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July 23, 1997


Who's that girl?

Syed Firdaus Ashraf

Madhuri Dixit and Salman Khan in Hum Aapke Hain Koun! "You don't know who Madhuri Dixit is?" I asked incredulously.

"No," said hotel owner Rasool Nasir Khojar calmly.

"What about Shahrukh?" I was nearing the catatonic state. "Surely you must know who Shahrukh Khan is!"

"No," Khojar was beginning to sound like a stuck record, "I have not heard of this person too."

And the man lives in Bombay city, otherwise known as the home to Bollywood, India's vast Hindi film industry.

Khojar is not the only one. There are at least 11,000 Chilliya Muslims in Bombay who profess absolute ignorance about the star-studded Hindi film industry. Apparently, their religion does not permit them to see films or photographs.

"Islam prohibits its followers from seeing photographs or movies," says Maulana Adam Habib from the Gulshan Co-operative Housing Society mosque. "The Koran clearly states that those who draw pictures or see photographs will go to hell after their death. No one in Gulshan Nagar sees, talks or reads about films."

The scenario is the same at Momin Nagar, Jogeshwari (west). Not a single household in both these colonies -- Momin Nagar, where nearly 10,000 people reside, has 14 buildings with 830 flats and Gulshan Nagar, Versova, Andheri, houses 1,500 people in 11 buildings with 300 flats -- boasts of a television set. The phenomenon seems to be peculiar to the Chilliya Muslims; television sets abound in other Muslim localities in Bombay.

This, though, was not the case earlier. There were families in Gulshan Nagar who secretly kept television sets in their homes. Until 1994, when their sect head, Maulana Abdul Rehman, specially came down from Palanpur, Gujarat, to lecture them on the evils of television.

"The people," recalls Ilyas Chamal Bohrania, chairman, GCHS, "were so impressed by the Maulana's lecture that, when he told them to throw their sets out of their house... they actually obeyed him."

Illustration In a week's time, the 20-odd families who owned television sets had chucked them out of the nearest window. "Outsiders who heard of this," says Bohrania, "came here to buy their sets. Only, they found no sellers. Our people believe that television is evil and did not want to inflict this sin on anyone. They preferred a monetary loss, instead of being guilty of perpetrating a sin."

Which begs the question -- what happen when Chilliya Muslims get married? Don't they shoot pictures for their weddings? More importantly, what about the passport photographs that are needed if they want to go on Haj?

"Haj is an exception; it is the one of the few occasions when we take passport-size photographs," says Maulana Habib. "Our religion allows us to shoot pictures in situations where there is no alternative. Making a passport is one such exception. However, we never shoot pictures during weddings. I'm sure you will never find photographs of any Chilliya Muslim. We do not allow anyone to shoot our pictures."

Does this mean that no Chilliya Muslim watches television or sits through a movie?

"No," says Bohrania quietly. "There are people who watch television, but they do so with informing anyone. They can also keep television sets in their homes if they want to. How is anyone to know? And who can stop them?"

Shahrukh Khan As Mohammad Rafique, a Gulshan Nagar resident, could confirm. "Though I do not keep a TV at home, I do sometimes go to the theatre. The last films I watched were Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and Hum Aapke Hain Koun! and I enjoyed them immensely. The people in my colony know that I like to watch an occasional film, but they do not raise any kind of objection. However, I do it on the sly, without informing my wife or parents."

Somewhere down the line, these people seems to have slipped out of the march towards the technology-driven 21st century. "Our religion," says Maulana Habib firmly, "warns us that, when science reaches its peak, Qayamat (the day of judgement) is near. And the world will end on the day inventions and discoveries stagnate in the field of science." Most Chilliya Muslims believe Qayamat is due since they feel stagnation is already taking place in the field of science.

Their knowledge of world affairs, on the other hand, is minuscule. They did not have much to say on the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Or the revival of Islamic forces across the world.

But Abdul Gani, contractor and resident of Momin Nagar, has a point to make. "The absence of television does not mean we do not enjoy life. In fact, we can boast of a social life which television watchers are not privileged to enjoy. We do visit places like Juhu beach, Gateway of India and Hanging Garden with our family. As a result, we are more united as a community."

Illustration: Sunil Krishnan

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