 2018. So we found some resonance. In Germany, four championship tournaments are held annually, on the international level there is a European and a World Cup.

When I travel to India today, I feel almost like a German visitor and a lot of things come more naturally to me in Berlin than in Delhi. I have been living in Germany for 57 years now and I have to admit that taking a longer language course would have been worthwhile.

Transcribed by Henning Schneider



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