Saturday, February 28, 2009

Muslim couple marries off Hindu daughter in Sharma family: Communal Harmony Project-10

1. Shabbir Khan and his wife married off their adopted daughter Rakhi as per Vedic rites to Ranjit Sharma in Ghaziabad on Sunday.

The childless Khan couple had adopted the daughter of a Hindu friend who had six daughters. They not just raised her as a Hindu but kept a separate puja ghar in the house.

All Hindu and Muslim festivals were celebrated in the house and such was the emotional bonding between parents and the daughter Rakhi alias Gudia that everybody marvelled at the love. A furniture-maker Khan organised the wedding function at a grand scale almost beyond his means.

"Who will we celebrate Holi with?, he would ask at the time of bidaai. "She was more than what a natural daughter could ever be", says Khan, adding that 'Aaj mere dil ka ek tukdaa chalaa gaya'. Read the Times of India report by Lalit Kumar.

2. Our salute to these Muslim parents for their silent message to the society. Just like we had carried a story about Hindu parents with the heading 'Hats off to Hindu parents of Muslim girl'. Earlier, another amazing story about a Hindu couple's adoption of a Muslim girl and her subsequent marriage to Muslim youth was carried on this blog.

Do read this as well

Naseema was abducted and sold when she was just eight years old. Later a Brahmin couple raised her. Such was their sincerity that they even made her wear the burqa to ensure that the girl gets a traditional Muslim upbringing in Tamil Nadu's Vellore.

They educated her and later married her off to a Muslim youth, who lives and works with a company in Middle East. After her marriage, she even managed to locate her father Ibrahim who had become deaf and dumb. She owes everything in life to her parents--The Brahmin couple. Read more

It is these people who are the real heroes. It is no joke to brave the social pressure and go against the established norms to raise a child belonging other religion as per his or her faith. But they do it, silently.

Photo: Rakhi in bridal attire during the marriage ceremony.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hindu Saints, Ulema come together in Lucknow

The demonstration-cum-rally organised in Lucknow under the aegis of Ulema Council was a refreshing change.

The reason was that Hindu Saints (Sadhus and Sants) were present in substantial number at the stage and also among the participants.

Though the issues were varied. The protesters were angry over defaming Azamgarh district and their placards carried messages blaming politicians who divide the society on communal lines. But there was a notable difference this time as there were many Saffron robes in the gathering.

"We will stand united with the Muslims who have been deprived of their rights," said Swamy Haridayal Mishra of Hindu group of Ayodhya, a town of temples on the bank of the Saryu river, reported The Hindu. He had come along with his band of sants.

Ironically this wasn't adequately reported and these photographs were not published. What was printed was the stone pelting incident in a village when a bus carrying the participants on its way back was targeted the next day.

Since mid-80s when the Ayodhya movement and Rath Yatra led to polarisation, much water has flown down the Ganges (and the Saryu). Many saints and Hindus in Ayodhya also see the political agenda behind dividing Hindus and Muslims.

The Sadhu-Sants and Ulama-Maulvis of Oudh and United Provinces had fought together against British rule in 1857 and had scripted saga of sacrifices together. They must take a lead again to recreate the harmony.

It is quite clear that the religious figures are no less fed up of the atmosphere of suspicion and hatred that was created between communities that have lived together and side by side in the Indo-gangetic plane for over a millennium.

Most of them understand true essence of religion and spirituality. And if they guide the society by showing the masses the message of amity and true religion sans fundamentalism, it can definitely bring a change.

Gestures like speaking and standing for each other can also go a long way towards changing mindsets.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Children's adventures: Bunking classes, berries and bravado

I was standing in the balcony in the afternoon when the group of boys, Raju, Ganesh, Preeti and Abbas, came as usual.

Raju and Ganesh, the active ones, scaled the boundary wall of the apartment and after balancing themselves reached the 'ber' tree.

They plucked the berries and collected dozens until the pockets were full. Preeti was keeping an eye on the guards of the colony.

Generally the families in other flats shout at the kids and the guards run after them. For these berries they take a lot of risk.

Stage 1st photo: EFFORT

First they dodged the priest to pass the temple premises and then had to enter the adjoining compound before climbing this wall.

They tasted a few of the berries and threw the rest down to their friends standing down who ate them and pocketed them in such a manner as if this was the most exquisite taste available on earth.

I didn't ask them to leave, just advised them to be careful so that they don't fall or get caught by the guard.

Once their pockets were full, they gave me a parting smile, thanking me for not calling the guard and bade me goodbye.

My three-year-old daughter who was fascinated by the site of the 'outgoing courageous' kids, asked them for berries and they threw a couple towards our balcony.

She didn't like them. I also tasted. They were not ripe and the taste was nothing great. But that's what childhood is all about.

Stage 2 photo: Injury

Joy has different meanings in that age. I have had a few chance encounters with this gang of children on my holidays when they come back from school in the afternoon.

These kids bunk classes. In fact they leave school early as the teachers rarely bother in the government school where these kids study. Risks like getting scolded, caught by someone or a few rashes don't matter, as going home with the berries is the ultimate aim for them.

Every time these kids come, I turn nostalgic thinking of my childhood and similar 'conquests'--either it was taking away flowers from a neighbouring short-tempered woman's garden or climbing a tree or catching a kite. In those days there were no video games or even TV for us to remain occupied inside the rooms.
Stage 3 photo: Conquest

It was fun for them and a sense of achievement. Managing to take away berries home and then sharing them with their siblings.

Once you are grown up, you have little time to think of anything except career and daily rigmarole of life.

Photo [left]: Ganesh conquers. Berries Are Mine.

And no matter how much you achieve later in your life--material possessions or any greater heights you reach, nothing, just nothing can give you such a thrill which one used to get in such adventures in childhood.

Related post on this blog earlier: Indian kids playing marbles and catapult (ghulail)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Magical Madhubala: Recalling India's most beautiful woman, film actress

Who can forget the mysterious girl who sang 'Aayega Aanewala' in Kamal Amrohi's Mahal or the Anarkali who daunted Akbar-e-Azam with 'Pyar kiya to darnaa kyaa'?

Madhubala, perhaps the most beautiful actress to ever grace the silver screen in India, was born on St Valentine's Day nearly 76 years ago.

Ironically, she was born with a hole in her heart, a medical complication for which there was no treatment until her premature death, just at the age of 36.

 Her love life remained unfulfilled and after her unrequited love affair with Dilip Kumar, she stunned everybody with her marriage to the immensely talented yet maverick Kishore Kumar. The marriage was a disaster.

Madhubala was at the peak of her career after the success of Karimuddin Asif's Mughal-i-Azam in the early years of 1960 when she got critically ill.

She battled the illness for several years and passed away in 1969. Unfortunately, it was soon after her death that such heart surgeries became common.

Madhubala alias Mumtaz Jehan Begum who had caught the imagination of the whole country and become a legend in her life--due to her reclusive nature and her father Ataullah's strictness, remains a mystery even after her death.

Close friends say that despite her exquisite beauty, Madhubala was a vivacious but humble girl who loved to play pranks and spend time with her family.

She had an ordinary wardrobe for an actress and rarely wore jewellery.

When she got offer to work in Hollywood, Ataullah Khan rejected it as he 'couldn't have dinner with those ate with forks and spoons'. He dominated every sphere of her life.

The actress whose comic performances in Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi and Mr and Mrs 55 are part of the folklore of Hindustani cinema, had a lonely and tragic life, especially in the last decade of her life.

Despite the strictness of her father which was termed by many as responsible for her loneliness and depression, she had tremendous love for him and even in later years during her illness, always dreamt of herself as a small kid walking while holding her father's finger.

Little was known or published about her in her lifetime or even after her death. Incidentally she died in the same month (of her birth). Her death is recorded on February 23, 1969.

Not much was known about Madhubala as her family including her sisters never shared information about her life and interests.

Khatija Akbar's painstaking efforts must be praised as she wrote the first biography of the legendary actress--'Madhubala, Her Life Her Films' that was published in 1997.

Like Marilyn Monroe, she also died at the same age (36). Forty years have elapsed but Madhubala's laughter, her enigmatic smile and her ageless beauty still entrances and intrigues millions of us in whose hearts she continues to live long after her death.

Vandalism on Valentine's Day

Meanwhile, today being Valentine's Day, the entire nation again witnessed the same annual tamasha. Right-wing organisations holding protests, roughing up young couples and slapping lovebirdsfor meeting at public places.

Though a majority of youth have also become quite smarter and celebrate it either a day earlier or a day later. The members of Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena do it just to get attention as their photos get published in papers and are seen on TV.

Cameramen encourage them and the cycle goes on. Two years ago I had written a post: Hindu, Muslim right-wing agree on St Valentine's Day. The situation hasn't changed a bit. Read the post.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

No tears for 15 policemen killed by Naxalites!

Just a few days back, the Naxalites gunned down 15 policemen in an ambush in Gadchiroli in Maharashtra.

It was not an ordinary incident but still it didn't affect most of us including the media and the masses. All of these slain policemen lived in harsh conditions in jungles, amid deadly mosquitoes, and without the comforts of city life.

No medals, honours

1. No interviews with their family members appeared on TV or in the print. Do you think these policemen will get any posthumous rewards or medals? No demand for honours was raised from any section. You may not have seen photographs of any of these martyrs either. They also went down fighting like other policemen do. Rather, they fight in tougher conditions.

They lost their lives fighting the Maoists who are fighting the Indian state and want to overthrow the government to establish the 'people's republic'. But there was no outrage. I don't know the reason why this massacre didn't get due attention.

In the Jamia Nagar's Batla House encounter, one policeman was killed. The youth killed and those caught were mostly students. The story remains unclear. But even if we forget that, my simple worry is that why hard-core ultra-leftists who kill policemen by dozens are not even termed as terrorists.

And those policemen who die in jungles at the hands of hardcore Naxalites living the sole aim of insurrection, don't get any credit. Maoists will remain Maoists or Naxalites or the Ultra-leftists despite killing in dozens.

The image of a Terrorist

2. But young students who have no previous criminal record are termed terrorists even if there are holes in police stories and doubts. Is it just because of their names?

Or the image of a terrorist that has been created in our collective consciousness. He has to be a Muslim. If he is not, he can't be a terrorist! So what if a national paper innocently writes 'the left-wing extremists carry out 100 land mine explosions ever year'.

The policemen who died in Gadchiroli (Maharashtra) or Dantewara (Chhattisgarh) are mostly armed with old weapons and have to save themselves not just from the bullet that can be fired from anywhere in the jungle.

There are also landmines, that can blow up anytime. These policemen fight for this nation. They don't have sophisticated arms which the encounter specialists carry in Delhi or Mumbai. But when these policemen die, there is not even a sigh.

Narmada, the Maoist leader

3. The women who led the Markegaon attack was Narmada. Naturally her photo is not available yet. But has India TV or any other channel yet focused on her or shown the story of the kind that scream like 'Vo mahila dahshatgard jo policewalon ka khatma kar gayi'. Narmada is a college dropout. Wouldn't it have been a story of how she got so indoctrinated and turned the Killer.

As I write this post, there is another attack of Naxalites in Bihar. Nearly 11 policemen have been killed by the Naxalites. Ya, I too write 'Naxalite', not 'Mao-inspired Terrorists' or even 'Leftist militants'.

Or may be the Naxals know it well that anything in rural India or for that matter which happens away from metros and 'low TRP regions', will never become a national issue.

So they can perhaps breathe easily as long as all this happens in Sarguja, Jhabua, Bastar or Jehanabad---away from the Cities. Urban Indian can sleep peacefully and watch a dozen stories about Terror every day on the dozen-odd 'News' channels.

Just to remind: In case it is still not Naxal Terrorism, the Red Terrorists have killed 650 deaths in India in the last year, three times the number of people who died in all terror strikes.


[No way this post intends to belittle the contribution of martyrs like MC Sharma. It is to highlight how policemen are getting killed like flies in the rural area and nobody, just nobody bothers. The aim is also to highlight how imbalanced is our collective approach towards terrorism and militancy, and how skewed is the vision of the media that builds popular opinion and in turn clouds our perception.]

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Tea-shops in India: Shrinking and Vanishing

The colours on the wall have faded but the arches still retain the same old grandeur and the teashop is impressive at first sight.

But that's half the tale. Customers are declining and the sale of tea has gone down over the years. And this is the same story at most of the tea-shops you go.

Tea is perhaps no longer a much-desired drink, especially for the upwardly mobile Indian youth.

It's cheap and probably not chic to drink tea, sitting on weak wooden benches or standing by the side of a kiosk, unless you are an unemployed youngster.

In the age of Barista and Cafe Coffee day, it's tough to run a tea-shop. In urban India, space is difficult to find and old 'chaai ka hotels' find it tough to resist the offers of huge money to sell the land, to those who come up with chic showrooms or shops selling cell phone accessories or property dealing offices in these premises.

I spoke to Major (no armyman) who used to earn enough to sustain a family of eight and even build his own house with the earning of his 'chaai ki dukaan' in the 70s and 80s. But the rate of chai hasn't gone up as fast as other things.

It costs Rs 3-5 in urban India, from Lucknow to Ludhiana, and it's tough to make more than Rs 100 a day for any ordinary chai-wala.

"After paying the electricity bill and the boys, I get Rs 80-120 per day as profit", says Ram Lubhawan, whose father had started the shop 45 years ago.

Six years back he sold half of the space and now has barely adequate space for keeping the goods. In his neighbourhood there was another teashop, who was once his busiess rival.

The person, Itwari (he must have been born on Sunday), sold his shop for Rs 35 lakh three years back. Still, Ram Lubhawan's business hasn't picked up. He has no plans to sell the shop but there is tension writ large on his face.

Selling tea is not much profitable. It's manifold more rewarding to sell gutka or pre-paid cell phone vouchers. Even if the chai-wala puts ginger and adds the 'tea-masala' to the 'chaai', nobody is willing to pay more than Rs 5.

Tea-culture dying!

For several years I have been watching this trend of shrinking teashops. In old days, there used to be 'chaai ka hotels' or 'chai-khanas' where one could ensconce oneself in any corner on the benches and spend time with friends in cosy comforts.

Now, it's tough to find shops where you have place to sit, let alone sprawl. Shops have been replaced by kiosks. Is the tea culture dying? Has it become just the drink for the class that does physical hard work--like masons, white washers, drivers, mechanics, handcart pullers, labourers & hawkers, and need tea to keep them refreshed?

Or the chai-walas need to reinvent themselves?

Past posts on Tea [On this blog]
1. Morning tea cups in Hyderabad
2. Huzoor Chai Pijiye: Lucknow's Kashmiri tea

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Indian Ulema's commendable stand on Yoga, Terrorism, other issues

Though Ulema prefer to remain away from worldly matters, certain recent events have forced me to praise the progressive Muslim clergy that is now playing an active role in the country.

They are doing lot of things that should be termed progressive. Through gestures, actions and conferences, Indian Musim clergy has done something remarkable recently. Let me explain it:

On Yoga

Just to remind you that sometime back there was a controversy when Pope Benedict had warned Christians from practising Yoga. Several other Christian organisations and preachers having termed Yoga as anti-Christianity and a cult.

A famous former Yoga practitioner had even said, 'When I practiced yoga, often I could leave my body but didn't know who entered it in the meanwhile'. He urged Christians to stop Yoga.

But when some Malaysian cleric asked Muslims to desist from Yoga, one of the most influential seminaries of Islamic world, the Darul Uloom Deoband, came forward and said that there was nothing un-Islamic, Muslims could practise it and said that Namaz was also like Yoga.

Noida encounter: Again refusal to bury terrorists' bodies

Dozens of Muslim organisations including Ulema came forward and refused to let the bodies of suspected terrorists killed in encounter in Noida (UP) on Republic Day eve.

Though as per Islam and even as per humanitarian tradition, after the person is dead the body should at least be given the last rites as per the tradition of the dead, the strong decision has been taken, which has amazed Muslims in other countries.

The Qaris, Maulvis, Maulanas and clerics in unison said it. Mind you, this is no ordinary thing. They met district administration officials and police, to protest the burial and refused it.

Terrorism & Vinay Katiyar

One of the most hardliners of all Hindutva faces of BJP, Vinay Katiyar, had recently demanded a ban on Deoband seminary. This was too provocative a statement. In fact, it is shameful and shows ignorance as the role of Deoband clerics in the freedom struggle is second to none.

But the Ulema and Muslims didn't get angry. They instead took a step forward and formally invited Katiar at Deoband. Surprised by the invitation, Katiyar has now retracted, and has now announced that he is going to visit the place (probably in a week or two).


Fatwa is an opinion and it's not binding though non-Muslims generally don't know it. However, Deoband's recent fatwas including the ones like 'adult girl can marry boy of her choice, against parents' wishes' and the one on yoga, are just a reflection of their attitude.

On cowslaughter, again the Deoband issued an edict recently and said that Muslims shouldn't slaughter the cow, as the cow is sacred to Hindus and our 'brethren shouldn't get hurt' because of our actions.

In between there may be a couple of less pragmatic fatwas like the one on triple talaq, but again, it was not causing any disharmony among sections of India and communities in this country.

They earlier issued a fatwa on terrorism, condemning it in harshest terms. They gathered tens of thousands of Muslims in Hyderabad where they issued it, at a grand conclave.

Not just for the sake of politically correctness

Its not that Ulema have suddenly become progressive. The fact is that blaming Ulema and Madarsas is a favourite occupation of a section of columnists, politicians and right-wing rabblerousers.

They forget that the 145-year-old Deoband doesn't need to have said it. They could have remaied mum on these matters. But they did speak and tried to reach out to the entire nation, speaks volumes about their efforts.

Still, TV channels and mass media doesn't show their positive side. They don't need to be politically correct all the time or go out of the way to prove something. But they are doing it. And this needs to be praised.

In a situation when there is no major Hindu organisation trying to reach out to Muslims, the role of Ulema is creditable. Muslim organisations don't abuse others, though they of course, raise voice and protest, which is a democratic right.

But even that is termed as 'fundamentalism'. Not many voices came in support for the youths of Hyderabad, who had been tortured for the Mecca Masjid blasts, in which they were not involved. [The police had to accept it later].


However, no Indian Muslim politician or cleric has every condemned or criticised Hindus or Hinduism despite the fact that many leaders and rabble-rousers from Togadia to Thackeray have openly blamed not Muslims, but Islam, and linked it to terror.

When Pramod Muthalik's speeches urge for a Pragya Thakur in every household and Bal Thackeray asks for Hindu suicide squads, far from getting provoked, the Indian Ulema not just talk about harmony but also try to reach out to everybody.

I think this is really laudable. Ulema get unnecessary criticism for far trivial things. Tthe portrayal of Ulema is newspapers and channels isn't fair. And I must say, I also feel a bit surprised, at the way Indian Ulama are coming out forward, to keep the liberal and secular ethos of this country intact.