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Thursday, January 31, 2008

The 'communal' scrap-dealer


A junk-dealer comes at your door and when you ask the price at which he will buy the old newpapers, he says "Don't worry, I will give the right money, I am not like Muslims, who are cheats".

Now, if you are a Muslim, will you be angry, hurt or get into a serious introspective mode about yourself, your community and the society?

Let me explain the situation. It didn't happen to me. We are the single Muslim family in the entire locality. I was away. My wife was selling the papers and a neighbourhood lady (not Muslim) who was passing by, asked my wife 'yeh log taulne mein be-imaani karte hain' (Take care these people don't weigh properly).

It was in this context that Mr Kabaadi said that 'ham nahin karte, yeh sab Musalman karte hain' and a bit more. My wife was too shocked and couldn't control her anger. She said that she was also a Muslim and questioned him, how he could be so judgemental about the entire community.
The guy appeared embarrassed but still went on to say...'maiN voh daadhi wale musalmano ki baat kar raha hun'. (I am talking about the beareded Muslims...not the ones like you!).

To this my wife gave him a piece of her mind. Some other neighbours and our domestic help also scolded him. Later he left in a huff. Had I been there, I may not have scolded him but my wife, who is much more rational and always considered it too to petty to judge someone on the basis of religion or caste, was astonished at the manner the junk-dealer could spell out his biases so openly.

She also gave him the rest of the papers without accepting the money, saying that 'hum log to be-imaan hote hi hain'. She took it to her heart and was upset the whole day. I think in her place I may not have reacted so strongly. But I can understand her anguish. It's better to give vent to your anger in such situations.

Though I don't think the guy was communal. Firstly, he was not expecting to come across a Muslim family in the slightly posh locality. Secondly, it could be his business rivalry with Muslim junk-sellers (there are lot of Muslims among kabaadis). But the ease with which he could spell it out, openly before any stranger, was surprising.

It simply illustrates the inherent biases in our society. In Maharashtra blame the Biharis for the ills or in Kolkata, the Marwaris. Of course, it is even better to blame Muslims for all the ills. Muslims are already branded, as fundamentalists, producing too many kids and found more in jails.......ek aur tohmat sahi....be-imaani ki

So what should I, as an individual do, to lessen this impression.... Try to be even more fairer in my dealings, which I think I already am. Blaming others won't help. Isn't it time Muslims at all level seriously address this image problem.

Shall we not try for more interaction with people belonging to other communities and go extra mile in helping everybody. Ghettoisation has already divided Hindu and Muslim localities in most cities and that's the reason for growing hatred and misconceptions. Let's try and make more friends....

Or if you have any suggestions, readers of this blog!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Hindu household, Urdu nameplate


Over the last couple of decades I have seen Urdu signboards and nameplates disappear fast across the country.
As Urdu is not supposed to be a language that will attract the consumers, shop-owners are also not keen on having display boards in Urdu.
In Muslim localities also Urdu nameplates are now hard to find except in a few cities. That's why such nameplates fascinate me.
Still, in some Kayastha houses you can spot old Urdu nameplates. On the left is the photo of one non-Muslim house sporting an Urdu nameplate.
The owner's name is Awadh Narayan. He is not a Kayastha though. And that's Circa 2008.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Selected couplets of Urdu poet Munawwar Rana


In Mushairas, Munawwar Rana is one of the most popular poets across the country. A native of Rae Bareli, Rana grew up in Kolkata. His simple language, the idiom of North India and the generous use of Hindi words, are among the reasons for his popularity.

Rana has attained wide acclaim for his couplets on 'maa.n' (Mother). They have been compiled and published by people in many scripts. His poetry is available in Urdu, devanagari, Bangla and other languages.

There has been criticism of his poetry that has been termed an 'emotional blackmail' and 'tukbandi', but the fact remains that he connects with the crowd. Here are ten couplets:

hum kuchh aise tere diidaar meN kho jaate haiN
jaise bachche bhare baazaar meN kho jaate haiN


naye kamroN meN ab chiizeN puraani kaun rakhtaa hai
parindoN ke liye shahroN meN paani kaun rakhtaa hai

mohaajiro yahii taariiKh hai makaanoN kii
banaane waalaa hameshaa baraamdoN meN rahaa

tujhse bichhDaa to pasand aa gayii be-tartiibii
isse pahle meraa kamraa bhii Gazal jaisaa thaa

kissi bhii moD par tumse vafaa-daarii nahiiN hogii
hameN maaluum hai tumko yah biimaarii nahiiN hogii

tujhe akele paDhuuN koii ham-sabaq na rahe
maiN chaahtaa huuN ki tujh par kisii ka haq na rahe

talvaar to kyaa merii nazar tak nahiiN uThii
us shaKhs ke bachchoN kii taraf dekh liyaa thaa

farishte aake unke jism par Khushbuu lagaate haiN
vo bachche rail ke Dibbe meN jo jhaaDuu lagaate haiN

kisii ko ghar milaa hisse meN yaa koii dukaaN aaii
maiN ghar meN sabse chhoTaa thaa mere hisse meN maaN aaii

sirphire log hameN dushman-e-jaaN kahte haiN
ham jo is mulk kii miTTii ko bhii maaN kahte haiN

Munawwar Raana

Read these couplets at Best Ghazals and Nazms in Urdu and Hindi (devanagri script)

Friday, January 25, 2008

India must protest French ban on Sikh turban with Sarkozy

India must strongly take up the ban on Sikhs wearing turban in French public schools during the visit of President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy.


It is true that France follows a different secular model. But the Sikh religious identity is also unique and for them turban is an essential part of their identity. Ironically the fact that we have a Sikh as Prime Minister, who may not be able to assert his religious identity because he is on a constitutional post.

The government and other top functionaries can make a strong case. But the Sikh community must not be made pay for it. If Manmohan Singh feels uncomfortable, his government and other parties--or a joint delegation, can present the case.

It's an emotional thing, which most of us understand. And, at least, the Sikh children who grow up in France, shouldn't get the feeling that their religion is not in sync with rules of the modern world. Sikhs have fought in France in the World Wars and the adherents of the religion are now more spread across the world.

If India takes up this issue, Sikhs in India will also feel proud of the decision. All of us irrespective of our caste and creed, understand the problem of French Sikhs.

If India can take exception to lot of things going on in other countries, we can definitely speak about this issue and make them listen. Of course, it will be there decision in the end.
Photos: First photo shows Sarkozy and Manmohan
The second photo of La Chapelette cemetery, Paronne, in France where the Sikh soldiers of First World War rest in peace)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Shhh...don't talk about Holocaust


Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, should have known that there are different standards of free speech in the Western World.

If you wish to demonise Muslims or make objectionable caricatures, you will have the free speech advocates firmly standing behind you and calling it your birth right to ridicule Muslims.

But if you 'dare' suggest that Zionists (I am not saying Jews) are exploiting Holocaust, you are in for trouble. In his essay published in the Washington Post, Gandhi wrote that "Jews today not only want the Germans to feel guilty but also the whole world to regret...."

He further wrote that the future of Jewish identity appears bleak as Israel doesn't want to befriend any nation rather wishes to live by dominating others. Now that was enough for Zionists to cry foul.

So much hue and cry was raised that Gandhi was made to resign from the MK Gandhi Institute for Non-Violence, an institute which he founded 17 years ago. So you can't even dare ask Zionists to introspect.

Though I don't like to write much about Israel and Jews (already Urdu papers have spent tonnes of ink and given the penchant among many of us to dub any thing as a Jewish Conspiracy), such incidents are surely unsettling.
Strangely, holocaust remains a holy cow. Germany persecuted Jews. Before them for centuries Britain, France and other countries persecuted them. In many countries they were made to wear distinguishing clothes or marks and were blamed for plague and every epidemic.

The Muslim countries like Turkey and Ethiopia treated Jews better and opened their doors to them. But Europe, in one master-stroke shed its collective guilt by settling the Jews amid Muslim populace, and shifting the battlefield.

Now Jews, a practical race, discovered that Muslims have to be their enemies, and forgot the whole experience of Inquisition. Let us for a moment forget all the historical burden. And wonder what makes the mention of Holocaust such a big crime?

On this blog two years back I had written a similar post when historian David Irving was jailed for denying Holocaust. Ahmedinejad makes the West uncomfortable because he refuses to bear the burden of this strange moral guilt of the Western world.

Of course, Holocaust was bad, a terrible phase. But why should the entire Jewry, all the time, expect the world to be sorry for Hitler's deeds. When Indian Jews, African Jews and Jews in other countries never had a holocaust experience, why should they also expect this.

And when someone like Arun Gandhi says that openly, he is labelled anti-Semite! It's also hounding the 'other'. No lessons from holocaust. It's a Hitlerian thinking. You drop bombs on others in the name of peace. And if somebody dares to suggest, he is called names.

That's unbecoming of the race that gave the world, Spinoza and Einstein. What about Freedom of Speech!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Hindus and Husain: Muharram, Yaum-e-Ashurah and composite culture in India


See the photo on the left: A tazia in urban India, prompts a woman to nudge her husband, who stops the scooter.

She takes off her footwear, walks up to the tazia and pays her respect to the Tazia that is on its way to the main procession.

Once at the procession, most of the women who make their kids pass under the Tazia, are Hindu. Many Muslims now frown upon the practice and such rituals.

But this is Indianised Islam, a blend of Hindu and Muslim traditions. It's so easy to reject things.

Many Muslims call it a form of idolatory and of course some Hindus now object to this Islamisation of Hinduism.

But these millions of Hindus and Muslims who observe it together, also have an absolute right and a freedom to observe their faith. There is something in this soil that makes an Indian a believer.

What else explains the devotion of Hindu women who don't apply oil in their heads for the ten days of Ashura, to commemorate a battle that occurred far away in Iraq in which the Prophet's grandson sacrificed his life.

Isn't it a wonder! And then it also makes us think how, we, despite our common heritage and composite culture, turn communal and indulge in riots? 

Friday, January 18, 2008

Hailing the Indian Judiciary: Bilkis Bano gets justice in Gujarat genocide case

Bilkis Bano, one of the faces of the horrors of Gujarat genocide, ultimately got justice on Friday.

The brave woman was six-months pregnant when she was gang-raped, saw her eight family members slaughtered and her own 3-1/2 year old child killed by a bloodthirsty mob in Narendra Modi's Holy Land of Hindutva.

Six years later, a Mumbai Sessions court held 13 of the 20 accused in the case, guilty of rioting, murders and rapes, letting seven others including a doctor couple that fudged evidence, for lack of evidence.

Justice UD Salvi's landmark judgment will go a long way in healing the wounds of the riot victims, who had lost all hopes from a Rogue State (Gujarat), where administration, police and sections of lawyers colluded to shield the accused.

For riot-scarred Bilquees Bano, it has been an excruciatingly long fight for justice. At least, 20 times she changed her residence but remained committed to her pledge to get justice in her own country.

The court decision has again strengthened the belief of Indians, especially minorities in this great Nation, its democracy, its judiciary and its age-old values. And reinforces out belief why Indian Muslims even after such major carnages, have

We must Salute the Indian judiciary. Public Prosecutor RK Shah did a great job in presenting the case. We can't forget how the head of the team of government lawyers, Arvind Pandya, was shamelessly caught confessing on camera in a sting operation that he was saving the killers.

Supreme Court had shifted the case from Gujarat, after reports of harassment of the victims and witnesses apart from attempts to tamper evidences and delays in the case proceedings. The CBI also conduced the investigation in a fair manner.

The NGOs, Teesta Setalwad for her rigorous testimony, social activists like Huma Naqvi and umpteen others who stood by Bilkees Bano, played a great role in this fight for justice through financial, legal and emotional support to her.

The quantum of judgment would be known next week. Now all of us can hope that victims of Naroda Patiya massacre, Best Bakery Case, Sardarpura killings and the murders in Gulbarg Society will also get justice.

It is a big judgment in the context that such verdicts go a long way towards sending the signal to the poor victims that despite all odds, there is a sytem in place in this country that can get you justice though the road may be hard and long.

Bilquis Bano's son may grow up to the stories of atrocities in Gujarat but I am sure he will be proud of his country and his mother. Of thinking that his mother fought this case, hundreds of others with no kinship came along, and this country and its courts gave his family, Justice.

Salaam Bilquis!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Anger over Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi's slanderous remark about Maulana Mohammad Ali


BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi's statement has come as a shock to people in Uttar Pradesh and throughout the country.

Naqvi, the Muslim face of the BJP in the post Sikandar Bakht-era, exceeded all limits and allegedly said that Maulana Mohammad Ali was the Osama Bin Laden of his times.

Naturally the statement has drawn wide condemnation. There is anger across UP. "BJP should answer whether fighting the British rule was a terrorist activity?", said All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat.
Maulana Mohammad Ali, a great patriot, had vowed at the Round Table Conference, to never return to Ghulaam Hindostan and come back only when the country would attain freedom. After his legendary speech against British imperialism in London, he had collapsed and died.

He was buried in Jerusalem. A close associate of Gandhi and top leaders of the era, Maulana Mohammad Ali (and his brother Shaukat Ali) was a great freedom fighter, and his role was not limited to the Khilafat Movement alone.

Maulana Mohammad Ali was passionate about India's freedom. Mohammad Ali was a champion of Hindu-Muslim unity. He was fiercely against British rule and played a vital role in establishing the Jamia Millia Islamia. Maulana Muhammad Ali was at the forefront of the freedom movement and was also the president of Indian National Congress.

He suffered enormously in process but espoused the cause of freedom movement with a missionary zeal. It is true that during the course of non-cooperation movement, differences cropped up between him and the Mahatma. He drifted towards the Muslim league due to the disillusionment with Congress but it remains debatable whether he would have sided for division of the country.

Gandhiji always held him in high esteem and used to say that "I learnt Siasat from Ali brothers." Maulana was a journalist par excellence and his newspapers Comrade, which was published from Calcutta, and Hamdard were popular for his straightforwardness.

Though he belongs to Rampur and has a political rivalry with Azam Khan, founder of Mohammad Ali Jauhar university, the sick remark took everybody by surprise. Even RSS leaders in the past never uttered such lies.

Naqvi has probably lost his mental balance. After all, does he have credentials to make such commentsBut he must answer, whether his party believes that opposing British rule was terrorism. And what is his definition of patriotism in his eyes--Godse and General Dyer?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

UP police had arrested the wrong 'Aftab' for Court blasts

Just a fortnight back the Special Task Force (STF) of Uttar Pradesh had declared that this young lad arrested from Kolkata was a hard-core militant, dreaded Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami activist and was responsible for serial bomb blasts in the courts of Uttar Pradesh.


Now the police has accepted that he was not the person involved in any crime. ADG Brij Lal* says that 'yes he is innocent'. The let him go and and the police calls it a case of mistaken identity now.

His family members had all the while kept insisting that the police were falsely implicating him but the joint team of UP Police and West Bengal CID had no hesitation in terming him as mastermind of the bomb blasts and supplier of explosives.

The top cops of UP termed him a terrorist. Newspapers declared him a dreaded militant, not a suspected one, even before the case went to court. For 17 days he was kept in detention, beaten up, allegedly subjected to all sorts of torture. His mother came to Lucknow and begged the police and administration to have mercy on him.

See this Times of India report about Aftab Alam Ansari being the key HuJI operative and a prized catch. The police and media share equal blame for this. The cops declare that he is a terrorist and the journos don't call it a claim or question it, but repeat the same throwing all journalistic caution out of the window.

From Khwaja Yunus to Aftab Alam, the story is same. Muslim youths are picked up at random in similar fashion. The police have to show their efficiency after terror attacks and to ease the pressure on them, dozens of youths, mostly poor are rounded up, kept in illegal detention and made to confess. Not all are as lucky as Aftab, who at least got released.

Read the whole story in The Telegraph, that how the police blundered and the court set him free. The goof-up has been accepted. The police had paraded him in press conference, given him several aliases and presented him as an anti-national.

The fact that UP has a BSP government and the State is not ruled by BJP (or Congress government in Maharashtra), has also made a difference. And Lucknow is certainly not Ahmedabad. But, the police are the same everywhere. But will the trauma he underwent go away.
The youth's fater died long ago. He works in the electricity department in WB and his mother had brought all proofs and identity cards to Lucknow to stress that her son had no other identity. There was anger in Muslims in Lucknow over the arrest.
Lately UP police have been conducting similar arrests (a la Maharashtra police) and encounters quite regularly. In such encounters all the criminals are always dead and AK 47 are recovered from them (which they never get chance to use against police during encounter). The public is not fool and understand the cooked story.

The Union government must take cognizance. Rogue cops are plenty in our policing system. There are demands of action on the guilty cops from various quarters. But what about dozens languishing in lockups without trial.
I don't know if anybody will drag these cops to the court. I doubt his family will have means to stay in Lucknow and fight the case. They will surely rush back to Kolkata. NGOs and social rganisations must take up this issue. At least, he should be paid damages for his character assassination.
There is another important issue. Why should police go to any extent to find a scapegoat, who is usually poor, to save its skin after any major crime or terrorist strike. One wrong arrest does far greater damage to the society and the reputation of police than a dozen right catches.
(*ADG Brij Lal had recently said at another press conference that two militants were indoctrinated at the famed Deoband seminary. The role of Deoband in freedom movement is known to everybody. But with such cops at the top, you can't expect better from the lower brass.)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Hindu family taking out Tazia for 130 years: Muharram in India


For 130 years a Hindu family in Central India's small town Guna has been observing Muharram with devotion. The 15-ft tall Tazia is made every year in the Kushwaha household.

The whole family works together for days before Moharram. Says Kailash Singh Kushwaha, "We are farmers but stop all work before Muharram and during the ten days of Ashura, every family member intensely observes Gham-e-Husain.

For two months I have been busy in making the Tazia, which is famous for the fine work, naqqashi and artistry. The family members take bath before coming to the rom where the Taziya is kept.

'Over 130 years ago his ancestor Nihal Singh Kushwaha who was childless had vowed that he would bring out Tazia from his house if God gave him a child, and once he had the son, the tradition started, which continues till this day'.

In 1947 Guna was affected by the violence during partition and he was asked not to take out Tazia by a group, but the family members including Kailash's ancestor Bhabhoot Singh held swords in their hands along with the Tazia and carried on the tradition.

That's the kind of stories that are spread across this nation but don't get reported. These are the people who are in abundance in India. They may not have heard words like secularism but it is they whose lives are examples of communal harmony. It is due to them and their message to the people around them that this society maintains its sanity even in turbulent times.

Most of those including my own friends who love to call Tazia-dari as 'bidah', can't probably fathom the depth of their devotion towards the tragedy at Karbala that happened more than a millennium ago.
As far as I know, Shias don't take out Tazias (they have Alams and perform maatam).

Some Sunnis did. Stilll a few Sunnis, most of them poor ones, carry on the tradition. But the zeal of Hindu familes like the Kushwahas and the thousands of others in this country depict in the true sense, the composite culture of India, for which we are always claimants but ourselves do little to enrich or protect it.

Hats off to the Kushwahas.

Also, see my past posts with some good photos on Muharram:

Friday, January 11, 2008

Mayawati forgets Muslims: No place in 30% job quota in private sector


UP Chief Minister Mayawati has announced 30% quota in private sector. The scheme says that any industrial group that seeks land in Uttar Pradesh or any government assistnce in any other form, will have to give voluntary quota.

No doubt it is a marvellous idea despite the fact that not many investors are coming to UP. But it is also true that UP is not totally devoid of opportunities. If properly implemented and monitored this scheme can work wonders.

But Maya has conveniently forgotten Muslims. The 30% quota would be divided equally among Dalits, Other Backward Castes (OBCs) and Upper Castes. So where are Muslims? After Samajwadi Party, it is BSP that gets most Muslim votes.

But Mayawati has had a strange relationship with Muslims. She is never comfortable with the community. And is only reaping the benefits of the work of her mentor Kashi Ram, who had brought the Dalis and Muslims together in heartland, after the failure of Dr Faridi's experiment.

From Urdu poet Malikzada Manzoor Ahmad to Arif Mohammad Khan, no Muslim of standing has managed to stay in BSP for long. Maya's remarks that 'Musalman kattar hote hain' had caused lot of consternation. She has given tickets to Muslims, which is her compulsion.

But she has hardly take any step for the community, that supported it substantially. Had it not been Muslim support, BSP would never have emerged as a major party in UP. Even Dalits are angry that comprising 22% of population in UP, they will get only 10%.

For Muslims it is Zilch (0%). A later statement has suggested that 'some poor and backward Muslims' may find way in the 10% meant for OBCs. Though it is a good idea of the BSP government to get jobs for Dalits (and also poor among Upper Castes), it is surprising that Muslims have been totally ignored.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Barack Obama's Muslim name interests Urdu newspapers

Barack Obama could be the next President of United States of America. I was not much interested in Obama and was faintly aware of the controversy regarding his Islamic past, until I realised that he had established some lead in the campaign and appeared to have strong chances of getting elected as President of USA.

It was then I came to know that his name is Barack Hussein Obama and the Barack is probably a variant spelling for Barkat or Baraka. So he has no connection with Islam and isn't a Muslim but Urdu tabloids in India appear quite interested in him, and intrigued by the name which appear Muslim to them. Headlines like 'Barkat Husain to become US President' do boost circulation for small newspapers for a few days. Of course, his father was a Muslim.

He is Black and if elected, that will also be a first in US' history. He is surely a favourite for the top post in USA and has established a lead over John McCain. Despite repeated malicious attacks and negative propaganda from his opponents, his popularity has soared and it proves that people trust Obama & expect a change from him.

Obama has done his best to clear if anybody has any misconceptions about his Islamic past. He says that his father Obama Senior (a Kenyan) was raised as a Muslim in his childhood but later became an atheist and married a Christian woman.

After their divorce little Obama's mother took him away. She married again, (it was also a Muslim this time and a 'radical' one, we are told) and they settled in Jakarta (Indonesia). Though Barack O'bama denies that he was ever a Muslim but some reports said that he did study at Madarsa and also used to go to Friday prayers to mosque.

Naturally there was a controversy recently and the pressure built up on Obama to 'come clean on his Islamic past' in a nation with strong 'Judeo-Christian values', especially after the War on Terror has divided the world. Obama vehemently denied some of these charges though he accepts that his father was a Muslim who had later become a 'confirmed atheist'.

Now the senator from Illinois is a democratic candidate for the Presidential Election year 2008. Though he has called for ending Iraq war, Barack O'bama had said that as President he could go for air-strikes in Pakistan, which was termed a diplomatic goof-up (US still has close links with Pakistan and it was naturally not considered a proper comment).

May be the hard stance against Muslim countries was to buttress his Christian credentials. After all, there is an 'adage' in Urdu , naya mulla pyaaz zyada khata hai (the new Mulla eats more onions), and he was trying to be a staunch Christian. During the campaign malicious questions have been raised that whether he is really a Christian and how much he has tried to conceal about his past.

There are many blog posts on the subject. And videos (like this video) on YouTube. Obama studied in a madarsa in Indonesia but in later years he got converted to Christianity and joined the United Church of Christ. But now it seems, Obama has struck a chord with majority of Americans.

The Blacks are around 15% of American's population and it is not possible that their acceptance alone can propel Obama to such popularity. There is an opposition to him from right-wing Christians and section of Jews, who aren't happy that he would occupy White House.

Of course, Muslims outside America also don't have much stakes in US election. (I am talking about perception and interest of Muslims outside US as the percentage of Muslims is America is not enough to tilt balance in the polls.

But surely he has support among other sections. He is not a Muslim, it's sure. One thing is clear, as a Black and as a person with a Muslim name (especially Hussein) he is a surprise candidate. And if he wins, it will be a new chapter in US's history of almost 220 years. Either intentional or due to slip of tongue, anchors on TV have also said Osama instead of Obama a couple of times. Surely it is going to be an interesting election, this November.

He may display a stronger bias against Arabs, Asian countries and Muslims, who knows! We can't predict. He may even go after Iran. But the fact that his strong position reflects a greater acceptance and inclusiveness for the other groups and minorities in America.

Update: This was an old post. Now Barack Hussein Obama has been elected US president and Indian newspapers in all languages are ecstatic at his victory. Urdu newspapers are playing up his name and his Muslim connection.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Alwida Shafiqa Aapa: Urdu world bids adieu to the leading woman satirist

Eminent writer and one of the most well-known Urdu satirists, Shafiqa Farhat, passed away on Sunday. The 76-year-old author had a long literary career, spanning over half-a-century.

She had devoted her life to literature and teaching. She hadn't married but Shafiqa Aapa probably never felt lonely as she had numerous friends, a great social circle and admirers. Such was her simplicity, warmth and hospitality that everybody felt drawn to her.

Shafiqa Aapa was a humanist and a strong believer in secularism. She had friends in all communities. I remember an incident involving Hindi writer Kanti Kumar Jain whom she considered her elder brother.

Once her relatives from Pakistan had come and they saw her tie the 'rakhi' on his wrist and putting tilak, they were quite horrified. Shafiqua Aapa was sitting on the floor with all the paraphernalia that was required to celebrate raksha-bandhan with her brother.

One of her sisters objected and said that she had turned this house into a temple. Shafiqa Aapa got enraged and categorically told her that this was her own culture and of this country, if they are staying here they better accept it or push off. It was rare of her to get into such rage.

Her father, who was a police officer in British India, was a strict man. After shifting from Nagpur to Bhopal in 1950s, she became an intrinsic part of the literary circles of the city. She was Head of Department of Urdu in MLB College, which had for long one of the best Urdu departments in the country.

A prolific writer, she has many books to her name.When she finished 'Jaane Anjaane Chehrey', President APJ Abdul Kalam had met her in the ambulance, as she was seriously ill then. Later she had recovered a bit. Once again she was active as always, planning literary meets or concerned about students' problems in a particular college due to lack of teachers.

Despite her failing health, she remained active till her last days. I still recall the excitement in her voice when she would call me up and tell me about her upcoming work or a special issue published on her works. She often invited me and a photographer friend of mine to her house in Koh-e-Fiza.

She was always concerned about marriage of the photographer friend for whom she always suggesting girls. She was headstrong and remained firm on her beliefs but unlike many other litterateurs, she was always generous in praise for fellow writers.

She had just finished her novel on Bhopal Gas Tragedy and insisted that it was her best work. Unfortunately she passed away, even before a function of the book release. She was buried in Bada Bagh graveyard in Bhopal, the City she had made her home and which gave her immense love.

I didn't delete her number for years after her demise. The name 'Shafiqa Farhat' remained in my phone book for a long time. But then I lost the cell phone. Still, I remember her voice, the affection she had for me, as if it was just yesterday.

[The photo shows former President APJ Abdul Kalam, when he was in office, meeting Shafiqa Farhat, who is in ambulance]

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Aroosa Alam, Amrinder and the Ulema


What's so special about Aroosa Alam? The Tribune devoted three special comprehensive stories on a single page to this lady who is said to be quite close to Punjab's ex-Chief Minister Captain Amrinder Singh.

The coverage is surprising. But it had to happen. After all, the 'dynamic' Amir-e-Ahrar Shahi Mufti Punjab Maulana Habibur Rahman Saani Ludhianvi has issued fatwa. He issued the fatwa from Jama Masjid and termed her friendship with Amrinder as 'Najaaez and Haraam'.

Aroosa, the controversial Pak journalist, then left Chandigarh and has flown back to Pakistan but the controversy continues in India. Maulana Habibur Rahman Sani is quite active and his 'activism' was again at display when he said that 'she violated Shariat for having visited a man without any male relative as her companion'.

The Maulana has also called the Sikh clergy to ask Amarinder about his faith and check if he has changed relation. He urged CM and even PM over the issue and expressed suspicion that she could be an ISI agent.

Meanwhile, Tribune is all praise for her 'sharp wit' that floored the Indians. She said that 'daayan das ghar chhod deti hai' (even the witch leaves ten houses), while commenting on the controversy and her name being linked to Amrindar Singh. Read the extensive coverage here. The newspapers in Pakistan say that she has been gifted a huge house worth crores in Lahore by Amrinder.
It's really strange to see such uncalled for edicts. The moderate voice of Milli Council's Jamilur Rahman who has criticised the fatwa and said that the friendship is not un-Islamic, has been rubbished. Even heads of other religions have supported the fatwa.