Of the scores of Muslims I befriended in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, there was not one whose womenfolk wore burqas to cover their faces. Now I hear from Pakistanis who come to see me that more women are seen in burqa than 10 years ago. This is largely due to the upsurge of religious fundamentalism with the increasing influence of the Taliban.
I find it heart-breaking as I regard putting women in burqa as jihlat (ignorance). It deprives Muslim women of job opportunities and confines them to their homes. One of the outstanding champions of women wearing burqa is Dr Zakir Naik. His argument in favour of the burqa makes me laugh. He says: “Suppose there are three women out on a stroll — two are wearing burqa one is not. As they pass by a gang of roadside Romeos who will they pass lewd remarks at? Obviously the one without a burqa because they can see her face and not the other two; burqas protect them.”
If you examine the matter rather closely, you will notice that burqas are largely worn by the lower middle class. The upper class are educated and westernised. The lowest class, particularly those engaged in farming work along with their menfolk in the fields don’t wear burqas . Only the lower middle class are reluctant to free themselves from the bondage of burqas.
I was hoping that Dar-ul-Uloom would pass a fatwa in favour of abolishing hijab. This is not likely. I was also hoping that Al Azhar in Cairo would say something in support of the French government which has made burqa-wearing a punishable offence. France has more Muslims than any other European country. Most of them are from their erstwhile colonies. Hijab is not a crime but an irritant. Some other means should be found to remove this irritant. My mind goes back to Ata Turk Kamal Pasha of Turkey who with one stroke abolished institutions that were outdated. He abolished the Caliphate and took the wind out of the Khilafat movement in India. (Bapu Gandhi foolishly supported the Khilafat movement in the hope of winning support of India’s Muslims — and failed to do so.) Kamal Pasha also banned wearing burqas. That is why today Turkey is the most advanced Muslim country in the world. We need another Kamal Pasha.
Breaking wind loudly in public is rightly looked down upon and is considered bad manners. It’s odd that this bad habit is found only in men; I haven’t come across a single woman who farts in public. My most memorable experience was about 50 years ago when I was on an assignment in Kabul. I was accompanied by a well-known photographer named Sharma. There was only one hotel in the city and we had to share a room. This Sharma fellow was a strict vegetarian and would not even eat rice pulao with daal or vegetables because everything was cooked with animal fat called roghan. So he ate only fruit like watermelon, grapes and pomegranates. Though the Afghan fruit is delicious, it also creates a lot of gas in the belly. On the second night, Sharma was like a balloon about to burst. Just as I switched the lights off, he began to explode. I protested: “For god’s sake stop farting. I won’t be able to sleep if you continue like this.”
Instead of desisting, he gave me a long lecture on the varieties of farts of which his were the highest order — Uttam Padvi. I got little sleep that night. The next day I was lucky enough to get a room to myself.
When I was a student in England, I boarded with Professor F.S. Marvin who had a lovely cottage with a garden in Welvyn Garden City. He was in his 80s and farted all the time. Once Pratap Lal who ended up as Air Chief marshal of the Indian Air Force came to stay with me. He was very allergic to farters. He did not stay with me again.
Americans are great eaters as well as great farters. Once I was at Chicago airport to catch a flight. I went to a news-stand to get something to read on the flight. A fat American was there smoking a cigar while turning pages of a magazine. He began to fart in a single monotone which went on and on for some minutes. Then there was Harry Rozitski of the US Embassy in Delhi. He could not hold his wind. He spent a few days with me in my parents’ large summer house in Mashobra. My father called him badtameez Amerikan. In my eight years in Bombay, my closest friend was prone to this weakness. No one dared to tell him about it to his face but everyone talked about it to his back.
A rich and miser resident of a posh colony of the city went out for his morning walk. He saw his milkman on a cycle with the milk cans. He asked him to stop. The milk man got down from his cycle. “Why have you increased the price of milk so drastically?” asked the rich man.
The milkman said, “Sahab, we often hear and watch on TV about jal-dushan (water-pollution) and its dangerous effects. Considering the health-care of our VIP customers, we, the milkmen in our neighbourhood, decided that we must not mix the tap water with milk anymore. The municipal board’s water may contain germs. So we started mixing mineral water. That’s why the price rise.”
(Contributed by Reeten Ganguly, Tezpur)
The views expressed by the author are personal