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June 23, 2000


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Ponytail in a twist

In a time and a galaxy far, far away, I used to be a darn good food-and-travel writer. I'd painfully slog away with a pen for a fortnight, even do all the illustrations myself, after which, the sub-editor in charge of the colour supplement would merrily reduce my jewel of a composition by a third or a half (depending on how comfortable his train ride had been) and regularly bring me to tears. Princess that I am, I'd go over his head to the sainted editor and moan and groan and make threats. The sainted one would appease me (meaning, hear me out with a glazed look), have a word with the sub, and in the next installment, my piece would be horribly slashed again...

Finally - when a piece on London's restaurants was presented as one on Wimbledon ("Service with a Smile," if you please, replete with a photograph of Martina) - I decided to take matters in my hands. I ventured into the sub's smoke-filled den and asked, what exactly did he have against me and my qalaam? He said, and I'll never forget his baffled expression: "Whaat is this garlic and coriander and cumin? Whyyy are you wasting yourself in all this nonsense? Write something useful! Write something that makes people think! You have it in you! I don't understand how long you'll go on and on about onions!!"

The dart struck home. Within a month, I had assayed into social issues, and within two, politics. But today, I have the same baffled look on my face as I ask this erstwhile sub-ed of mine: Prem, whaat is this leg-break and snick and gully? Whyyy are you wasting yourself in all this nonsense?! Write something useful! Write something that makes people think! You have it in you - look what a fabulous piece you whipped up on Azharuddin's doing an OJ. Bloodthirsty fundie that I am, even I didn't think of the points you raised - including the one that the government should stand Azhar in the dock for fanning communal fires - and you still shy away from politics? Heavens, man, we at least need food every day; what percentage of our lives is dedicated to cricket?? What a blasted waste...

Of course, I'm digging my own career-grave. Because Prem's article has made any further commentary on Azhar's dastardliness totally superfluous. Not that I'd have taken Azhar to task, mind you. For I think he's a victim: Azhar did precisely what I expected him to do since that is what he's been conditioned to do - by the likes of my dear friend Saisuresh. Sai's is the mind-set I want to tackle; he's gone to town (with a record number of 12 asterisks, I may add) to prove that "non-Hindus in general, and Muslims in particular, are discriminated against in India" and that it's twice as hard for a Muslim to succeed here...

More is the irony since it was Sai himself who had once told Sajid Bhombal that "please do not see Azhar as a Muslim, but see him as an Indian." Yes, we Indians are like this only: we say one thing, and think quite another...

Naturally, I take issue with Sai regarding all of his assertions, but the one that leads the roost is that "heartwarmingly, among those astounded by this [Azhar's] statement are Muslims themselves." Hunh? Why is your heart warmed, Ponytail...? Let me ask you this: Is it easier for you to believe that all Indian Muslims would support Azhar's discrimination claim...? Hey, just by the virtue of being Muslim, how can they not be in tune with that baddy Azhar, right? Well... well... well... if I say that I was taken aback by Javed Akhtar's "He was showered with admiration and applause by millions, irrespective of caste or religion. What more respect could he have got from society? Now he is accusing that very society of ill-treatment. Who's going to buy it? I am not," it is understandable. For I'm anyway said to wear coloured glasses and thus see people as chunks of saffron and green. But you?! You're the one whom Sajid endorses as "perhaps the best suited to speak frankly on these matters"; you're the one who held that there was something wrong with Sajid's line of thought that part of his sympathy for Azhar was due to the fact that Azhar, like Sajid, is a Muslim. Ponytail, why didn't you just think, a lot of cricket-loving Indians are astounded by Azhar's plea...?

Not too long ago, Nadeem Saifi, accused of having conspired to kill Gulshan Kumar and currently on the lam in London, too, alleged communal bias while contesting his extradition case. When questioned about the frequent raising of such religious-discrimination bogies by the accused, sociologist Imtiaz Ahmed of the JNU said, "When the secular credentials of the State are in doubt, more and more people will use this plea as defence." I think the good professor, betraying his own prejudices, meant that the advent of a so-called Hindutvawadi government has caused minorities to go more on the defensive; meaning, the fault lies with the BJP. How Hindutvawadi and nationalistic that party is, I eschew for the moment.

But even so, there is some truth in Prof Ahmed's words: People have used and will use the discrimination plea as a defence because India has *never* espoused secularism. To be politically and socially secular, an individual and a government need to disregard everything concerned with religion or religious belief -- including reservations on caste/religion lines and parallel-running civil and criminal codes. Every demand for these divisive measures is a plea which revolts against the ideals of true secularism - and every so-called secularist of India has always supported it. If making discrimination pleas is an understandable backlash to Hindutva, don't forget that Hindutva itself is a backlash to this pseudo-secularism.

It's not just "the Indian establishment - an establishment that is dominated by Hindus like me" which is to blame for the Muslim community's problems, Sai. I see a slip in Sajid's essay, too. And I don't mean his sympathising with a fellow-Muslim, either - biases of this sort are perfectly natural and no sin as long as they don't interfere with a person and his sense of justice. What disturbs me is Sajid's "Having been disappointed by the Bukhari type of leadership, of a pessimistic type, Muslims really looked at Azhar's success as a prime example of what India could do for them." This, I find atrocious! What India can do for Muslims?? Why?! Ask what Muslims can do for India! Is it not their motherland, too? And why should India do anything for Muslims - or Christians or Parsis or Hindus...? Aren't you the guys who keep clamouring for a secular India - one where all religions are equal? I don't go around thinking that India didn't do this or that for me! Why should you?

Sajid also writes, "Azhar showed to Indian minorities that if you have capabilities, you can rise to any post in this country... Azhar showed how easy it is - provided you have what it takes to be successful... You inspired us to believe in ourselves... You showed us the way to look beyond our Muslim identity..." Apart from summarily trashing Sai's claim that "for a Muslim it is doubly hard to succeed in India; these are facts that are well known and incontrovertible," he correctly pinpoints the importance of individual ability. Sajid, I ask you, do you attribute Azhar's failures to a third party like Islam...? No, na? Then WHY do you attribute his success to another entity like India?? India has done zero towards Azhar's success - he did it all by himself.

Ponytail, is it really true that "non-Hindus in general, and Muslims in particular, are discriminated against, whether it comes to education and employment"? You shy from quoting figures to buttress your argument; instead, all you say is that "these are facts that are well known and incontrovertible." Excuse me, but "incontrovertible"...? As in "indisputable" and "undeniable"? Says who?! Despite being a mere 12% of the population, Muslims have shone through in all walks of life: Azhar was the captain of the cricket team; MF Husain is India's premier artist; IM Kadri, our leading architect; Zakir Husain, our former President, and his namesake, our foremost tabla-player; stars from Dilip Kumar and Madhubala to Shah Rukh Khan and Shabana, have ruled the film industry. BUT, these are just "trophy Muslims"... Then what about the totally Muslim-dominated trades and crafts like furniture and woodworks, tailoring and embroidery, and the leather industry - with Muslim artisans working under affluent Muslim entrepreneurs? Or are you saying that to disprove your silly assertion, one must name only those employed/affluent Muslims who can't possibly be know and named?? A cute Catch-22 you've thrown with that "trophy" shot. Unfortunately, it doesn't wash.

I've sworn to curtail the length of this column so I'm not gonna pick detailed nits. However, there is this little thing: "I know of housing societies that won't allow a Muslim within a mile of them, so what are we talking about?" Ponytail, have you heard of, say, Talkamaki Wadi or Poornanand Housing Society? No non-Saraswat lives there. So should I make that a ground for alleging a deep-seated and deliberate discrimination policy against all Koknastha Brahmins...? Whaaaat, man, Sai...

Varsha Bhosle

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