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Friday, 28 October 2011

Transcript of my webchat on IBN Live

Following is the complete transcript of my live chat on IBN Live on 28 October at 5.30 pm. The discussion was pegged on my new book Release & Other Stories published by Harper Collins.

http://ibnlive.in.com/chat/rakhshanda-jalil/everyday-lives-of-indian-muslims/728.html


Q
What is the reason behind the poor condition of Indian muslims. What can be done to improve it ?
Asked by: Akshat

A
I am no expert on Indian Musims. I am only a writer. But I think education may hold the key. It may open doors that will lead to general advancement. With education, come a lot of other things such as employment, financial indepndence, integration with other commmunities, social skills, better health and hygiene standards and upward mobility. So while there might be a lot of reasons, what needs tobe done now to improve things is I suppose graeter opportunities for education. Let the government's motto be: education for all Muslims!
Q
we r insecure citizens in india if i hv beard or having unshaved face then im on d scanner y? y nt sikhs with katars in hands a weapon?
Asked by: safder
A
There are insecure and ignorant people everywhere -- not just in India. In India, we have witnessed some of the worst atrocities committed against sikhs shortly after MRs Indira Gandhi's assassination. I live in delhi. I remember those grisly images quite vvidly. Moreover, Sikhs in America were roughed up after the Obama busines. I wd urge you not to make comparisons. Remember, many people have suffered because of teh ignorance and short-sightedness of just a handful. You have answered your own question in a way by using the word insecure. It is insecurity that is at the root of such stupididty.
Q
Rakshanda, don't you think that ordinary, everyday life of Indian Muslim is no different than that of any other person be that may Hindu, Sikh or Christian? Yes, the quality of his life can be improved if the litercy level is better.
Asked by: Sham Vadalkar
A
I have addressed this qs in one of my previous answers. To recapitualte, what I have said is precsiely what u r suggesting. In a couple of my stories, if u take away exeternal markers of identity such as names, some of the stories could be abt any Indians, not just Muslims. In response to another qs, I have said that education is a great leveller. I agree education can improve quality of life for all Indians, including Muslims of course because they have for a long time occupied the bottom of the literacy pyramid.
Q
Doesn't Islam talk about heaven for all muslims and hell for anyone else? How can such exclusivist thinking encourage respect for all religions?
Asked by: Ananth
A
Such ideas can only come from ignorance! I think you need to read up a little more on Islam. This is precisely the sort of stereotyped, inaccurate, handed-down ideas about Islam and Muslims that I have been chaffing against all my adult life.
Q
Hi Rakshanda, I feel that it is always good to read books that are non-fictitious (real lives, educatives etc) rather than cooked up ones. I had a little dispute with another writer in the previous chat session here. That author says that fiction books are more useful than the other ones. What do you say about this apart from the answer 'it varies with perception' ?
Asked by: Swaroop
A
I can't dispute your choice of reading material' Each to his own. as a reader, I like both fiction and non-fiction. But when it comes to writing -- and I have written more non-fiction than fiction -- I can say that fiction is a highly privilged space. It allows the writer to say a great deal more. I wont use the word 'useful' becaise I personally never read 'useful' fiction, but certainly fiction allows you to say much more in a more memorable, more enjoyable, more imaginative way.Since I don't go looking for the educational element in my choice of reading material, I fortunately dont have this problem. For isntance, on Diwali day, I was re-reading (for the nth time) one of the P G Wodehuse books. Now what can be less useful than that? But how delightfully readable it is even after so many readings?
Q
The "ordinary" Muslim suffers in day to day life because of a few who have caused terror. Will this fear and notion of Muslims being "questionable" ever go away from our society?
Asked by: Saif
A
One lives in hope for it is truly terrible to be without hope. By living transparent lives, by holding one's head with dignity, by gaining confidence through education and empowerment, I think we can hopefully shed the 'questionable' tag. I think education is a great leveller. It brings you t par with your peers where fewer questions are asked. I don't say no questions are asked if you are an affluent or educated Muslims. No, unfortuantely, there are enough examples of random harrassment caused to people at airports and in other ways simply because they happen to have a Muslim name. But knowing your rights helps. Knowing that you are not to blame for other people's wrongs helps.
Q
"Everyday lives of Indian Muslims" what does it mean to you??
Asked by: azan
A
I think the ordinariness of the Indian Muslims gets overlooked everytime they are treated as the 'other'. Reactions vary from patronising to exoticising. In some of my stories, I have deliberetately cast them in such a way that if you change the names of some of the characters (names that are pointers to their Muslim identity), they could be stories about any Indians. In one particular story -- The Stalker -- there are no names. Only the daughter's name -- Nida -- gives a clue that this family might be Muslim. I have placed this family in a situation that can happen to anybody. That is alos the point I am trying to make .... yes, some of these characters are Muslims but they are ordinary Indians too. All Indians have multiple identities -- we are Tamil Brahmins, Kashmiri pandits, and so on. In my case , I am an Indian Muslim. I see no conflict in having more than one identity.
Q
What you want to convey from this topic "Everyday lives of Indian Muslims"?
Asked by: Sahil Makkar
A
I think I have addressed this question a short while ago in response to one of the early posts.
Q
Why are there so many religions? Why do we creating more diversity? Why Indian Muslims/Christians/Hindus? I believe that what ever way people follow to worship God is their own personal thing. I made my own religion, Its called "Oneness". Is it possible to implement it?
Asked by: yashwanth
A
Good for you! I am happy for you. But I think religions are a fact of life. I dont think they must necessarily divide; ideally, they ought not to. In fact, the way secularism is enshrined in our Constitution it allows us the freedom to practise our (different) religions. Ideally, if we did so in our personal space there should be no problem. I think secularism doesnot mean the absence of religion; instead, it means respect for diversity. As to why have so many religions? I think each shows a path that leads to a higher One. the debate on religion and rationlity is an old one. I am not equipped to get into it. What I can say for myself is that my own deep-seated belief in Islam is in no way incompatible with my respect for all religions.
Q
Do you plan to write a full-fledged novel anytime soon?
Asked by: Ashish
A
Yes. Actually, I'd love to. I have a sketchy idea of what it might be. I have a collection of 'ingredients': a family that has fallen on hard times, a sister who is left behind in a large rundown home, a brother who lives abroad and sends erratic sums of money for their upkeep, the deep sense of mourning that enevelops the sisiter's life for the many missed opportunities. I want to locate the story in a Shia Muslim family in one of the smaller, more obscure qasbahs of UP.
Q
How did you collect all these information?
Asked by: ataul haque
A
By living life for 48 years!!! Seriously, one writes from what one has seen or experienced or believed in. Fiction allows you to create characters by mixing up parts of peple you may have known and through them convey larger truths about life and people. Sometimes, you invent characters because a situation demands it but somewhere, even in the invention, you as a writer are drawing upon life. I do believe life is teh greatest teacher. Everyday you learn something new. Fiction allows you to dip into your mixed bag of knowledge and bring out something that will, hopefully, mean something to at least some of your readers. To answer your question more directly, if you read the story called "The Strange Man" in my book, the woman in teh roadside cafe is me; thats how i -- as you put it -- "collect" my information. She describes her favourite pastime as people-watching. Well, its mine too. I love to observe people, take in a situation, just look at things.
Q
ASAK Rasshanda.. What exactly covers your book ?
Asked by: ARIF
A
If I were asked to describe my own stories I would say they are about life as I have seen it at first hand. That many of my characters happen to be Indi Muslims I would say it is because I am one my self! Moreover, I am a proud member of the Indian middle class and that also gets reflected in my stories. I hope that answers your qs; if not, i would strongly urge you to read the stories yourself !!!
Q
what is the difference between indian muslims & pakistan muslims?
Asked by: GK
A
They are essentially different; they are Indians and Pakistanis primarily. That they are Muslims too is a different matter. Of course, some of them may share certian cultural ties. Those who have migrated from parts of India may retain and thus share similarities of language, culture or cuisine. Those from certain provinces or specific geographical areas may remember things, such as what they ate during the summer months or how they felt when the first monsoon showers fell upon parched land . I mean that sort of collective memory. I have listed what they might or might not share. It is impossible to list the differences;they are too many because of political reasons and the choices made by history. At a theological level, all Muslims are part of a l;arger umma. The notion of surrender is something all Muslims share be it Muslims from India or Africa or Indonesia.
Q
Madam, Nowadays, there is a general notion in society that all terrorists are Muslims (thanks to the rampant terror attacks). That is not true. Terrorists have no religion. How, in your book, have you addressed this issue without hurting anyone's sentiments?
Asked by: Sanjay
A
You are right: terrorists have no religion. Though the media, and popular perception, seems to often take two separate words -- Muslim and Fundamentalists -- in the same breath thus causing the entirely wrong assumption that (all) Muslims are fundamentalists and by extension terrorists. Bioth assumptions are equally wrong. In my stories in this collection, I have addressed the issue of terrorism and the singling out of Muslims post 9/11 in an ablique way... by inserting it in a larger narrative. In one story I have talked about bombs going off in a city; but I have taken no names and pointed no fingers. Some day in the future, I want t address the issue more directly. Hopefully, in the next batch of stories I shall publish.
Q
Would like to say only one thing about such a chat topic. More the merrier.
Asked by: Abhijit Chatterjee
A
I tink the topic deserves to be addressed with all the humour and poise and honesty one can gather. I think the lives or ordinary Muslims needs to be talked about. We are as 'normal' as everybody else!
Q
rakshanda, what is the funniest stereotype that u have heard or come accross vis a vis Indian muslims
Asked by: shagufta k
A
The funniest by far is the qs that has actualy been asked to me several times: "Do u guys take a bath only once a month?" Next, I guess would be: "What does your mother wear?" I usually answer:"Leaves".

Ale Ahmad Suroor -- Centenary Celebrations



A nation’s social and intellectual history can be reconstructed by the life and work of its men of letters. Ale Ahmad Suroor (1911-2002), a major literary voice in the Indian sub-continent, was witness to the most tumultuous and most exciting part of the nation-building project. His long innings as a poet, prose stylist, literary critic and teacher bear testimony to a time when learning was not gleaned from books alone but distilled, drop by drop, from the press of life and living. His centenary, on 10 October, was marked by the inauguration of an exhibition devoted to his life and career at the National Archives of India.

Over 20,000 books, 400 original letters including those from Allama Iqbal, Maulana Azad, Dr Zakir Husain, Munshi Premchand, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, M F Husain, among others, as well as original nuskhe of ancient manuscripts from his family home in Badayun, medals, awards, artefacts, documents and rare photographs donated by his family to the country’s premier holding of archival material. Rare volumes of Tahzibul Akhlaq by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, entire volumes of Funoon, Nuqoosh, Shabkhoon, bound editions of Maulana Azad’s Al-Hilal, correspondence related to the Anjuman-e-Tarraqui-e-Urdu (Hind) which he headed for many years, make this collection a literary historian’s delight. Inaugurated by the eminent Urdu critic, Prof Gopichand Narang, the opening of the public exhibition was followed by the First Suroor Lecture, also delivered by Prof Narang. A week earlier, the National Council for the Promotion of Urdu Language (NCPUL) brought out an omnibus edition of Suroor sahab’s four volumes of poetry to mark the birth centenary celebrations

Born in the historic city of Budayun (for which it has been said that if you were to stand at any crossroad and toss a pebble, it is sure to strike a poet -- or two!), he had sipped the heady wine from a very early age. His pen-name, Suroor, was appropriate yet brim-full of delicious irony for a teetotaller. Characteristically, he once wrote:
In our time there was less wine but more ecstasy
In your time you have far more to drink, but still less rapture.


Poetry, Suroor sahab maintained, is not the language of 2+2=4; nor is it necessarily the opposite of prose, but something that runs parallel. In the Epilogue to his autobiography, Khwab Baqui Hain, he wrote:
‘Good poetry should illumine the mind; it should refresh the known and familiar and familiarize that which is fresh and invigorating. With its peculiar and unique use of language, its multi-layered allusions, its play on words, its capacity to contain a river in a goblet, poetry brings us closer to life, its many-splendored, magical, sweeping, often-contradictory selves. In doing so it makes us more sensitive, more sentient … Poetry does not bring about revolutions; it creates the right environment for upheavals in the mind. It is not a sword, but a lancet.’

Suroor sahab’s own poetry had none of the wild passion and rebellion that marked much of the poetry of Urdu progressive writers – with whom he was a fellow-traveller in the early, less trenchant days --  especially the poetry written in free-verse. Like beauty, he believed, poetry too had a thousand faces. In contrast to his vastly erudite and extremely scholarly critical writings, his ghazals and nazms have a sweet simplicity and a melodious, distinctly non-cerebral quality. Where his scholarly work is written from the head and appeals to reason and good sense and learning, his poetry is written from the heart. It is insightful, instinctive, and completely inornate. However, despite early critical and popular acclaim, he left behind only three collections (the fourth, entitled Lafz was published posthumously by his daughter, Mehjabeen Jalil, who is presently putting together a collection of his gharelu nazmein comprising saalgirah, mehndi, rukhsati, sehra, etc. for his children and grandchildren), as against a pile of prose writings. Why would a man so enthralled by the magic of words, so enraptured by the ‘rhythmical creation of beauty’ be so circumspect? In his own words:
Yes, I have kept lambent the flame of my longing
Knowing full well the hopelessness of desire


Suroor sahab’s poetry enriched his criticism and his criticism nourished his poetry. Both were rooted in his vast and varied reading of Indian and Western literatures. Single-handedly, Suroor sahab took the Urdu writer as also the Urdu critic out of his self-referential web and taught him to work not in isolation but in tandem with the great literatures of the world. Among his contemporaries he was the most balanced, moderate yet far-seeing. He wanted to go forward and experiment, taking along all that was the best and brightest from his own tradition, culture and values. A critic and writer, he believed, should never be put into neat pigeonholes such as progressive, Marxist, realist, surrealist or whatever happened to be the latest critical theory or fad. In Khwab Baqui Hain, he says:
‘The use of literary terms is inevitable in literary criticism. However, a critic’s language must, at all times, be accessible and unpretentious. Criticism takes the help of science but it is not a science; it is a branch of literature. It need not be the professional pursuit of university dons, nor an industry that caters to a limited group. Nor is its purpose solely to provide mental stimulation to a distinct circle of individuals. At its best, it ought to nurture the mind and inculcate a respect for human values.’

Tanquidii Ishare, his first collection of critical writing published in 1942, was followed in quick succession by Nai Aur Purane Chiragh (1946), Tanquid Kya Hai (1947), Adab aur Nazariya (1954), Jadidiyat aur Adab (1967), Nazar aur Nazariya (1973), and Masarrat se Basirat Tak (1974), thus earning him a formidable reputation as one of the most well-regarded voices to emerge from the Urdu-speaking world. Some of his other significant writings include: Iqbal aur Unka Falsafa, Iqbal: Nazar aur Shairi, Urdu aur Hindustani Tehzeeb, Urdu Mein Danishvari ki Riwayat, Iqbal, Faiz aur Hum, Iqbal ki Ma‘naviyat, Kuch Khutbe Kuch Maqale, Danishvar Iqbal, Fikr-e-Roshan, Pehchan aur Parakh, Urdu Tehrik, and Afkar ke Diye.

His most fruitful years were as Professor and Head of the Urdu Department at Aligarh. He loved to teach, to give freely of all that he himself knew and cherished. Apart from a brief stint as Visiting Professor at the University of Chicago, he worked untiringly for the Anjuman Taraqqi-e Urdu, the Sahitya Akademi and the government-sponsored Board for the Promotion of Urdu. This was followed by a Fellowship at the Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla, and his last office as Director, Iqbal Institute at the University of Kashmir. His most valued contribution remains in the field of Iqbaliyat. At a time when Iqbal was reviled in India as the anti-national, pro-Pakistan poet, Suroor sahab brought the focus back on Iqbal the poet through several revisionist studies on him, the poet revered by many as a visionary touched by the celestial Muse.

Awards and encomiums followed in abundant measure: the Uttar Pradesh Urdu Akademi Award, Delhi Urdu Akademi Award, Sahitya Akademi Award, a gold medal by the President of Pakistan for services to Urdu literature, Ghalib Modi Award, topped by the Padam Bhushan and the Iqbal Samman. Never one to rest on his laurels, Suroor Sahab wrote and read and reflected. On his seventy-fifth birthday he wrote:
Sitare maand hote hain to suraj bi to ugte hain
Yeh saaye mera kya lenge, qaba hi to chura lenge


In the revised edition of his autobiography, he wrote,
‘I am a Musalman and, in the words of Maulana Azad, “caretaker of the thirteen hundred years of the wealth that is Islam.” My deciphering of Islam is the key to the interpretation of my spirit. I am also an Indian and this Indianness is as much a part of my being. Islam does not deter me from believing in my Indian identity. Again, to quote Maulana Azad, if anything “it shows the way”...’

In revisiting his legacy in this year that marks his centenary, we in India would do well to pay heed to his words.

(An Abridged version of this article appeared in The Friday Times, Lahore, 28 October, 2011.)