Reading this book by Neyaz Farooquee, I was constantly reminded of the scene from the Kundan Shah’s classic film ‘Kabhi Haan, Kabhi Na’, where the Hero Shahrukh Khan is moping on the sea shore, sad that the girl whom he loves does not reciprocate his feelings. He plays a sad tune on his harmonica and the Mafia Don of the area who has taken a liking for him hears him play. The Don has his sidekick with him who is perpetually noting down all that the Don says. The Don tells him, “Yahin aas paas koi sala bada sad hai re!”. The lackey tries to write down and the Don buts in, “Note mat karo, feel karo, feel karo!” So it is with this book, to those who read it, I have only one humble request to make, ‘Don’t get into analyzing the book, feel it!”
The book seeks to make the readers ‘understand’ what it is to be a Muslim in India (or has been for some time) or how the Muslim in India thinks of himself. Many might find what the author feels to be an exaggeration; his lurking fear, insecurity and loss of faith in state institutions. But let me tell you, the insecurities of a minority are only for minorities to live and understand. Ask any Kashmiri Pandit how he felt in the 90s? During my assignments abroad, especially in war torn and (so called) radicalized societies like Sudan, it felt strange (for a privileged majority in my own country) and very uncomfortable when any Arab gentleman walking on the street very politely stopped me and after a few pleasantries asked me if I was a Muslim! Many a times the conversation ended with a polite nod after I said No. No rudeness was involved but one could immediately feel a sense of ‘othering’. Well you could call me paranoid, but I guess feelings are always personal! It is the same feeling you get when you are made to stand in a different line at the airport during your travels to the USA and your bags opened (most of the time). The TSA is invariably polite and businesslike, but you know they are doing this because you are not ‘them’. In the end of course, both of you smile, you at the relief of the bag check getting over, and they at the stupidity (so you would like to believe) of checking the bag of a friendly Hindu Indian!
The book begins with the Batla House encounter of 2008 and the debate surrounding the genuineness of it and how it affected the life of the author who came to Delhi from the backwaters of Gopalgunj district to make a life for himself through good education and to finally become a ‘bada aadami’ as desired by his family. Part memoir, part personal history and part political narrative the book does a commendable job of highlighting the insecurities of the young Muslim community in India as well as their ghettiozation. If there is one hero in the book it is Prof. Mushirul Hassan, the VC of Jamia who stands by his students, gives them confidence and seeks to reinforce their faith in the Indian constitutional values. It is the same Mushirul Hassan whom the author once detested (a BJP supporter, anti Islam) for having supported Salman Rushdie. He was roughed up by the students of Jamia and had to be hospitalized. In a way it is also the breaking of stereotypes for the author and reassessment of his victim consciousness. Thus the book is also a journey of author’s discovery of self, the broadening of his perspectives, This process of self discovery leads him to reach out and discover the (earlier detested) ‘other’..i.e Hindu priest of the nearby temple, the Jews of India, the Christian Afghans, the RSS wala etc, each making him realize their similarities with him. Sadly, this ‘othering’ is not only a one way street. He finds his Hindu friend of Jamia Nagar celebrating Diwali asked by a young Muslim kid as to why he is wearing a payjama kurta, which is a Muslim dress?
All in all a very good read. It raises may questions. answers to which should be sought from the majority community and the Indian state. However, I would also request the minority community the ‘read’ and ‘feel’ this book, for it does raise (in my view) many hidden questions (like their prejudices and stereotypes) to which only they can provide an answer. How about some serious ‘SAMVAAD’ outside the rhetorical reply of ‘Indian state is Secular’ as per 42nd amendment?
After all in a multi cultural society we should never forget this couplet by Sharshar Sailani;
चमन में इख़्तिलात ऐ रंग ओ बू* से बात बनती है,
हम ही हम हैं तो क्या हम हैं, तुम्हीं तुम हो तो क्या तुम हो?
*इख़्तिलात ऐ रंग ओ बू: रंग और खुशबू का मिल जाना