In the Aftermath of Moradabad Riots

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From Saeed Naqvi’s book: “Reflections of an Indian Muslim” 1993

The India observer, TIO, NJ: Whenever events like Moradabad take place some of my friends turn to me with sympathy which generally leaves me cold because I guess I am a minority in my own community for reasons more than one.

My credentials as a good Muslim are quite as suspect as Ghalib’s were. “I am a half Muslim”, he said when, in the course of a litigation, a magistrate asked him to declare his religion. “I drink but I do not eat pork”.

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However, my children generally describe themselves as Muslims while filling up school admission forms, although I wonder why such questions should ever be asked. Before you hastily trace my attitude to my anglicized education let me dispel the notion straightaway. Yes, I did have my schooling in an Anglo-Indian institution of sorts in Lucknow, but the home in which I grew up was a  deeply religious one even though the likes of the Imam currently in the news would not have been allowed within miles of it.

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My grandfather, like Dryden, always maintained that “Priests of all religious are the same”, but some he respected, even befriended for their scholarship and conversation. I remember sitting through many a theological discourse, with Maulana Nsair-ul-Millat holding court; among the participants was one Mr Gurtu, a Kashmiri Pandit.

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A moulvi of little distinction was hired ostensibly to brush up my arithmetic but actually to put me through my first paces in ‘namaz’(prayer). His efforts at proselytization were supplemented by my mother’s; she augmented our meager library with biographies of the prophets and the great Imams.

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I believe the moulvi left in some disgust because he complained that there was too much music in our house, which, he found distasteful even on Id day. Id was never Id without Babu Mahavir Prasad Srivastava. We changed into our new clothes and waited at the doorstep for Babuji. He would walk across the street from where we lived, clad in a black ‘achkan’ and Gandhi cap, meet my father, settle down to large helpings of ‘seewai’ (sweet noodles prepared traditionally on Id day) and then hand those days when two rupees a week was good pocket money. On Raksha Bandhan my mother would send out ‘rakhis’ to my father’s many friends.

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There was a quaint little mosque in the compound of the house in our village, Mustafabad, near Rae Bareli. Since we visited the village only during school holidays, marriages, deaths and births, it was not difficult to maintain  a certain discipline and be seen in the mosque, at reasonable frequency, often only to please grandfather. He expressed his pleasure either by making additions to our paltry pocket money or taking us out on shikar, inspite of his old age. My grandfather was equally pleased when we agreed to accompany him to his friends on Holi or Diwali, the two festivals we continue to participate in to this day.

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A very strong ingredient in our total make up was a tidy combination of Urbane Urdu culture and the more folksy Avadhi and Brijbhasha. I learnt very early in life and I am being persuaded ti unlearn since –that Urdu represented the flowering of a composite culture. My grandfather would fly into a rage at the cancard that it was a language of the Muslims. Why, the greatest Urdu prose writer was Pandit Ratan Nath Sarshar and one of the greatest Urdu poets was Raghupati Sahai Firaq.

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We were groomed into believing that Islam was the most, dynamic of religions but we found it equally easy to accept that it was Islam’s interaction with a grater civilization that resulted in Dara Shikoh, Rahim, Kabir, Amir Khusro, Raskhan, Nazir Akbarabadi, Ghalib, and Anis. Nowhere in the Muslim world is there a monument, like the Taj or Fatehpur Sikri.

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Folks these days are ignorant of the 18th century poet Nazir Akbarabadi’s poem “kya kya likhoon main Krishna Kanhaiya Ka baal pan” (How should I write about the beautiful childhood of Lord Krishna) or Mohsin Kakorvi’s “Samte Kashi se chala janibe Mathura badal” “jab talak Brij mein Kanhaiya hai yeh Khulne ka nahin” (The clouds are moving ecstatically from Kashi to Mathura and the sky will remain covered with the beautiful clouds as long as there is Krishna in Brij). Is there anyone around willing to believe that these lines were written by a Muslim poet to celebrate the birthday of Prophet Mohammad?

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In the region I was raised in, ‘Sohar’ was a song sung during a  woman’s confinement. My mother’s favourite sohar was “Allah Mian, hamre bhaiya ka diyo Nandlal” (Oh my Allah, give my brother a son like Lord Krishna).

You might wonder, as a good friend of mine does, what all this nostalgia has to do with “contemporary realities”.

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Well, I guess I am no pandit but I do know a bit about “contemporary realities”. I know how partition ruptured the fabric, bits of which I still keep with me. I also know about the status reversal experienced by the Muslims in independent India, particularly with the decline of the feudal order. It was the self-confident Muslim feudal elite which found it easy to extend patronage to the beautiful aspects of Hindu culture: after all, Krishna Leela was preserved in its entirely in the Kathak style evolved in the Muslim courts.

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With the decay of the feudal order, the lower middle class, always bigoted in every society, gained some upward mobility. It is upon this class that parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami feed and which forms the central nervous system of the sort of fundamentalism current in Paksitan or Iran. I also know of a certain pan-Islamic sentiment among the Muslims and I guess that Mr Deoras does not like it. I also remember having read reports  on the socio-economic basis of the riots, a communal Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) and so on. All this and more I have been aware of for quite some time.

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It must, therefore, be a considerable intellectual failure on my part that in spite of all this I am unable to disengage myself  from the folks who moulded me in my formative years. The credo they lived by is no longer part of the contemporary ethos.

Call it private grief, call it indifference, or both, but I find it, increasingly difficult to have a ready made response to Moradabad, Jamshedpur or Aligarh. And when friends turn to me with sympathy when such madness erupts, I feel a sort of numbness and have a strange feeling that they are addressing the wrong person.

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Curated and Compiled by Humra Kidwai

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Saeed Naqvi

Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer. He has interviewed world leaders and personalities in India and abroad, which appear in newspapers, magazines and on national television, remained editor of the World Report, a syndication service on foreign affairs, and has written for several publications, both global and Indian, including the BBC News, The Sunday Observer, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, Washington Post, The Indian Express, The Citizen and Outlook magazine. At the Indian Express, he started in 1977 as a Special Correspondent and eventually becoming, editor, Indian Express, Madras, (1979–1984), and Foreign Editor, The Indian Express, Delhi in 1984, and continues to writes columns and features for the paper.

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