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The state of our neighbours

The confrontation at Lal Masjid caused heavy loss of life but it has lessons that we Indians should keep in mind, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Jul 21, 2007 00:39 IST
Khushwant Singh

The confrontation between mullahs of the Lal Masjid — supported by students of male and female madrasas — with Pakistani constabulary and soldiers — caused heavy loss of life. But it has lessons that we Indians would do well to keep in mind.

We too have hundreds of Deras, Taksals, maths, ashrams, madrasas and dargahs with rules of their own which are often at variance with those prevailing in the rest of the country. Conflicts between the two are to be expected. Do we allow these semi-demi religious institutions to run as autonomous entities with laws of their own? Or do we prescribe limits to their powers over their inmates? The answer is quite clear: When religious practices come into conflict with laws of the state, the latter must prevail.

Heads of religious organisations tend to become self-willed and arrogant. They must be cut to size when they cross the limits. There are different ways of doing so. I am reminded of one prescribed by the eminent poet Sheikh Mohammad Ibrahim Zauq (1788-1855), poet laureate and tutor of the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar.

He wrote:

Zauq jo madrasey kay pigarey juey hain mullah,

In ko maikhaaney mein lay aao, sanwar jayengey.

(Zauq, these mullahs who have in madrasas been spoilt,

Bring them to the tavern and they will be put right.)

It is not for me to suggest to President Musharraf to invite the mullahs of Lal Masjid and their students ever to join him for a drink or two — or three.

All said and done, Pakistan is an Islamic state in which drinking is prohibited. However, prohibition in Pakistan is as much of a flop as it was in India during Morarji Desai’s hegemony. It is the same in Arab countries, as well as in Iran, where drinking is prohibited. Every one who wants to sure manages to get his or her bit of hooch. In this matter our Pakistani brothers are bigger humbugs than we are.

Even before Zauq and Zafar, some Mughal rulers discovered the efficacy of alcohol to civilising people with swollen heads. There were princes who wished to get rid of their rivals to the thrones.

Some had them blinded, murdered or beheaded. Some, who did not want blood on their hands, simply had them put in prisons and forced them to drink and take opium till they got so addicted that they could not do without them. Their worldly ambitions vanished into thin air. I strike a frivolous note to serious problem. Inmates of the Lal Masjid madrasas were armed with automatic rifles and shouted slogans for Jehad and “Taliban zindabad”. Do we want these fanatic bigots as our next-door neighbours?

Eternal memory

In the other syndicated column I write, I mentioned a strange experience of getting up in the morning with a few lines of a song I had long forgotten. The evening before I had been reading an interview given by Barbara Holland.

Holland is a silver-haired grandmother, chain-smoker and chain-drinker. And although she is not fussy about what she drank, provided it’s alcoholic. I was charmed by her candour and exuberant praise of liquor. That probably fermented in my most unabashed exultation of the joys of drinking and seeing one’s beloved. They are by Sufi Ghulam Tabassum:

Phool he phool kil utthey meyrey paimaaney mein

Aap kya aaye, bahaar aa gayee meyrey maikhaney mein,

Aap key naam say taabinda hai meyra unwaan-e-hayaat.

Verna kuchh na tthaa baaqi meyrey afsaaney mein.

(Flowers burst into blossoms in my cup of wine.

You come, and with you, spring in all its glory;

With your name is my name in life untwined,

There is little besides left in my life’s story.)