Whenever events like Moradabad take place some of my friends turn
to me with sympathy which generally leaves me cold because I guess I am a
minority in my own community for reasons more than one.
My credentials as a good Muslim are quite as suspect as Ghalib’s
were. “I am a half Muslim”, he said when, in the course of a litigation, a
magistrate asked him to declare his religion. “I drink but I do not eat pork”.
However, my children generally describe themselves as Muslims
while filling up school admission forms, although I wonder why such questions
should ever be asked. Before you hastily trace my attitude to my anglicized
education let me dispel the notion straightaway. Yes, I did have my schooling
in an Anglo-Indian institution of sorts in Lucknow, but the home in which I
grew up was a deeply religious one even though the likes of the Imam
currently in the news would not have been allowed within miles of it.
My grandfather, like Dryden, always maintained that “Priests of
all religious are the same”, but some he respected, even befriended for their
scholarship and conversation. I remember sitting through many a theological
discourse, with Maulana Nsair-ul-Millat holding court; among the participants
was one Mr Gurtu, a Kashmiri Pandit.
A moulvi of little distinction was hired ostensibly to brush up my
arithmetic but actually to put me through my first paces in ‘namaz’(prayer).
His efforts at proselytization were supplemented by my mother’s; she augmented
our meager library with biographies of the prophets and the great Imams.
I believe the moulvi left in some disgust because he complained
that there was too much music in our house, which, he found distasteful even on
Id day. Id was never Id without Babu Mahavir Prasad Srivastava. We changed into
our new clothes and waited at the doorstep for Babuji. He would walk across the
street from where we lived, clad in a black ‘achkan’ and Gandhi cap, meet my
father, settle down to large helpings of ‘seewai’ (sweet noodles prepared
traditionally on Id day) and then hand those days when two rupees a week was
good pocket money. On Raksha Bandhan my mother would send out ‘rakhis’ to my
father’s many friends.
There was a quaint little mosque in the compound of the house in
our village, Mustafabad, near Rae Bareli. Since we visited the village only
during school holidays, marriages, deaths and births, it was not difficult to
maintain a certain discipline and be seen in the mosque, at
reasonable frequency, often only to please grandfather. He expressed his
pleasure either by making additions to our paltry pocket money or taking us out
on shikar, inspite of his old age. My grandfather was equally pleased when we
agreed to accompany him to his friends on Holi or Diwali, the two festivals we
continue to participate in to this day.
A very strong ingredient in our total make up was a tidy
combination of Urbane Urdu culture and the more folksy Avadhi and Brijbhasha. I
learnt very early in life and I am being persuaded ti unlearn since –that Urdu
represented the flowering of a composite culture. My grandfather would fly into
a rage at the cancard that it was a language of the Muslims. Why, the greatest
Urdu prose writer was Pandit Ratan Nath Sarshar and one of the greatest Urdu
poets was Raghupati Sahai Firaq.
We were groomed into believing that Islam was the most, dynamic of
religions but we found it equally easy to accept that it was Islam’s
interaction with a grater civilization that resulted in Dara Shikoh, Rahim,
Kabir, Amir Khusro, Raskhan, Nazir Akbarabadi, Ghalib, and Anis. Nowhere in the
Muslim world is there a monument, like the Taj or Fatehpur Sikri.
Folks these days are ignorant of the 18th century
poet Nazir Akbarabadi’s poem “kya kya likhoon main Krishna Kanhaiya Ka baal
pan” (How should I write about the beautiful childhood of Lord Krishna) or
Mohsin Kakorvi’s “Samte Kashi se chala janibe Mathura badal” “jab talak Brij
mein Kanhaiya hai yeh Khulne ka nahin” (The clouds are moving ecstatically from
Kashi to Mathura and the sky will remain covered with the beautiful clouds as
long as there is Krishna in Brij). Is there anyone around willing to believe
that these lines were written by a Muslim poet to celebrate the birthday of
In the region I was raised in, ‘Sohar’ was a song sung during
a woman’s confinement. My mother’s favourite sohar was “Allah Mian,
hamre bhaiya ka diyo Nandlal” (Oh my Allah, give my brother a son like Lord
You might wonder, as a good friend of mine does, what all this
nostalgia has to do with “contemporary realities”.
Well, I guess I am no pandit but I do know a bit about
“contemporary realities”. I know how partition ruptured the fabric, bits of
which I still keep with me. I also know about the status reversal experienced
by the Muslims in independent India, particularly with the decline of the
feudal order. It was the self-confident Muslim feudal elite which found it easy
to extend patronage to the beautiful aspects of Hindu culture: after all,
Krishna Leela was preserved in its entirely in the Kathak style evolved in the
With the decay of the feudal order, the lower middle class, always
bigoted in every society, gained some upward mobility. It is upon this class
that parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami feed and which forms the central nervous
system of the sort of fundamentalism current in Pakistan or Iran. I also know
of a certain pan-Islamic sentiment among the Muslims and I guess that Mr Deoras
does not like it. I also remember having read reports on the
socio-economic basis of the riots, a communal Provincial Armed Constabulary
(PAC) and so on. All this and more I have been aware of for quite some time.
It must, therefore, be a considerable intellectual failure on my
part that in spite of all this I am unable to disengage myself from
the folks who moulded me in my formative years. The credo they lived by is no
longer part of the contemporary ethos.
Call it private grief, call it indifference, or both, but I find
it, increasingly difficult to have a ready made response to Moradabad,
Jamshedpur or Aligarh. And when friends turn to me with sympathy when such
madness erupts, I feel a sort of numbness and have a strange feeling that they
are addressing the wrong person.