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This article was first published 5 years ago  » News » This Mulk of mine

This Mulk of mine

By Shreekant Sambrani
August 24, 2018 10:38 IST
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'We demonise the Others.'
'We are constantly reminded that they are different and are an existential threat to Us.'
'The toxin of Nellie in 1983, Delhi in 1984 and Gujarat in 2002 is not yet flushed out of our body politic,' says Shreekant Sambrani.

A scene from Mulk

If you watch just one film a year, or for that matter, in a decade, Mulk by Anubhav Sinha is the one you can't afford to miss.

At one level, it is a superbly scripted, acted, directed and shot picture with an intense courtroom drama.

The plot jumps at you straight out of the daily headlines and the characters are what you see around you all the time -- in other words, you and I.

The ensemble cast of known and unknown actors is perfect for their respective roles. Rishi Kapoor and Taapsee Pannu have easily the best roles, the kind actors would die for, but all others are no less noteworthy.

But that is not why I recommend this movie. I do so partly because as Shekhar Gupta rightly observed, 'it brings to you the challenges of an ordinary Muslim family in modern India'.


My principal reason for appreciating and recommending Mulk is that at a fundamental level, it is a definitive statement of what India has become three-score and eleven years after it threw off the yoke of imperialism with a heavy price of division of not just a land mass but a people and their collective psyches.

It poses the existential question: Is India about us and them, the Other, or is it about us?

It easily bears comparison with M S Sathyu's Garm Hava (1973) and Govind Nihalani's Tamas, based on the novel by Bhisham Sahni (1987), the two best movies about Independent India.

What makes a nation, and not a mere legal or constitutional entity, when diverse cultures and identities cohabit given geographies with great discomfort is the central concern of these exceptional films, particularly Mulk.

History is replete with instances of nation-States constructed out of such situations falling apart.

Both the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics and Yugoslavia, despite apparently stable existence of over 50 years, could not overcome the fissures of cultures and ethnicity.

The original Pakistan was not homogeneous culturally and contiguous geographically. The shared religion of the two halves was not strong enough adhesive to hold them together beyond two decades.

The world's oldest republic, the United States of America, paid the heavy price of a four-year long bloody civil war to remain united thanks to Abraham Lincoln's extraordinary leadership.

Closer to our times, another leader, Nelson Mandela, whose birth centenary we are observing now, rose magnificently above the physical and mental torture he suffered for long to form a rainbow nation which would reconcile the former tormentors with their victims.

Tragically, another leader often compared to him, Aung San Suu Kyi has badly faltered by not being able to prevent when in power the persecution and driving out of Myanmar the Rohingya minority.

The vivisection of colonial India was accompanied by an exodus to both sides of the border, the largest mankind has known, and carnage of epic proportions. extraordinary leadershipThat left deep scars on the collective psyches of the entire people which have not heeled after 70 years.

We firmly believe that the abhorrence of India is what defines Pakistan. But we do not recognise that we too have similar emotions.

The chauvinist public prosecutor of Mulk thunderously pronounces, 'Mughal chale gaye magar jihadi chhod gaye (the Mughals may have gone but they left behind jihadi).'

That instinctively appeals to even those non-Muslims in India who have no connection whatsoever with Partition.

Mahatma Gandhi was the one leader whose conscience was too troubled to savour the celebration of Independence. He was in Noakhali tending to the refugees when we celebrated our tryst with destiny.

Even as we gear up for what would be a massive observance of the 150th anniversary of his birth next year, we have forgotten this legacy of his and trivialised it to mere illustrations on paper currency and the omnipresent graphic symbol for the Swachch Bharat campaign.

My mulk today is an odd collection of a million mutinies raging, large and small, as Sir Vidia Naipaul so aptly put it. Some of them arise from frustrated aspirations, which could well become productive drives.

But most arise from our wearing our supposed religious sentiments on our sleeves. A sickening succession of lynchings (with increasing evidence of collusion between vigilantes and local police) and wanton hooliganism in the name of religion are staple headlines of the daily news bulletins.

The rage feeds on itself. We demonise the Others.

We are constantly reminded that they are different and are an existential threat to Us. That is perilous at all times, but a majoritarian sense of victimhood could be explosive.

The toxin of Nellie in 1983, Delhi in 1984 and Gujarat in 2002 is not yet flushed out of our body politic.

A year ago, white supremacists rioted in Charlottesville, Virginia while Donald J Trump prevaricated and pontificated.

The Canadian psychoanalyst/evolutionary biologist Jordan Peterson is much in the news presently, thanks to his controversial new book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.

His recommendation of a return to Judeo-Christian teachings can be broadly interpreted as an advocacy of ethical and moral values based on a society's historical evolution.

Sadly, that is at a discount today in India.

In our pell-mell rush to modernity, we have placed techniques on a pedestal, completely ignoring humanities as integral parts of education. We have thus lost sight of a liberal compass.

Our leaders of all stripes issue perfunctory and at times delayed condemnations of violent lawlessness. But many stoke these fires covertly and at times even overtly in the hope of electoral gains.

The wise judge in Mulk advises us to check the calendar for election dates when we face an upsurge of violence.

The National Register of Citizenship is the latest buzzword. Fiery speeches about Bangladeshi infiltrators at the opposite end of the country from one set of leaders are matched by nightmarish images of civil war and bloodbath conjured up by the other side.

The denouement in the film Mulk is of a feel-good variety. But it is unlikely to occur in my real mulk.

Abraham Lincoln used just 227 words to summarise the essence of his idea of America in the 1865 Gettysburg Address. The 100 most eloquent of these are:

'Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us …— that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.'

How one wishes on this Independence Day that we had heard such words from the ramparts of the Red Fort!

Shreekant Sambrani is an economist.

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