This Land is My Land :

Posted by-Kalki Team

Name: Being the Other: The Muslim in India

Author: Saeed Naqvi

Publisher: Aleph

Pages: 256

Price: Rs 599

As book reviews should be objective and detached, this is not one. Instead, I read Saeed Naqvi’s Being the Other as if I was reading my own story. The book is a honest, panoramic view of what it means to be a Muslim in India. I found it Swiftian in its irony, minus the rage.

It begins with nostalgia about his watan Mustafabad. Four landmark events/issues are used to describe how the

Muslim became identified as the “other”. The first is Partition. Then comes the demolition of the Babri Masjid, which for most Indians is a watershed in the Hindu-Muslim divide. This is followed by Kashmir where daily deaths vindicate the book’s argument. Finally, there is the global war on terror, whose blame is laid at the doorstep of every Muslim. The book draws upon history and current affairs to nudge the reader to step into the shoes of this “other” and see the world through a different lens.

The image that rises above all others in the book is of Naani Ammi, the author’s maternal grandmother’s youngest sister. The author is being sent to the front in 1971 by The Statesman to report on the Bangladesh war. His closest cousin Major Akhtar is fighting on the other side. Naani Ammi stands in the doorway of their ancestral house with two Imam Zamins (amulets) for the safe return of two brothers, two enemies. “This is how hazy the project to divide the subcontinent was in many minds.”

Lucknow is the cradle of Ganga-Jamni tehzeeb along with smaller qasbahs like Malihabad, Kakori, Radauli, Pratapgarh, Mehmoodabad and, of course, Mustafabad. This syncretism reflects in language, music, debates and poetry. “We were creatures of the Urdu composite culture. The label is self-explanatory. It carried the lilt of Brajbhasha, Bhojpuri, Awadhi, the flavour of life in the stretch between two great rivers which enclose the spaces where the legend of Radha, Krishna and Rama lived.”

Interwoven into this is the Shia ethos which is supreme for the Naqvi family, especially during Muharram. Naqvi

also writes about how they listened in rapt attention to Pandit Mohan Nath Kachar, a Kashmiri Pandit, and his

recitation about the Karbala from the mimbar (pulpit). He also tells the story of Aseemun, trained in song by Baba

Alauddin Khan, who was a regular performer at mehfils of birth and weddings. There the family’s favorite song of

birth was “Allah miyan hamare bhaiyya ko diyo Nandlal”.

So much for the “old days” in Mustafabad. It is the present which is described with care. In 1992, during the trauma of the Bombay riots, Naqvi had announced in a gathering in Delhi: “Middle India was not shifting towards BJP it had already gone over to that camp… There now existed a national consensus shaded in saffron.” These words were spoken, he writes, when there was no Narendra Modi on the horizon and the Congress was in power in Delhi.

Today, a quarter century later, we have witnessed the murder of Mohd Akhlaq, the cancellation of a Ghulam Ali concert, the fury hurled at Bollywood icons Shah Rukh, Aamir and Salman Khan. To this I may add the threat to Pakistani actors Mahira Khan and Fawad Khan and their Indian sponsors, and yanking Nawazuddin Siddiqui from the Ramleela in his village in Muzaffarnagar district. The inexorable fact is our obsession with conflating the Muslim identity with Pakistan. “I do not know when it happened but gradually over the years people around me began to identify me as Muslim. This was new, a process which placed me with the ‘other’,” Naqvi writes.

In discussing the politics of Partition, some nasty truths are revealed. As a biographer of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, I have documented the parts attributed to him. Take the bit about Azad’s adamantine stand on Partition. After Gandhiji had given up only two dissenters remained: Azad and Badshah Khan. Maulana Azad met Gandhi as he was the only hope left. Gandhi said the Congress would accept the Partition “over my dead body”. After Mountbatten had spoken to him, he told Azad that they discussed Jinnah forming the government and choosing the Cabinet. This, they agreed, would avert the Partition. This cut no ice with Nehru or Patel.

Partition, in a way, was the Congress’s gift to the Hindu right, which in the fullness of time is today’s Hindutva. It was Gandhi who suggested that Azad need not be accommodated in the Cabinet. In his letter to Nehru, which the author quotes, he writes, “There are many positions he can occupy in public life without any harm to any cause. Sardar is decidedly against his membership in cabinet and so is Rajkumari… It should not be difficult to name any other Muslim…” The author’s comment here strips the facade off every secular veneer: “Gandhiji is quite clear. All that Nehru needs to keep up the secular pretense is to have a token Muslim in the Cabinet. How different is this tokenism from the one in vogue all the years since 1947?”

As I read this book, I lived through the story of my family being forcibly evicted from Panipat, our watan for 800 years. It evoked memories of people I had met as a child.

The author ends with the hope that a young politician, untainted by 1947, may break the Pakistan-India logjam, transcend hate and obscurantism. I recall 2000 when a women’s bus of peace had gone from Delhi to Lahore while the Kargil War was raging. A few of us met Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf at his home. The words of one of the delegates, a student of LSR College, Delhi, made the argument for peace. “The youth don’t want to haul the baggage of your past, sir. Let us live.”

The writer is a former member of the Planning Commission

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