So much has happened in the last couple of months and it has left an unsavoury taste in lots of interactions, expressions and friendships. Mumbai attacks claimed hundreds of lives but people were not the only casualties. For weeks I went about my life, feeling inwardly as if I had experienced a personal loss. Like when my parents died.
Kosi floods had pained me as did the images of recent repression in Kashmir. The encounter of young Raj from Bihar had me shaking my head in disbelief and sadness at being a citizen of police state. But this was something different… It was personal. It could not be otherwise when a friend told me that, “in times like this when Imams want to wear black bands on Eid and Muslim groups don’t want terrorists to be buried on Indian soil, you of all intellegensia (sic) should sense the dominant mood and that perhaps its very WORTHWHILE for Muslims all over the world to say that TERROR in name of Islam should be stopped.” Another person said “Although some members of the Muslim community do express condemnation, on the whole I do feel that the Muslim community has not expressed enough outrage at some of the terrible atrocities that some extremists have committed in the name of their religion over the last decade or so especially.”
These people were essentially just agreeing with American Hawk journalist Thomas Friedman when he says “But at the end of the day, terrorists often are just acting on what they sense the majority really wants but doesn’t dare do or say. That is why the most powerful deterrent to their behavior is when the community as a whole says: “No more. What you have done in murdering defenseless men, women and children has brought shame on us and on you.”
Another person said, “It is actually the welfare of the Muslim community that is at the heart of this argument… it is a religion and a community that has some serious thinking to do at many many levels…” (all this exchange took place online when the friend mentioned above CC’ed an e-mail, containing a link to this Friedman article from New York Times, to several of her friends saying it was a “worthwhile read” and I hit the reply all button to say that I was, “Really saddened to see that you thought this dangerous ranting against Muslims in general a ‘worthwhile read’.)
I mulled and agonised over all this when I sat in winter sun in the park and watched my 3 year old daughter Miftah play and call for more of my attention. “Amma dekhiye… AMMA!” The comments hammered on my heart and left me gasping for air every time I thought of it. “Muslims all over the world“? Me included? Miftah included? The terrorists were acting on what I and millions of Muslims around the world want but do not dare to do? And what they have done has brought shame on me and my daughter? Then, obviously, many people think it is not enough that I condemn the attack as a human being but that I should somehow feel responsible and ashamed because I am a Muslim and condemn the attacks as a Muslim.
I looked at Miftah and felt scared for her… I did not feel this scared even during and after the Gujarat 2002 violence. Those days, at least from the security of the small world of development professional/social activists, I heard many sane voices of reason and compassion. No one was calling for people who condemned the communal carnage to identify their religion.
I told my friend that it saddened me but it just scared life out me to realise that this was the world that my Miftah will be doing her growing up and living in. For weeks, I couldn’t muster words to respond except to apologise for my inadequate e-mail attequettes- having hit the reply all button.
My friend, philosopher and guide Dr. Manoj Jha sends out new years wishes every year. This year he chose this ghazal by Faiz Ahmad Faiz to go on the card. I think, it just so aptly and beautifully says what I struggled to in the earlier paragraphs of this post but couldn’t really. It will suffice if my English translation conveys how I feel even to a few people.
Hum ke thhehre ajanabi itni madaraaton ke baad
Phir banenge aashnaa kitani mulaqaaton ke baad
Kab nazar mein aayegi bedaagh sabze ki bahaar
Khoon ke dhabbe dhulenge kitni barasaaton ke baad
Dil to chaha par shikast-e-dil ne mohalat hi na di
Kuchh gile-shikave bhi kar lete munajaaton ke baad
The bohot bedard lamhen khatm-e-dard-e-ishq ke
Thien bahut bemehr subahein meharabaan raaton ke baad
Un se jo kahane gaye the “Faiz” jaan sadaqaa kiye
Ankahi hi rah gae vo baat sab baaton ke baad
Even after much warm hospitality we stand unfamiliar
After how many meetings shall we again get acquainted
When shall we see a spotless spring in the fields again
How many rains shall it take to wash the blood stains off
Though the heart wished, it did not allow its defeated self
To make complaints after whispering words of prayers
Merciless were the moments when the throbbing of love ended
Unpitying were the mornings that followed the compassionate nights
With the gift of your own life, Faiz, what you went to tell them
That matter remained unsaid when all had been expressed
The past few weeks have also included conversations with friends that gave much hope and I do not wish to end this post at a pessimistic note so here is an Arundhati Roy quote, that my friend Aanchal Kapoor mailed me.
“Sometimes — quite often — the same people who are capable of a radical questioning of, say, economic neo-liberalism or the role of the state, are deeply conservative socially — about women, marriage, sexuality, our so-called ‘family values’ — sometimes they’re so doctrinaire that you don’t know where the establishment stops and the resistance begins. For example, how many Gandhian/Maoist/ Marxist Brahmins or upper caste Hindus would be happy if their children married Dalits or Muslims, or declared themselves to be gay? Quite often, the people whose side you’re on, politically, have absolutely no place for a person like you in their social, cultural or religious imagination. That’s a knotty problem politically radical people can come at you with the most breathtakingly conservative social views and make nonsense of the way in which you have ordered your world and your way of thinking about it and you have to find a way of accommodating these contradictions within your worldview.”