A red card for the Secular Indian Muslim

I am posting a brilliant piece (published by Indian Express) by my dear friend Rakhshanda Jalil – she is a bold yet sensitive writer based in Delhi. All power to her pen.

The controversy regarding the conferment of Qatari nationality upon M.F. Husain — and his acceptance of it — has given us the opportunity to revisit an old but neglected debate. The debate on being an Indian Muslim or a Muslim Indian is old hat; but the one concerning the “secular Indian Muslim” — the SIM? — needs our urgent attention. Those who doubt the existence of such a breed and view it as a contradiction in terms would do well to remember the legacy of a long line of distinguished people, from Mirza Ghalib, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Dr M.A. Ansari, Maulana Azad, Dr Zakir Husain to M.F. Husain, to name just a few. Then there are the nameless millions — doctors, lawyers, writers, journalists, teachers, wage earners who are living proof of Indian secularism. Husain is simply another link in this ganga-jamuni chain. He needs to neither establish his credentials nor protest his innocence; his work speaks for him.
Having established the credentials of this breed, let us set out the contours of its present dilemma: one, it exists in sufficiently large numbers to have escaped our notice yet, oddly enough, has never managed to establish a public profile for itself; nor has it, given its numbers, translated into a sufficiently large, and therefore woo-able, vote bank. Two, despite its largish presence (I imagine roughly half the population of Muslims in India), the breed is under severe threat.
One is not interested in establishing the presence of the SIM, for that one takes as a given. It has always existed in the weft of the Indian tapestry as the warp that runs alongside. In fact, what ought to concern us is the threat to its existence. That this threat is Continue reading “A red card for the Secular Indian Muslim”

In memoriam – Asim Butt (1978-2010)

He was a man, take him for all in all,

I shall not look upon his like again

(Hamlet, Shakespeare)

It is only when Asim has gone that one takes measure of the legacy he has left for his troubled and torn country. A decade long association was lost on the fateful day of January when we heard of his untimely exit from this world. For hours, I sat in my office, numb. Not that Asim’s suicide was a surprise, for he had warned us all many times of this inevitable dénouement to his dramatic life.

Five years ago, when I wrote a piece on the Pakistani poet Mustafa Zaidi and the romance with nurturing a death wish, Asim wrote to me and said that I had no clue what this was all about. His words were: “loved and was deeply moved by your piece on Zaidi… saw so much of myself in his life story, hoping I don’t die unsung and on the fringes, and wondering why you of all people would have a death wish.” Asim had suffered and struggled with his inner demons with an intensity that most of us will never appreciate. This was the first time that I knew about the seriousness of his other side: a dialectical dark side to his otherwise cheerful, loving and warm persona. Asim cannot be mourned; he can only be celebrated. He would have hated the melodramatic statements that I am inclined to write in this remembrance.

Two of my dearest friends were close to Asim in a way that is difficult to understand. Nearly a decade ago I met Asim at Ali Dayan Hasan’s home in Karachi. I was passing through on one of my occupational breaks from my assignment in Kosovo. Ali had returned from England and joined the monthly Herald and was piecing his life together. I met this lean and quiet young man who had big, bright eyes and a unique smile. We did not talk much except for a small argument over something, perhaps about a book, but I could not help being thoroughly impressed with his viewpoint. Since then I have had a series of exchanges, verbal and electronic, in which Asim was always animated, off-beat and extremely gifted with words and ideas. No wonder his art work and many of his writings are a formidable legacy for us all.

Born into a regular upper middle class family, Asim Butt was always an exception. He was different, as he would tell me. Rejecting convention, tradition and the confines of societal expectations was therefore something that started way too early with Asim. To be fair, he did pursue a path chosen for him. He attended the Li Po Chun United World College where his gift for painting became polished, and at some level he had chartered his future course. There was some meandering: a degree in the first batch of B.Sc. in Social Sciences earned from the Lahore University of Management Sciences; and later an unfinished PhD in History from the University of California, Davis. He returned to Pakistan, wrote for the Herald and other publications, and finally enrolled himself at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture.Not surprisingly, Butt graduated with distinction in 2006. Continue reading “In memoriam – Asim Butt (1978-2010)”

Loveable Murree

 

I was recently asked to write where I would spend my summer. For a few minutes I kept my anguish at Pakistan’s situation aside and wrote the following lines for the NEWS. Indulgent and nostalgic, it was fun nevertheless.

Hackneyed as it may sound but Murree remains my favourite destination for the summer.

Alas, the luxury of spending months at the alluring foothills of Himalayas is no longer available with the day-jobs, and other commitments. But there was a time, over a decade ago, when I lived in Murree for three glorious years. It was May when I moved there with a wild rose bush joyously waving with the Continue reading “Loveable Murree”

Shahid Jalal’s new paintings

Jugnu Mohsin writing for The Friday Times says that Lahore’s most celebrated oasis is now the subject of enchanting paintings

You are truly amongst Lahore’s privileged if you receive an invitation to a harisa lunch on a winter afternoon at the home of Tahira Mazhar Ali Khan. No ordinary repast this, cooked as it is laboriously and lovingly over an evening and a night by Tahira herself. And only harisa is on the menu.
Originating in Kashmir, harisa is a purer cousin of haleem, without the spices and far more meaty and grainy. But as with all other Kashmiri offerings, harisa became a memorable dish only after its encounter with the Punjab. For hundreds of years, driven out by the harsh winter or latter day Dogra tyrants, Kashmiri Muslims and their families came down from the vale to Sialkot, Lahore and Amritsar and settled in their droves. Here, their customs, dress, language and cuisine underwent a metamorphosis. Continue reading “Shahid Jalal’s new paintings”

Picasso on indifference

My dear friend Isa D, has refreshed the memory of this fabulous quote from Pablo Picasso.

This quote is extremely pertinent to the current times when the choices are quite stark and paths unclear. Yet, silence shall not be the right response.

… Artists who live and work with spiritual values cannot and should  not remain indifferent to a conflict in which the highest values of humanity and civilization are at stake.” ~ Picasso

The image on the right is Picasso’s self portrait… courtesy artquotes.net