Last week, some of you may have seen an unusual Honda CRV driving around Kuwait or in your neighbourhood, with a large sticker of a young man wearing a jacket with sequins on its lapel, and a star shaped earring in his left earlobe.
Meet the owner: Star Malik, a British citizen, a chauffeur by profession and a self-appointed peace ambassador, who is on a road trip from London to document the peace messages from Indian and Pakistani communities residing abroad. The car in question is the Peace Mission Car, which also bears miniature flags of the 21 countries Malik intends to traverse. The journey’s final destination is India, where he plans to hand over one folder containing the peace messages to an Indian celebrity in the spirit of friendship to further promote peace efforts in the region. A similar set will be handed over to a Pakistani celebrity with the same request.
Star Malik, who was born in Kuwait, earned his unusual moniker for his community service in the UK. But Malik’s life hasn’t been a bed of roses. In his adolescent years, Malik was forced to give up cricket, in spite of showing talent as a batsman, and being shortlisted out of thousands of candidates to play on the Pakistani U16 team, because it was unacceptable as a career. The episode broke his heart, and the pain of it still lingers when he speaks of it today. In 2007, his life changed dramatically when he was diagnosed with a rare degenerative eye disorder called kerataconus.
With blurry vision, and loss of control over day-to-day tasks, despair began to set in and Malik withdrew completely from the outside world. As his eyesight diminished and the future looked bleak, Malik slowly began to see the bigger picture of life, and ponder upon things he hadn’t given thought to before. It was during those eight months of his recovery, when Malik first planned his Peace road trip.
Currently, on the second leg of his overland journey, starting from Kuwait, Malik spoke to TTK just before setting off to Saudi Arabia, from where he will drive to Qatar, Bahrain and finally, conclude with UAE.
Tell us why and when you started this peace journey.
It all evolved during my illness in 2007. Initially, I couldn’t see anything. Withdrawing myself completely from social and family life, I turned off my phone, and imprisoned myself in a room. I was disillusioned. And because I was unable to see, I turned to the radio, and started listening to Indian and Pakistani channels. One day, I was listening to a program where an Indian woman, a doctor, was speaking on the ties between India and Pakistan. She said: her parents had met in London, fallen in love, and married in secrecy, because one was Pakistani and the other was Indian. They did not inform their respective families back home for fear of the obvious. But, when they found out, their doomed marriage ended in divorce. This woman’s story really moved me. Even after all these years, she was crying as she recounted her family’s tragic story. It made me realize how many lives are still being affected by the chronic tension between the two neighbours even 60 years later, and some are irrevocably destroyed. That’s when I decided to do something my way.
I started the first leg of my journey on 12.12.12 at 12:12:12, from London to France and travelled through 13 countries in the European Union. It took me over two years to initially plan out everything.
What is your route-plan and the purpose of this journey?
I planned to travel from London to India via Pakistan, which meant travelling over 3 continents, through 19 countries, and 65 cities and towns–one for every year of Independence India and Pakistan has enjoyed so far. The mission is to document the coexistence and highlight views of the Indians and Pakistanis living abroad, and accordingly, I chose countries where there was high concentration of immigrants or expatriates from both countries. The second leg, which began from Kuwait, will cover Middle East before heading off to Pakistan and ending in India via the Attari-Wagha border.
Did everything go according to plan?
Oh, no! There were a few ups and downs. The European tour took 54 days to accomplish; I fell ill in Sweden and had to be hospitalized; and I faced financial difficulties and had to postpone the second leg of my journey.
You said money hindered your progress for over a year, between the first and second phase of your road journey. How so?
I started out on my own and self-funded the whole journey. As you can expect, it involved a lot of money and unfortunately, I have no support of sponsors or donors. So, after pooling my resources to complete the first phase of my journey, I ran into financial difficulties and had to postpone the next phase until I could regroup financially. This was my idea and I have to see it through to the end, despite the cost.
Were you always a liberal minded person when it came to the two nations?
Honestly, no. I grew up like any other descendent of immigrant families, and was influenced by my surroundings and community. We grow up in a system that impacts our mentality. However, the year I spent battling my illness, changed my perspective on a lot of things and I don’t see the differences anymore. I even wanted to do the peace journey along with an Indian counterpart.
Amongst the countries you have visited so far, which country’s community has impressed you the most?
I’d say the United Kingdom. Of course, there are segregated areas, but on the whole, Indians and Pakistanis living harmoniously in the UK, and many of them enjoy good relations and friendships between them. I believe times are gradually changing and the younger generation does not really care about the animosity.
Considering the enormity of your mission, what has kept you motivated, so far?
I have always been very focused and self-driven in life. It’s my belief that I am here for a mission. Other than that, I think the words of encouragement and appreciation I receive from well-wishers from both Indian and Pakistani communities in the countries I visit, has been invaluable in keeping me motivated.
How did it feel returning to Kuwait?
It’s been nostalgic. I returned after 30 years to my birthplace. Visiting –what used to be—my childhood home and playgrounds brought back many good memories. I had always wanted to come back to Kuwait with my parents, so I missed them on this trip. Hopefully, I will return with them very soon under more relaxed circumstances.
- Images courtesy of Star Malik
- By Shabana H. Shaikh
Times Special Report