In his autobiography MJ Akbar, perhaps India’s top-most journalist writes of his first love-affair when he was in college in Calcutta; it was with a Hindu girl he was hoping to marry. Suddenly she opted out of the relationship after asking him “Why are you Muslims always fighting?” There was an element of truth in her statement. It is not easily comprehensible as the word Islam means peace. I first thought the cause was disparity in wealth. While the oil-owning Arabs and Iranians are amongst the richest of the rich, common Muslims have to struggle hard to make ends meet.
Two books which deal with the topic have been published recently. The Terrorist: His pain has made him a deadly weapon by Juggi Bhasin (Penguin India). The author starts with his approach to the subject. ‘India may or may not be a land of a million mutinies but for decades it has been pounded by a rash of insurgencies and terrorist acts, many rising from within and still more directed from outside its shores. Much of this violence has ebbed over the years but a lot has persisted with obduracy, like a part of the body that refuses to heal. An act of terrorism encapsulates a complex process of human emotion and individual or organizational targeting. In this book I have named various organizations including the Indian Army, the Indian Special Forces and the police services in India, which, in their own way, are leading the charge — against many odds — in the war against terror. The narrative, as well as the characters linked to these organizations, is completely fictional.’
The second is How to fight Islamist Terror from the Missionary Position by Tabish Khair (Fourth Estate). Though dealing with a grim subject, Khair wields a light pen. He lives in Denmark but visits his motherland every year to meet his relations and friends which include me. He handles the English language with rare skill: reading him is sheer joy. I will be writing about him in both my syndicated columns. I quote three paragraphs: ‘Next morning, I woke up expecting a call from my parents in Karachi. It was Saturday; they called every Saturday morning. I was waiting for the chirr of the phone while taking our cartons of milk and juice from the fridge and roasting bread. The coffee machine gurgled. Ravi was traversing the lobby, wrapped in a towel on his way out of the shower, and he picked up the phone when it rang. I expected him to hand it to me, but he continued talking into the receiver.’
‘It soon became obvious that the caller was not one of my parents. It was someone doing tabligh: trying to preach the virtues of the Quran. Perhaps it was someone known to Karim. Perhaps he thought Ravi was Karim. I had heard of these phonic proselytizers, but never experienced one — and I wondered, for the person evidently spoke Urdu, if the call was not from India or Pakistan. In any case, the number was a secret one; it did not show on our phone.’
‘Talking about the Quran was not an issue for Ravi, but the secrecy of the number perturbed the democratic Indian in him. Between questions and answers about the Quran, of which he probably knew as much as the anonymous proselytizer, Ravi kept querying him about his identity and the need to use a number that did not show. I signaled to Ravi to cut the connection; I am expecting a call.’
I did not write about the Delhi state elections before they took place lest it prejudice voters one way or the other. I only hoped Dilliwallas would endorse my opinion that Sheila Dikshit was the best chief minister (CM) we’ve had. I also held Madan Lal Khurana in high esteem. He was the man who rebuilt the right bank of Yamuna right from where it entered the state to the point where it ran into UP. No one has yet come forward to cleanse its waters which are fouled by Dilliwalas who dump their garbage in the river. Every CM has had to contain the unsanitary habits of the citizens — and lost the battle. I admired Dikshit’s contribution to the success in greening the state. No CM before her had so many trees planted as she did during her tenure. That alone should have brought victory to her. She did more. She kept an open house for Dilli-walas to listen to their problems and did her best to help them. My family which runs the Sir Sobha Singh Charitable Trust and has built four hospitals in the city had sought her personal help. She never failed to help us out of the tangles which babus often create for citizens. My hope that Dikshit will win a resounding victory has been shattered.
Pen is mightier...
A businessman gave his secretary a costly pen for her birthday. Next morning, she sent him an e-mail which the businessman’s wife read. The e-mail said: “Your pen is wonderful. I enjoyed using it last night.” Unfortunately, she forgot to put a space between ‘pen’ and ‘is’.
(Contributed by Rajeshwari Singh, Delhi)
The views expressed by the author are personal