The Choice in this forthcoming General
The Hindu civilizational consciousness is that of caste based
hierarchy which considers the dalits as untouchables less than
even animals as animals can be touched and some are even
worshiped. Similarly, “Hindu” civilizational consciousness
I was in Lucknow when Sarabjit Singh
died in Lahore. My purpose in visiting the city of my childhood
was to address a much milder agenda: to attend a seminar organised
by the local Urdu Media Guild on May Day. Since May Day this year
coincided with celebration of Prophet Mohammad’s daughter Fatima
Zehra’s birthday, the organisers made this coincidence the theme
of the seminar.
Trust Lucknow to have preserved in its nooks and corners, here and
there, a little bit of the cultural togetherness which was once
the dominant feature of its social attractions.
Despite all my efforts at accommodating change, I have often
despaired at standards of political demonstration organised, for
example by Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati against each other.
Mayawati’s was “dhikkar” (damn) rally some years ago, which
Mulayam Singh reciprocated with a “thu, thu” (spit on you) rally.
That is why it was such a relief to be at the seminar searching
for common ground between workers’ Day and dignity of labour
enunciated by founders of Islam. Earliest Islam had itself
attempted to build on a “respect for the poor” available in the
Bible, even though the likes of Bernard Shaw aptly rebutted
romanticisation of poverty: “Modern poverty is not the poverty
that was blest in the Sermon on the Mount."
There was, however, no ambiguity in the minds of the organizers.
The seminar dwelt on the example set by the prophet and his
daughter in maintaining an exemplary simplicity in their own
lives. Even though Fatima’s mother, Khadija, was one of the
richest women in Arabia, Fatima worked out a unique division of
labour with Fizza who shared her household chores: they rested on
alternate days. Daily chores in those days included grinding grain
In these days of creeping intolerance, citing parts of history
from the religious domain could well be misunderstood but not in
some enlightened arenas of Lucknow. Among those who held forth on
the theme were former High Court Judge Pradeep Kant and former
Vice Chancellor of Lucknow University Roop Rekha Verma.
What I found particularly enchanting was the poetry on the family
of the Prophet, linking it to Workers Day. This was composed and
recited by Sanjay Mishra “Shauq”. An Urdu poet with a name like
Mishra still reaching across religious boundaries? I rubbed my
eyes with disbelief. Sad to reflect, how Sanjay Mishra “Shauq’s”
literary ancestors from Chunni Lal Dilgir in the 19th century
right upto Krishen Behari “Noor” only decades ago, writing on
themes of the Prophet and Karbala, have become part of our
collective amnesia. Abdul Rahim Khane Khana, Maulana Hasrat Mohani
and Qazi Nazrul Islam have, in our minds likewise, been separated
from compositions on Lord Rama, Krishna, Shiva and Shakti.
The next morning, just when my mother, now 94, brother and others
in the family were talking about the previous evening’s seminar, I
received a message on my mobile from a friend in Delhi: “Switch on
the TV because Sarabjit Singh has died."
We looked at each other with sadness, of course, but it was tinged
with a sense of foreboding. We did not have to exchange a word to
realize that the same thought crossed our minds when the TV came
alive in a menacing sort of way. The anchor with angry,
threatening faces in the five windows on the screen, demanded
action, sought vengeance and generally mobilized political leaders
on an ultra hardline platform towards an indefinable end. Were
they inducing a societal, nervous breakdown for TRP ratings?
Political leaders on the eve of a make-or-break election, out of
touch with the people, are liable to mistake a noisy media for
public opinion. Therefore, on cue, came BJP president Rajnath
Singh. “We should call back our High Commissioner from Islamabad”
he thundered. Not to be left behind, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
lamented Pakistani leaders not having listened to “our pleas” to
save the “brave son of India”. No one thought of placing in
perspective a simple fact: Sarabjit’s conviction and sentence are
a 23-year-old story which has been invested with so much media
attention only recently.
Into this generally torrid atmosphere jumps Yasin Malik demanding
the remains of Afzal Guru hanged and buried in Tihar jail. He is
taken into “preventive custody”, even as agitations gather
momentum in New Delhi and Punjab against the court verdict on the
1984 anti Sikh riots.
To take the sting out of this agitation which cannot but have a
potent anti-Congress thrust, Amrinder Singh, former Congress chief
minister of Punjab, raises the pitch: Sarabjit’s death is
“officially decreed, cold blooded murder” by Pakistan.
In the midst of this singular lack of balance does Sanjay Mishra “Shauq”,
come across as escapism? Are there others like him ploughing a
lonely furrow in their enclaves and who deserve to be identified
and linked to a bigger grid?
Saeed Naqvi is a senior political commentator. He can be reached