The Muslim In India, rumours were rife in a city famous for spinn'/>The Muslim In India, rumours were rife in a city famous for spinn'/>Being The Other, Saeed Naqvi Dips His Pen in Compassion and Pluralism

7 August 2020 08:21 PM

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MEHRU JAFFER | 5 AUGUST, 2016

Being The Other, Saeed Naqvi Dips His Pen in Compassion and Pluralism


Just before the Lucknow launch of Saeed Naqvi's latest book Being the Other:The Muslim In India, rumours were rife in a city famous for spinning not just exquisite embroideries, but also tales. In typical dastan goi style whispers were laced with many a colourful oath and hyperbole. Tongues were heard to swear that the septuagenarian journalist is about to join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

That is why they nodded, Saeed is so critical of the Congress Party and in his book blames MK Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru even for the Partition of South Asia in 1947!

The Delhi based Saeed when he did arrive in Lucknow revealed nothing of his political plans, if any. What he did do was to publicly express deep anguish over the widening lack of communication between the country's Hindu and Muslim population. The author is pained at growing suspicion between Hindus and Muslims that creates distances of the mind more durable than communal clashes.

This is happening despite the fact that not too long ago religious identity in the country was dwarfed by a shared culture. When being interesting had mattered more than being relevant. Then the secular turf was lush enough to accommodate an infinite variety of ideas and the result was an intense cultural fertilisation taking place mostly at the village fair.

Saeed was born in an eastern lap of the Awadh countryside. He was brought up in Lucknow. Therefore he singles out this region as a glowing example where give and take amongst people was practiced best, where Kashmiri Pandits had once drowned in Urdu poetry in many a Muslim home.

The problem with today is that people have stopped to visit each other's home. People have stopped to plan a 'Bharat Darshan' to discover the pure and secular soul of India.

For a Muslim who is unaware of the exquisite craftsmanship of temples at Halebid and Belur Ajanta and Ellora and the granite wonder of Shravanabelagola is just ignorant. Any Indian who is not familiar with these wonders is as unfortunate as the one who is ignorant of Amir Khusro. Mirza Ghalib, Tagore or Thyagaraja. This is the collective heritage of the country and it is sacrilege for any Indian to demonstrate an unfamiliarity with it.

This is what you and me can do in these difficult times when people are drifting away from each other. Plan a journey. Discover the country for yourself. Begin from Kanyakumari to dwell for a while in Kerala that has accorded hospitality to more religions than any other place. After soaking in Catholicism there, a detour to the Cheraman Perumal mosque in Cranganore (Kodungallur), Thrissur is a must. This mosque was built when Prophet Muhammad was still alive in the seventh century. In Calicut look for a Muslim guru following a classical Brahmanical way of life who says that the columns in Mecca's Kaaba are made of teak from Kerala, thousands of years before Islam.

On the way to Lord Ayyappa's shrine in Sabarimala, the pilgrimage includes collecting vibhuti from the shrine of Muslim saint Vavar Swamy. The best songs dedicated to Vavar Swamy are sung today by Yesudas, a Christian singer and an Ayyappa bhakt. In Kuchipudi known for its dance form an entire settlement owes its origin to Ibrahim Qutb Shah. Outside Aurangabad is the shrine of Shah Sharif. One of Shivaji's ancestors was his devotee who named his sons Shahji and Sharifji out of respect for the Haji Malang in Thane.

In Jaisalmer, meet the Manganiars and the Langas both Muslims who sing Meera Bai, Bulleh Shah and Shah Abdul Lateef with the same devotion as the Meos of Alwar and Bharatpur sing their version of the Mahabharata or ballads devoted to Hazrat Ali. Ayodhaya, however can be skipped for the moment as this is a time to do journeys to places that bond human beings and not divide them.

Passing through Awadh and the Braj lands halt at Jais to reflect on Malik Muhammad Jayasi's Padmavat. Here the great poet compared Padmavat's eyebrows to the bows of Krishna and Arjun. Then head towards Vrindavan to listen to the chant of Rashkhan's verses about the naughty boy from Gokul. The name of this great Krishna bhakt was Sayyid Ibrahim. Raskhan may not be remembered today but in Orissa people still welcome Jagannath with songs written by Salbeg, a Muslim by birth.

And all you Muslim travelers under the spell of the clergy be not afraid to celebrate Muslim rulers who patronised the arts as faith devoid of aesthetics is a drab contribution of Islamic reform schools.

Kashmir is a must to dwell on terrorism. But also on state sponsored violence. Here the sufi order of the Kashmir valley is called rishi and its founder is Nurudin Wali, remembered to this day as Nund Rishi. His songs dedicated to the great female poet Lal Ded are at the heart of Kashmir's composite culture.

Forget not Adam Malik in Pahalgam who discovered the Amarnath shrine and to this day one third of the proceeds from the shrine go to the descendants of Adam Malik.

Look and it will be found that whereever Muslims have embraced the spectacle of India the result has been a flowering of composite culture. Austerities imposed by Muslim reform schools lead to cultural ghettoisation. The Indian Muslim needs freedom from clerics and Hindus from communal politicians. This is a moment to affirm a commitment to appreciating each other just a little more instead of pandering to politicians whether from the left, centre or the right.

For never before have we had it so bad. Not a day passes without someone questioning the legitimacy of the Indian Muslim, a call to be 'super patriots' to prove their patriotism. It is sad that this is allowed to happen despite such a wholesome experience of Islam with the Hindu civilisation that led to the birth of the greatest multicultural edifice the world has known. Since the advent of Islam in India 1,200 years ago, the dominant narrative has been one of social and cultural accommodation, and occasionally, even mutual admiration.

Saeed's book is an elegy to this great edifice that he says is today being chipped away by electoral politics. It is a heart wrenching lament over the drifting apart of not just two religions but two people, cultures and two very colourful views of the world.

The author displays a world badly wounded. And he dips his pen where it hurts most so that all other hearts who read him are able to open to just a little more compassion for one another.

Being The Other:The Muslim in India by Saeed Naqvi, pages 238 is published by Aleph, 2016

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