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No pilgrim this

LK Advani has his own concept of a pilgrimage he calls rath yatra. He rides on a motor van decorated with flags of his political party, writes Khushwant Singh
None | By With malice towards one and all... | Khushwant Singh
PUBLISHED ON MAR 25, 2006 01:31 AM IST

Yatra means pilgrimage. A pilgrim goes to a sacred place to atone for his past sins and resolve to become a better human being. L.K. Advani has his own concept of a pilgrimage he calls rath yatra. He rides on a motor van decorated with flags of his political party, banners with slogans proclaiming his political ideology and fitted with loudspeakers. He stops at places to make political speeches. There is nothing remotely religious or spiritual about them. The last time he made one such rath yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya, his utterances fouled the country’s communal atmosphere. He destroyed all that Bapu Gandhi, Nehru, Maulana Azad and others had done in bringing Hindus and Muslims closer to each other so that Indians could say with pride we are one people. Things have never been the same again.

Advani’s so-called pilgrimage yielded handsome dividends of communal divide. His party came into power. He became home minister, then deputy prime minister. It was he who, in fact, called the shots. It took some time for Indians to see through his game. The BJP and its Sangh parivar allies were voted out of power in the Centre and in several states.

After the yatra to Pakistan and praise for Jinnah’s secularism, Advani was forced to abdicate the presidentship of his party. But he did not renounce his political ambitions. So he has turned to another of Jinnah’s principal beliefs, viz. that Indians are not one people but two, owing allegiance to two different and irreconcilable faiths. He has become an ardent believer of Jinnah’s two-nation theory. His proposed rath yatra, no matter what fancy names he gives them, are designed not to integrate the people, but further divide them. Inevitably, Muslims will be at the receiving end and will strongly oppose it. The real way to defeat his nefarious plan is for the non-Muslims of India — Hindus, Christians and Sikhs — to turn a deaf ear to what he and others, with minds as diseased as his, say about this anti-national pilgrimage.

Making it big

She walked into my life almost 40 years ago holding her father’s hand. As he and I shook hands and introduced ourselves, she hid behind her father’s legs. She was a student of Modern School where I had spent ten years of my childhood. I had read an article by her bemoaning the fact that her schoolmates would not play with her because she was Muslim. A few days later a Sardarji turned up in their flat with his daughter and said to her father: “I have brought my daughter to become your daughter’s friend.” I was moved by the girl’s story and wrote about
it. That brought the father and daughter to my door step. He was G. Saiyadain, Secretary, Ministry of Education. She, barely 12, was his daughter Syeda.

Some decades later I ran into her again. This time in Edmonton in Canada. My host Bachan Paul, a wealthy realtor, wanted to drop in on a Muslim family to wish them Id mubarak and took me along. It was Id-ul-Fitr. We entered a sizeable mansion festooned with buntings and with a noisy assemblage of guests. It was the home of Syeda, now married to a Pakistani, Hameed, and their three children. There were large portraits of G.H. Saiyadain in all the rooms. It was evident Syeda had a father fixation. I thought it was the last time I would see her; she would most likely stay on in Canada where she had a good job teaching at the university.

I was wrong. A few years later she returned to Delhi with her children to live in Saiyadain Manzil in the Jamia Millia complex. She was rediscovering her Indian-Islamic roots. At times she broke the Ramadan fast after prayers in my flat. She was incommunicado during Mohurram because of majlises in her home and wore black like many practising Shia Muslims. She edited four volumes of the writings of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. She made me read Tarjuman-ul Quran and her translation of Hali’s Musaddas. She was made member of the National Commission for Women. Now a member of the Planing Commission, she lives in a large bungalow in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi and drives in an official chauffeur driven car. Syeda Hameed has arrived.

As a member of the National Commission for Women, Syeda travelled extensively all over the country to sites where gross maltreatment of a woman was reported. She made her own assessment by talking to the people concerned and summoned the police to find out what it had done in the matter. There were cases of gang rapes, vengeance rapes, ‘honour’ killings, male teachers making unwelcome advances to their female counterparts or girl students, forced prostitution, girls brought up to become prostitutes, deflowered by the wealthy zamindars, ending up in quickies for truck drivers stopping at dhabas for the night — you name a medieval barbarity and there are examples in plenty in present day India. Syeda Hameed has 12 such cases in thinly veiled fiction form in her compilation, They Hang: Twelve Women In My Portrait Gallery (Women Unlimited). They make chilling reading. One doesn’t know where facts yield to fiction but every case reads authentic and grips the reader.

Moon-like beauty

Banta: Beta Pappu what sort of girl are you looking for?
Pappu: Papa, Chand jaisi. (Like the moon).
Banta: You want her to be beautiful?
Pappu: No, I want her to come out at night and disappear in the morning.

Vastra haran

Mallika Sherawat was selected to play the role of Draupadi in Mahabharat. Duryodhan objected and told the director: “Please change the actor who’ll play Draupadi. Iska hum utarenge kya?”

(Contributed by JP Singh, Kaka, Bhopal)

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