Sometimes, memories stacked away for long, come tumbling out. If these are not just about personal nostalgia, dwelling upon them could serve some public good.
It was 31 October, 1984. The time may have been around 11 am. I was taking my second term exams for class XI in a room on the ground floor of the science block of the Delhi Public School, R K Puram, New Delhi. Unfortunately, mine was the first seat very close by to the only entrance and the exit for the room. ‘Unfortunately’ because this made seeking the help and guidance of fellow examinees in this ordeal a rather adventurous proposition. Nevertheless, I focussed on the question paper intently, trying to make sense of what was expected of me.
A while after the examination had taken off, the teacher invigilating in our room and other teachers in the adjacent rooms flocked together at the door of our room for a conference of sorts, each having a cup of tea in their hands which had been duly served by that time. Barely a minute or so into their hushed conference, I over heard one of the teachers remark – ‘madam ko to goliyan lag rahin hain’ (madam is being riddled with bullets). I was a bit startled as to what that could mean; but then, I had a task at hand and got immersed in it before long. Continue reading Seasons of Violence: Vikas Bajpai→
Majboori ka naam Mahatma Gandhi (Roughly: Compulsion thy name is Mahatma Gandhi)
I have grown up hearing this expression and have often wondered about its meaning and at the almost proverbial status acquired by it. Whose majboori or compulsion was Gandhi really? Well, at one level, everybody’s, for practically every current within the anti-colonial struggle was uncomfortable with his presence and his leadership. Jawaharlal Nehru had even remarked once that after independence, his fads would have to be kept in check. All nationalists who fought for independence from colonial rule (as opposed to the pseudo-nationalists who tried to convert it into a cow-protection movement) had their gaze fixed on the state. They wanted control of that coveted instrument – that was the crux of their anticolonial struggle. There were others like BR Ambedkar, who too invested a lot in the state but realized that the state in the hands of the nationalists would be a disaster for his people. But no one among them (poet-thinkers like Tagore apart) was prepared to look beyond the state. And Gandhi’s disavowal of the state – and of politics as such – was something that no one could digest. More than anything else, that was what made him a majboori for this set of people who could only lay their hands on their object of desire as long as Gandhi was in the leadership – for he alone could move millions like no one among his contemporaries could.
But my hunch is that these were not the people who coined this expression. Gandhi was a bigger majboori for another set of people who were, ironically, equally disinterested in the state and its ‘capture’ – at least till recently. Yes, these were the different currents of the Hindutva Brigade (VD Savarkar of the Hindu Mahasabha and his followers and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). They had to tolerate Gandhi – that is exactly what their majboori meant – till they could finally eliminate him. And it was one Nathuram Godse, with connections to both Savarkar and the RSS, who eventually killed him. There were earlier attempts too on Gandhi’s life – all from upper caste Hindus (one lot being Chitpavan Brahmins). Continue reading The Impossible Gandhian Project and its Limits – Remembering the Mahatma Today→
Ameena Begum was only ten years old when she was married to a man old enough to be her grandfather. The man- a 60-year-old Arab from Saudi Arabia had come to her house in Hyderabad to see Ameena’s elder sister for marriage but found her to be too ‘ugly and dark.’ He instead expressed desire to marry the young Ameena which the father readily agreed in exchange for a paltry sum of Rs 6,000. She was later rescued by Amrita Ahluwalia- then an air-hostess with Indian Airlines after she found the young girl crying inconsolably on the Hyderabad-Delhi flight in-route to Saudi Arabia.
This incident put the global spotlight for the first time on the practice of ‘bride-shopping’ in the old city area of Hyderabad where minor Muslim girls from poverty-stricken families are married to older, mostly Arab men for a small sum of money. About three decades after this incident of August 1991- nothing much has changed and the practice of Sheikh marriages continue unabated with estimates suggesting around 2000 of such marriages performed only in the last one year.
The genesis of Sheikh marriages can be traced to the late 19th century when the Nizam of Hyderabad started hiring Chaush Arabs from what is the present-day Yemen. These men served as the military guards and later on high positions in the Nizam’s army and administration. The Arabs also brought with them the ritual of offering gifts and dowry to families who would marry their daughters to them. However, when oil stuck in the Gulf and situation in Hyderabad turned chaotic because of the rising peasant movement and later fall of Nizam- many such Chaush Arabs returned to their homelands.
I write to you as a citizen, so unlike the many eulogies and appeals you have received recently, this will not be sugar-coated. You have received much praise, which is indeed well-deserved. But most of us have done, and are still doing, our duty well, but there is no need to indulge in any more self-praise.
Kerala is the land of my birth, and my life is intertwined closely and inseparably with the lives of all fellow-Malayalis. I will respect and remember this truth and will never think of my life as totally unrelated to nature, my neighbours, and the government that we elect to rule us.
A couple of days back, representatives of a group that wanted a petition demanding death penalty for all the accused in the Chennai gang rape case sought an appointment with me. I had clarified that I will not be part of any process demanding death penalty and would be glad to meet them on any other discussion they might want on the case. While, I managed to convince those who met me that death penalty cannot be a deterrent against rape, I suggested that instead of the petition they should spend their efforts to energize a change in the current discourse on rape in whatever small ways possible. The meeting ended with plans of a more substantive plan of action to discuss possibilities of advocating accessible spaces for children vulnerable to physical or sexual abuses at least in the neighborhood. I have summed up some of the points that I made at the discussion and I thought it would be important to share them with a wider audience.
Although the Indian Hindi film industry has been known to be considerably less gerontophobic than the western popular culture (Hollywood, in particular), our aging Naanas and Naanis have been often represented as either able keepers of family “sanskars” or hyper-ritualized subjects (with added effect if in some diasporic setting)or as self-sacrificing elderly parents to prodigal children (or ruthless grandchildren). Continue reading Bollywood’s re-imagination of growing old: Tannistha Samanta→