Friday, March 24, 2017

Of Kebabs, Slaughterhouses And Crocodile Meat

Of Kebabs, Slaughterhouses And Crocodile Meat
                                                              Saeed Naqvi

These are trying times. Even some friends are turning. They probably see their interest better protected by keeping their options open for adjustments, should excesses increase. And even if they show their residual spunk by digging their heels in favour of Lucknow’s iconic Tundey Kababi, how will it help matters.

Tundey has already made his compromise; he will now sell chicken and mutton kebab. All those anchors and headline writers reflecting wistfully on the passing away of the “galawati” as distinct from “Shaami”, may need to know a thing or two.

Shaami derives from Shaam, the old name for Syria. The kebab was developed during the Ottoman period. Mince and soaked lentil ground with spices is patted and shaped like a small-mac and dipped in egg white to hold. It is then fried. The best Shaami kebabs in Delhi are at the Gymkhana club.

The “galawati” is a short hand for kachche-keemey-ke-kebab. The mince is marinated for hours with a paste of raw papaya, mixed with spices and in small blobs is allowed to fry in a flat “lagan” or vessel on a very slow fire. The juicy softness comes from the marination. The best “galawati” in Delhi is a difficult to reach Chef Khemraj Sharma.

Sharma is not the only Brahmin in the business. Paris’s iconic La Closerie des Lilas boasted, until last year, a Satish Mishra for his classic Tartar steaks, which is mostly raw minced beef, (yes, cow) richly spiced.

Tartar steak, derived from Tartaristan of Caucasus is different from the uncooked beef steaks in, say, Belgrade. These steaks replicate the 200 or 500 mile steaks made famous by the Mongol hordes in the 13th century. This needs explanation. To start a fire to cook food was dangerous for Gengiz Khan and Halaku’s cavalries. The smoke would give them away.

To avoid detection they developed a system of placing hunks of lightly marinated beef between the lining on a horseback and the saddle. By the time the horse had trotted, cantered and galloped for a 100 miles or even less the intense heat generated by sheer friction had cooked the meat.

In Fiji, Sitiveni Rabuka, the Melanesian strongman, who ousted the socialist government of Timothi Bavandra which had a large number Indian descendents of 19th century indentured labourers, acquainted me with the macabre dietary habits of his ancestors.

When the first Christian missionary entered his village to convert his grandfather, the village head, he was promptly slaughtered.

A traditional Fijian way of roasting a full animal (in this case a human being), was to dig a large pit in the ground call the “Lovo”. It was lined with read hot coal, the body was placed on this fiery bed. Palm leaves were placed on the carcass which was then piled with mud. It was allowed to steam until the time to feast.

The second priest met the same fate. But the Church would not give up. By the time the third priest appeared, the old man had softened. A whole generation of Rabuka’s vintage are today the stoutest pillars of the Christian church.

There are a chain of expensive restaurants stretching from Nairobi to part of South Africa called the Carnivore, known for esoteric meats like Giraffe, wilder beast, Zebra, crocodile and, on rare occasions, a lion, dying of natural causes. I have a video footage of Dara Singh, the original Hanuman of Bollywood, burping outside Carnivore – well, almost.

In the Asia Pacific region – China, Vietnam, Korea dairy produce, one of the reasons for our attachment to cow, is at a discount. These societies obtain their protein directly, from anything that moves including snake, lizards, insects, dogs.

Those currently monitoring our dietary habits may be averse to noticing some of bizarre exotic cuisines – like rats and rodents as regular fare for Musahirs in Bihar.

Every urban settlement has a “bustee”, or a settlement for Dalits, with rows of scavenger piglets playing in the gutter. Pasis, the community which owns these animals – together they are supposed to keep the neighbourhood clean – is required to devour them on ceremonial occasions, every morsel chased by large quantities of home made hooch.

Since unlicensed butcher shops have been abruptly closed in UP so that unclean meat may not find its way to your table, I am sure the government in its benign wisdom will find ways to disinfect rats and gutter pigs.

Everyone knows that the present step is not to protect the cow, because beef is not in the bargain. The question of slaughtering cows does not arise. That is illegal. The petrified meat seller will never take that risk. The burgeoning population of the holy cow foraging on our garbage dumps is ample testimony that the cow is safe from the butcher’s knife.

As far as I know Buffalo and mutton are legal. Why then is the government insistent on shutting down these businesses? I am told they are cleaning up the trade. Will illegal cart vendors, selling sweets, gur and other fare that attract swarms of flies also attract the attention of “Swachch Bharat” brigands?

So what if the garbage dumps outside hospitals and schools have not been cleaned. A beginning has been made with the slaughterhouses.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Portrait Of A Muslim Home In Shadow Of Rising BJP Colossus

Portrait Of A Muslim Home In Shadow Of Rising BJP Colossus
                                                                            Saeed Naqvi

It was a spectacular celebration. The beating of drums, sprinkling of colours, group songs, dancing continued well after dusk.

As I watched from my window, a thought crossed my mind: why had we not been invited? Ours is the only Muslim home in the colony, but a pride of place has always been accorded to us in all celebrations, including holi. We have inherited this knack of integration from our elders. The Mahant of Shiv Sharan Das temple in Lucknow always made special bhang free thandai for my father on holi.

I called up the President of the Residents Welfare Association to register my protest. He was vacationing at Corbett Park. There had been deaths in the neighbourhood; RWA had therefore not organized a holi celebration. It was private initiative – some friends had come together for the festivities.

We know them well, but they probably did not include us in their list of revelers because they thought we may not be in the celebration mode or in depression at the turn of political events. Such are the ogres, imagination conjures up.

Yes, one is afflicted by deep anxiety but Narendra Modi’s extraordinary victory is only a fraction of the problem. The anxiety is accentuated by the context in which politics is unfolding. Spaces for open discussion – political, social, economic and cultural – are shrinking. In any case they are all in the hands of philistinism and propaganda. This afflicts not all of the media, but a large chunk of it. A creeping voicelessness therefore is our anxiety.

I was with family in Mustafabad, my village near Rae Bareli, where my sister keeps a television with its tube burnt out no images only sound. It is surrealistic. We heard the election results in stupefied, stunned silence. My cousin Asghar broke the silence.

“The state of the Muslims in the country is just like your television, Suraiya – blind but noisy”

Suraiya asked:
“How have the Muslims fared?”
Asghar: “They have helped the BJP win and now they are terrified at the outcome:
Khuda ko aihle Jahaan
Jub banaa chuke to, Firaq
Pukar uthe ki, isi ne
Hamein banaya tha.
(After men had completed making their God.
Look, they screamed, it is He who made us)

Juggle around with this couplet and you get a fair idea of how Muslims are themselves responsible for the rise of the BJP. First they help strengthen the BJP, then they cry: we are afraid.”

Suraiya was angry. She sought my intervention. “Why blame the Muslims?” She asked.

I said: “Asghar is right. Blind folded by their myopic mullahs, Muslims have since Partition followed false Gods.”

Asghar chipped in: “The headline story one day was: Mayawati to field 100 Muslim candidates. The media lapped it up. The 100 Muslim candidates became a chant, mornings, afternoons, evenings.

Next headline: Akhilesh-Rahul Gandhi alliance will attract Muslim votes. Will Rahul repel Muslim votes because of Congress inaction during the demolition of Babri Masjid? Will Akhilesh be able to neutralize Muslim anger against the Congress? Muslim, Muslim, Muslim. Do you think this “Muslim, Muslim” incantation is honeyed music even to the most moderate Hindu. It is custom made for Hindu consolidation.”

Suraiya asked: “Which party then should the Muslims have supported?”
There was silence.
“None” I said.
“What do you mean?” Suraiya persisted.
“The only role at this juncture for Indian Muslims in India’s electoral politics is to enable Hindu consolidation. This may not occur to the Muslim voter but this is the consequence of his politics.

Basically, the Muslim is not at fault. The Congress party is from the very beginning. When it agreed with Lord Louis Mountbatten and Mohammad Ali Jinnah to Partition the country on religious lines, it had diluted its own stand on the two-nation theory i.e. Hindus and Muslims constituted two separate nations. Once you created Muslim Raj (Pakistan), India had glided seamlessly from British Raj to Hindu Raj. I have argued this case in my book: “Being the Other: The Muslim in India”.  A fair bargain could have been struck with the Muslim even at that stage, avoiding all the hypocrisy about secularism.

The leaderless Muslim, mesmerized by Nehruvian blandishments, pitched his tent in the Congress Park as its permanent vote bank. In the 80s, V.N. Gadgil, General Secretary of the Congress took me into confidence. “Muslim appeasement is beginning to rankle with the Congress’s Hindu base.” This “appeasement” was exposed by the Sachar Committee Report in 2005. Successive Congress governments had brought Muslim socio-economic status down even below the Dalits. Some appeasement.

After the Muslim vote defected en masse from the Congress following the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, a seering truth has settled in the Muslim mind. The Congress had cheated the community from day one. So he left the Congress but having done so, where should he go? Rank casteist parties SP and BSP opened their doors. In a daze, the Muslim walked in as an enabler of casteist power. There was nothing in it for him.

And now, Congress, SP, BSP are all fallen icons, piled up in a lifeless heap. Where should the Muslim go?

Suraiya’s was the last word. “Are you saying we should not complain about the BJP’s anti Muslim plank? They were open on where they wanted to take the nation? Our plaint should be registered against parties which pretended to protect our interest but knowingly or unknowingly facilitated the BJP’s Hindu Rashtra? With rampaging hatred against Pakistan, unsettled conditions in Kashmir, it is custom made to target us as the Other against which Hindu consolidation will progress.” Had “Hindu Raj” been accepted at the outset, she added profoundly the excruciating process of welding “Hindu Rashtra” from the caste pyramid would have been avoided. The Muslim was used as a foil in this process. This hurt.

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Friday, March 3, 2017

Global War On Terror And Anniversary Of Gujarat Riots

Global War On Terror And Anniversary Of Gujarat Riots
                                                                           Saeed Naqvi

The post 9/11 global war on terror was officially launched with attacks on Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. It was exactly on that date that Narendra Modi was sworn in as Gujarat Chief Minister for the first time. He had been sent from New Delhi to replace Keshubhai Patel as Chief Minister but was not even a member of the Vidhan Sabha.

The coincidence mentioned above is probably not relevant, but it is an interesting detail.

Extensive coverage accorded to the anniversary of the 2002 Gujarat Riots (it was more of a pogrom) has brought back images.

A distinctive feature of the riots has remained unnoticed. This was the first time in history that authors of a communal conflagration had taken advantage of the anti Muslim sentiment televised globally in the context of the global war on terror. In the world beyond India, Gujarat was muffled by the din and the fireworks in Afghanistan. But the global anti jihadist atmosphere was a shot in the arm of communalism in India. This aspect of globalization added a shade or two to Indian saffronization. This deepening saffron was to come in handy in the February 2002 Gujarat riots and subsequently.

In a sense, the tussle between hard and soft saffron within the BJP during Atal Behari Vajpayee’s Prime Ministership was won by the hardliners when Pakistan’s Gen. Pervez Musharraf was sent away empty handed from the Agra summit in July 2001. Vajpayee and his Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh, were inclined towards improved relations.

Within two months of Agra, 9/11 happened, generating a global atmosphere which was a Godsend for the hardliners. New Delhi began to dream dreams: it would now be in the first league fighting Islamic terror. But Americans had their own priorities. Pakistan, an ally since inception and having a long border with Afghanistan, was enlisted as the frontline state in the global war.
It was a piquant situation for New Delhi. Its plaint in all global forums had been that it was persistently plagued by cross border terrorism from Pakistan. And now on the big occasion, Pakistan had been given the pride of place to wage war on “global” terror.

I can never forget the lunch at US ambassador Robert Blackwill’s round table. Pranab Mukherjee, then an opposition leader, asked the ambassador: how could Pakistan, which was the source of terrorism in India, be invited by the Americans in the global war against terrorism. Blackwill’s reply was unforgettable:
“Yours is an old regional quarrel; what Pakistan is fighting with us is the global war on terror.”

It was only after the December 13, 2001 attack on Indian Parliament and the subsequent military mobilization bringing the neighbours with nuclear weapons in an eye-ball to eye-ball confrontation, that the Americans pretended to shift gears. The situation was full of ironies. Two nuclearised neighbours, rearing to fight each other were extraordinarily yoked together by the mightiest power (remember the US was still basking in the sole super power moment) to fight global terror.

In a situation so conducive to saffronization, state elections to the key state of UP suddenly covered the horizon.

It would naturally be a hardline campaign. I still remember the then BJP President Rajnath Singh, going hammer and tongs at SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India). Kar sevaks (volunteers) in their hundreds of thousands would be allowed to assemble in Ayodhya. They would be allowed to nurse expectations that a BJP victory in UP would be a signal to build the temple.

At the moment of victory, Lauh Purush or the Iron Man, Home Minister, L.K. Advani, would rein in popular enthusiasm in Ayodhya. The BJP would assert itself as the “party of governance”. But the earth moved from under the feet of the Kar sevaks and, indeed, every BJP supporter on February 24, 2002 when the UP results came in. BJP had lost. It must have been in a state of high agitation that Kar sevaks boarded the Sabarmati Express on its 30 hour journey from Ayodhya (Faizabad) to Ahmedabad.

In a detailed report on the anniversary of the riots, Deeptiman Tiwary of the Indian Express quotes an eye witness, Umesh Chandra Dixit, who boarded the Sabarmati Express on February 26, 2002. He and four others were pushed out of the train by “Kar sevaks from Gujarat”. It was the S6 coach of this train that was gutted in Godhra killing 59 passengers, all according to officials, Kar sevaks.

The day the BJP lost UP, it also lost two by-elections in Gujarat. It was in these unhelpful circumstances that Modi eked out his first electoral victory from Rajkot. But the overall mood in the BJP camp was of having been vanquished. Then, on February 27 Gujarat was ablaze.

The late Founder and Chief of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Keshavram Kashiram Shastri, made a rare admission. In a remarkable interview to Sheela Bhatt of Rediff, he owned up.

“It had to be done” said Shastri, “but the choras (boys) did a bit too much.”

When I met Jayanti Ravi, collector of Godhra a few days after the riots, she could not be very helpful. She was not handling the case. It had been quite unusually handed over to Vijay Vipul, Director General, Anti Terrorism Squad. No preliminary investigation had been done. Remember, after 9/11, terrorism was the global flavour.

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Carnage At Qalandar Shrine: The Shia, Sunni, Sufi Triangle

Carnage At Qalandar Shrine: The Shia, Sunni, Sufi Triangle
                                                                                                 Saeed Naqvi

Audiences in their hundreds of thousands across the subcontinent will remember Reshma with her flashing eyes and haunting, gypsy voice singing “Dama dum mast qalandar”. Well, that’s the Dhamaal signature tune. It was the punchline of this song which had become controversial when President Zia ul Haq set Pakistani Islam on a course of Arabization in the 80s in order to wrench it away from the syncretic Islam which hundreds of Sufi schools had established in India since the 13th century. “If Iran imbibes Indian culture, it will still remain Iran, but if Pakistan retains Indian traditions, it will over time become India.” That was the General’s warped reasoning.

The suicide attack on the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, in Sindh, which killed nearly 100 devotees last week, is unlikely to dampen the Dhamaal spirit, the ecstatic dance performed in the shrine’s courtyard at dusk every Thursday to the magical rhythm of drums. Nazir Akbarabadi has a brilliant poem on “haal” or trance. It describes perfectly the transcendent dance at Dhamaal. Terrorism is too feeble an instrument to kill the idea.

The punchline of the Mast Qalandar song is “Ali da pehla number” which means “Ali is first”. This, unfortunately, touches on the principal point of difference between Shias and Sunnis. Shias believe that the prophet’s son-in-law, Ali should have been the first inheritor of the Prophet’s worldly and spiritual responsibilities, the Caliphate. Sunnis accept what actually happened: the Prophet’s senior companion, Abu Bakr Siddiq became the first Caliph of Islam.

To avoid further controversies, the punchline was amended. It became “Ali dum dum de andar”, or Ali is in every breath.

The two sects cite different traditions to advance their claims. The Shias point to the episode of Ghadir Khumm. Returning from his last Haj, the prophet stopped at an elevated spot in Ghadir, held Ali by the hand and announced to the congregation that they must respect Ali’s primacy after the Prophet’s death.

While creating Qawwali as a devotional form of music, Amir Khusro dressed up this episode as a compulsory Qaul or declaration of faith to be sung at the start of every Qawwali session. Google Qawwali and search “Mun Kunto Maula, Fahaza Ali Maula”, (Roughly translated it means: he who considers me his spiritual and temporal leader must accord the same status to Ali).

It is an open and shut case, claim the Shias. The prophet had publicly passed the baton to Ali.

Sunnis advance their claim differently: when the Prophet was fatally ill, he asked his companion Abu Bakr to lead the Friday prayers.

Why are Shia-Sunni differences being explained in the context of an attack on the Sindh Sufi shrine? Because in popular perception there is a lack of clarity on the Shia, Sunni, Sufi triangle.

Sufi saints were all of Sunni origin as are the overwhelming majority of devotees at their shrines. There will be a sizeable number of Hindu and a sprinkling of others.

If most of those in attendance at shrines like Shahbaz Qalandar are Sunnis why would Jihadist Salafis, who are also Sunni, kill them so brutally. Islamic State claimed “credit” for the carnage in Sindh. The IS, let it be clarified, is an amalgam of Salafis, Muslim Brotherhood, offshoots of Al Qaeda, Jabhat al Nusra and dispossessed Baathists from Iraq now standing on a militant, Sunni platform because post Saddam Hussain Baghdad is largely in Shia hands. In other words each component of IS may have different emphases but together they form a critical mass.

The harsh Salafi disapproval, even visceral hatred for Sufis, can be explained in broad terms: the Sufi incorporation of music, dance, local customs into their practice of Islam. Also, their acceptance of people of all faiths, castes, their general Catholicism, contrast sharply from the arid austerities of the Salafis. But this does not fully explain the intensity of their anger. This is focused on the personality of Ali who is the centerpiece of Sufi ritual.

Ali, as I have mentioned earlier, is the main point of contention between Shias and Sunnis. After the coming of the Ayatullahs in Iran, the Arab-Ajam, Saudi-Iranian antipathies began to determine the geo-politics of the Arab world.

In this churning, Israel and Saudi Arabia have, overtime, become strategic partners. Partly as a result of Saudi clout in the region, the Palestinian issue has lost saliency: Shia-Sunni was promoted as the fundamental faultline. At a recent lecture in Oslo, Henry Kissinger said it in so many words: the defining issue in the Arab world is not Palestinian homeland but the Shia-Sunni conflict.

If the West, Israel and Saudi Arabia are on the same page on what is increasingly being described as the central faultline in the Arab world, namely the Shia-Sunni divide, what does one make of the Sunni Salafi suicide bomber, sometimes wearing the IS cap, on a relentless spree of murder and mayhem? On whose side is the West? It must be added, in parenthesis, that no suicide bomber has ever been identified as a Shia. Mysteriously, this fact has never been highlighted by the western media, currently under severe pressure to arrest its plummeting credibility.

In the Indian sub continent, the Shia, Sunni, Sufi triangle has its own dynamics. From the Delhi Sultanate right upto the last Moghul, rulers had Central Asian antecedents with a sprinkling of Persian, Shia elite in key positions.

This may have been one enabling factor for most the regional Muslim dynasties being Shia Bahmani Sultanate, Sharqi, Berar, Bidar, Qutub Shahi, Adil Shahi, Awadh Nawabi, Najafi Nawabs of Bengal, Nawab of Murshidabad and Rampur.

All these came under the cultural influence of Iran which has an abiding respect for its Zoroastrian past. Shias of the subcontinent, like the Parsis, celebrate Navroz, the Persian New Year.

The catchment areas of these Kingdoms and Nawabis were fertile ground for Sufi schools to take root. In Awadh Holi, Basant, Diwali, Krishna, Radha, Rama were incorporated into Sufi songs. Mohsin Kakorvi’s celebration of the Prophet’s birthday invokes Ganga, Jamuna and Krishna. Maulana Hasrat Mohani belonged to a school which respected Krishna as God’s messenger. His numerous poems on Radha and Krishna are high points of Sufi mysticism. All Urdu poets are of a Sufi bent. There is not a single line in the annals of Urdu poetry supportive of the hapless Mullah.

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