Of politics and tradition: When siyasat trumped Ganga Jamuna tehzeeb at JLF | books$ht-picks | Hindustan Times
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Of politics and tradition: When siyasat trumped Ganga Jamuna tehzeeb at JLF

Journalist Saeed Naqvi and civil servant Pavan K Varma engaged with each other in a session on the famed syncretic tradition of the Doab region that fused Hindu and Muslim cultures. The discussion, however, veered towards politics very early in the session, and never came back.

Jaipur Literature Festival 2017 Updated: Jan 20, 2017 15:15 IST
Zehra Kazmi
Civil servant Pavan K Varma and journalist Saeed Naqvi during a session at the Jaipur Literature Festival in Jaipur on Friday.
Civil servant Pavan K Varma and journalist Saeed Naqvi during a session at the Jaipur Literature Festival in Jaipur on Friday. (Saumya Khandelwal/HT Photo)

Proponents of Ganga Jamuna tehzeeb, the famed syncretic tradition of the Doab region that fused Hindu and Muslim cultures, lament that it is waning. But no one could have predicted that it would disappear completely from a discussion dedicated to it.

On the second day of the Jaipur Literature Festival, as journalist Saeed Naqvi talked to writer and civil servant Pavan K Varma, the discussion veered towards politics and never came back.

Varma’s opening gambit was to put Naqvi in the dock, firing question after question related to the latter’s book, Being the Other: The Muslim in India. Despite being the beneficiary of the system, asked Varma, how could you think of yourself as the Other? Despite so much effort by the state for Muslims, why is there a sense of victimisation?

The answers led Naqvi through the twists and turns of India’s history, the Partition, Congress leadership post-Nehru, the Babri Masjid demolition and to present-day events. “When we signed on the dotted line and accepted a Muslim Pakistan, it was inevitable that there would be a Hindu India,” said Naqvi.

According to him, post the Partition, it would have been “more honest” to openly admit that India’s steering wheel was in the hands of Hindus. “After 800 years of Muslim rule, 200 years of British rule, we should have said that it’s time that Hindus ruled India,” said Naqvi. Muslims would have found place in the army, police and the civil services so they could have been part of the decision-making, he said.

“Instead, the whole mumbo-jumbo of secularism confused matters.

If India was truly secular, today, two young men would not be forcibly fed gaumutra (cow urine), Mohammad Ikhlaqe would not be killed over beef,” he added.

“Don’t expect me to be a professional muslim,” retorted journalist Saeed Naqvi when Pavan Varma asked him if liberal Muslims should stand up to condemn the conservatives within their community. (Saumya Khandelwal/HT Photo)

“We condemn those incidents. But to paint all the secular efforts with the same brush and insist that there was a structural process of Othering, I disagree,” said Varma, who took exception to almost everything Naqvi said.

Shouldn’t liberal Muslims like Naqvi stand up to condemn the conservatives within their community, asked Varma, referring to recent incidents where cricketer Mohammad Shami and Dangal actress Zaira Wasim were trolled?

“Don’t expect me to be a professional Muslim,”retorted Naqvi.

Then why, countered Varma, have you written a book on the angst of Muslims?

It was all too much for a gentleman in the audience who interrupted the session to testily ask when culture would be discussed. But apart from a few valiant attempts by Naqvi to talk about how the Ganga-Jamuna tradition was so deeply and seamlessly rooted in his upbringing, and the poetry and art that emerged from Awadh, in this case, siyasat roundly trumped tehzeeb.