Friday, August 18, 2017

What Does This Story Say About The 70th Anniversary?

What Does This Story Say About The 70th Anniversary?
                                                                                            Saeed Naqvi

This is a true story. I am revisiting it with a purpose: so that it collides head on with the nation’s 70th anniversary celebrations. Absolute, undiluted joy on this occasion would require total amnesia of that which accompanied independence: Partition. With some of us, these celebrations will always be tempered with Keats’ great dictum:
“Ay, in the very temple of delight
Veil’d melancholy has her sovran shrine”

Yes, that story, spread over India, Pakistan and the United States. Before I share the story with you let me first spell out the dramatis personae to simplify the narrative.

When the feudal order was breaking down, my family in Mustafabad near Rae Bareli produced two ideological streams. My father came from a line of staid Congressmen. In fact his elder brother, Wasi Naqvi, was the first Congress MLA from Rae Bareli. My earliest memory of political activity in these 70 years is of Feroz Gandhi weaving his parliamentary seat around my uncle’s assembly constituency. This was the seat that Indira Gandhi inherited, then Rajiv Gandhi and so on.

My mother’s family was more literary and, after the intellectual fashion of those days, of a more leftist bent. Her only brother Saiyid Mohammad Mehdi, our dearest “Mamujan”, caught the eye of P.C. Joshi, General Secretary of the CPI, who was then stitching together Indian Peoples Theatre and the Progressive Writers Association. Joshi whisked Mamujan away to Mumbai to share a commune with Sardar Jafri, Kaifi Azmi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Krishen Chander and a host of others.

Mamujan’s younger daughter, Shireen, with a degree from JNU, could not ignore her mother’s entreaties and married a cousin, Abbas, a gentleman to boot, settled in Dubai but, alas, of Pakistani parentage. The condition for the marriage were clear: they would live in a neutral country, not in Pakistan. Shireen obstinately held onto her Indian passport.

Like her father, Shireen is a reader (a book in two days) and taught in a school. Abbas stuck to investment banking.

Their eldest daughter Mariam studied cinema in Canada, fell in love with a Haitian film maker and settled in Canada. She was confident that her Indian passport, on which she had travelled to India numerous times, would be part of the record even if she acquired her husband’s nationality.

She had goofed. She had not taken into account the dark shadow that would always hover over her head: her father’s Pakistani nationality. That fact scratches out her Indianness. This is just a minor consequence of what the leaders of India, Pakistan and Great Britain accomplished 70 years ago. But Shireen had to prepare for worse.

When she was in the family way again, her husband had taken a transfer to the Cayman Islands. For Shireen this was a Godsend in a most unexpected way. In the ninth month of her pregnancy, she would cross over to Florida for greater gynaecological care. This is precisely what Shireen did. So, not only was little Rabab born in a world class hospital, she was doubly blessed on another score. She was born with a priceless document: the American passport. So far so good, until God revealed his enigmatic side: Rabab was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, immobile, comprehensively challenged, condemned to move only on a wheelchair.

Shireen and Rabab were able to travel to Delhi, Lucknow, Kanpur, Mustafabad once or twice a year until collapse of the global economy in 2008 affected Shireen’s mobility. Frequent travel between Dubai and Delhi became too expensive.

When sorrows come they come in battalions. At 30, Rabab is a big, heavy girl. With tears in her eyes, her Bangladeshi nanny told Shireen that Rabab was too heavy for her to change her clothes, bathe, seat on a wheelchair and be put to bed.

Shireen and Abbas began to share these chores until the next installment of bad news. Shireen was diagnosed with leukemia.

She now faces an existential choice. Her support structure – sister, uncles, cousins, nieces are all in India. She already has an apartment next door to our daughters, her adoring nieces.

Shireen, ofcourse, has an Indian passport and can come and go as she pleases. The problem is with Rabab’s long term visa because it is impossible to cart her back and forth, pointlessly, on a short term visa which incidentally, is not assured either. One would have thought she can sail in with her American passport. But that is not the case. Her father’s nationality trumps all other considerations. Look, she is on a wheel chair. Doesn’t matter. She is comprehensively challenged. That does not qualify her for an Indian visa. The system is telling an invalide child that her father is her curse.

Lest you begin to chastise the present government for Rabab’s woes, do pause for a moment. The BJP regime came in day before yesterday. Stringent, sometimes inexplicable, laws were put in place by successive Congress governments.

The document that Mariam was handed by the Indian High Commission in Ottawa (when she applied for OCI card some years ago) takes one’s breath away:
“As per the MHA’s OCI ruling, no person who, or either of whose parents or grandparents or great grandparents is or has been a citizen of Pakistan, Bangladesh at any time or such other country as the Central government may, by notification in the official gazette, specify, shall be eligible for registration as an overseas citizen of India cardholder. In view of the existing OCI rules, you are not entitled for grant of OCI card facility because one of your parents is of Pakistani origin.” That Mariam was born in India and, before her marriage, travelled extensively on an Indian passport is of no consequence.

I realize more than most people that these are abnormal times. In fact my career as a foreign correspondent would have been impossible without unstinted help, on a personal basis, from friends in the foreign office and in other parts of government. Additionally, visas for friends and relatives, on both sides of the border, were there for the asking. My friends were a strand in the vast mosaic that kept the nation’s sanity. Thanks to them visiting relatives from Pakistan envied us for the friends we had. “Bhaiyya, can we buy land here?” It all seems so distant in time.

My mother, an eternal optimist, a great favourite of Shireen and Abbas, indeed our entire universe, died three years ago, firm in her belief that sooner or later mists will lift and peace will descend. She would recite the following couplet with wistfulness in the eyes:
“Bada maza us milap mein hai,
Jo sulah ho jaae, jung ho kar?
(There is great pleasure in that harmony
Which descends after a big quarrel.)

Would my mother have been able to sustain that optimism given the state of play on this, our 70th birthday?

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Ahmad Patel Barely Survives To Keep Sonia’s Rahul Hopes Alive

Ahmad Patel Barely Survives To Keep Sonia’s Rahul Hopes Alive
                                                                                    Saeed Naqvi

It would be rank bad form to describe Ahmad Patel as a form of life under Sonia Gandhi’s furniture, because the entire Congress Working Committee defers to him as “Ahmad Bhai” with varying degrees of insincerity.

Look, how he came out of the throng which was blocking his path to the Rajya Sabha. P. Chidambaram, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma would not be marching back and forth from the Election Commission past midnight pleading for “Ahmad Bhai” had the Congress President not monitored the events, remote in hand, on a minute by minute basis.

She must have been close to a nervous breakdown when the numbers of Gujarat party MLAs sank from 57 to 43 who had to be whisked away to a Karnataka holiday resort to stop further hemorrhage. Even then a couple dug burrows to sneak out. If those two exhibitionists had not been caught flashing before “unauthorized persons”, Ahmad Bhai’s goose had nearly been cooked.

It is, ofcourse, fake news that in celebration, he lifted up his arms in front of Sonia Gandhi and sang:
“Hum laaye hain toofan se
            Kishti nikaal ke.”
(From the eye of the storm have  
            I rowed the boat to the bank)

Parties fight to advance their mission or when parties face adversity. The Congress fights when chosen leaders are in trouble. A reversal for Ahmad Patel in Gujarat would have been an enormous loss of face for Sonia. By helping her keep her face what does the party gain? That would be a hurtful question to the deluded who are convinced that one day the Congress, like the Phoenix, will rise again.

There are other important, unproven stories. Sonia and, by extension, “Ahmad Bhai”, have to be somehow saved because they have the key to the treasure. This is the testimony of Congressmen who have picked up their marbles and walked away from the game. And their tribe is growing.

That “Ahmad Bhai” made such heavy weather of a solitary seat reflects on a matter of some political value. “Ahmad Bhai” is no mass leader. He would not be able to collect 100 persons for his meeting. He is a maestro in pre and post electoral politics – the consummate fixer across the political field, particularly in Gujarat where a great deal of back scratching between him and the likes of Amit Shah has gone on for some time. In direct proportion to the growing self confidence of the Modi-Shah duet, such deals may now onwards be at a discount. They may even be discontinued without notice. Were Ahmad Bhai’s travails part of this shifting of gears by the two “Gujjus” because they are on a winning streak?

Ahmad Bhai’s deal making abilities in Gujarat became the subject of some speculation even on the eve of the 2014 elections when Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, warned of an impending Congress rout, turned up to save her mother and brother by campaigning in Rae Bareli and Amethi. She did save them.

Her pitch was shrill. Her family was being “humiliated” by the BJP. They were targeting her husband’s land deals. Like her grandmother, she would fight back, she said. She then unleashed her finest invective on Narendra Modi’s “snoopgate”, how the Gujarat strongman had allegedly organized surveillance of a woman architect across these states.

Poor Priyanka did not even know that a few days ago there was a front page cabinet announcement that matters of such sensitivity will now only be handled by the next union cabinet. Priyanka could scream herself hoarse on “snoopgate”, “Jashodaben”, “Ishrat Jehan” but it was now so much shouting into the wind. Her leaders, “Ahmad Bhai”, and Manmohan Singh included, had waved a white flag at Modi. An electorate on the eve of a key election may be forgiven for being totally befuddled at the turn of events. How should the common man know that the deal has been struck because Sonia does not want Priyanka to worry herself sick about Robert Vadra’s travails.

That even so, there is an occasional eruption of fierce sloganeering against each other is, according to Congress sources, a possible part of a broad understanding.

What Shankersinh Vaghela told a group of journalists during the 2002 Gujarat riots sheds light on “Ahmad Bhai’s” genius. Just imagine, the leader of the opposition, Sonia Gandhi, did not even visit Ahmedabad after it had witnessed the most ghoulish pogrom.

“Had Sonia gone on hunger strike outside Raj Bhawan in Gandhinagar on February 28 (peak of pogrom), the situation would have been controlled”, Vaghela said. Fingers were pointed at “Ahmad Bhai”, for having advised Sonia against visiting Gujarat.

All of this has history behind it. It fits into the Congress unprecedented victory in 1984 being seen by the party as majoritarian consolidation against the minorities, in this instance the Sikhs. But the floodgates had been opened. By 1986, the most secular of congress General Secretaries, V.N. Gadgil, told me with considerable alarm:
“A feeling is growing among Hindus that Muslims are being appeased.” The Congress had turned. Rajiv Gandhi was to go far on this route. He gave the call for Ram Rajya in 1989 from the hallowed precincts of Ayodhya.

How appeased the Muslims were became clear after the Sachar Committee report in 2005. The Sonia-Manmohan duet did not do a jot to implement recommendations following the report.

Pundits are shy of admitting that what we have in competition are two parallel efforts at Hindu consolidation: one is pursuing an aggressive Hindutva agenda, an awesome machine on the roll. The Congress, which has already crashed between two stools, remains frozen but only on one stool. The other stool has been moved from the drawing room. The party is ever cautious not to be seen with Muslims on issues that might drive away the Hindu vote which, alas, is already proceeding towards the BJP, in single file or, maybe, two.

In this critical moment, Rahul is inspiring poetry. A variation on the old limerick:
As Congressmen went up the stair
They met Rahul who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
We wish, we wish he’d stay away”

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Friday, August 4, 2017

From Moeen Ali to Ranji: Hindu-Muslim In Cricketing Diaspora

From Moeen Ali to Ranji: Hindu-Muslim In Cricketing Diaspora
                                                                                Saeed Naqvi

When he completed his hat-trick by trapping South Africa’s Morne Morkel Leg Before wicket in the third test match at the Oval with his orthodox off-spin, Moeen Ali entered the record books on three counts.

This was the first hat-trick in history at Surrey’s famous cricket ground. The hat-trick also gave England victory, a record breaking coincidence. Also, Moeen is the first cricketer of the South Asia origin to have posted such a record – at least since the princely order faded out. Not since Ranji, Duleep Singh ji and Nawab of Pataudi, has a sub continental cricketer inserted himself in British history books.

Asked if he would ever play cricket in India, Ranji is reported to have grandly asserted: “Duleep and I are English cricketers.” For that classy disdain, Ranji Trophy cricket was instituted in India in 1934. The year Ranji died, 1933, was, by a coincidence, historic for Indian cricket in another way: the first test match was played at the Bombay Gymkhana. C.K. Nayudu captained India. The English captain happened to be D.R. Jardine, notorious for his bodyline series against Bradman’s Australia.

I find it difficult to resist a non cricketing story about Ranji which I picked up during my travels across Ireland. After his cricketing days, Ranji took to hunting as a sport. A Grouse Shooting accident injured him in one eye.

Scouts scoured the British Isles for the finest spot for angling, which was to be Ranji’s next hobby. He was informed that there was no better spot for river salmon than the bend in the river facing Ballynahinch Castle on Ireland’s Connemara coast.

Other than being a magnificent castle facing a hillock on one side and a river on the other, Ballynahinch suited Ranji for another little known reason.

Ranji, the very “English” cricketer, had a very Indian sister he was fond of. In the male dominated feudal world, she had to be accommodated within hailing distance. Negotiations were started with a convent in the vicinity. The convent would receive endowments. Ranji’s sister would live with the nuns with two non negotiable conditions: she would not be converted and she would wear a sari, not a habit. To this day Ballynahinch has a photograph of Ranji’s sister in the convent, wearing a white sari, rather like Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity.

Had I not strayed into the Ranji saga, the narrative after the Moeen Ali performance would have been the obvious one: a few months ago there were as many as four Muslims in the English cricket team – Moeen, Adil Rashid, Haseeb Hameed and Zafar Ansari. Why is there no Hindu in the list? Lest I be misunderstood, my curiosity is mostly sociological. My guess is that Hindus overseas involve themselves in matters more serious than cricket.

The phenomenon continues in other cricket playing countries – Usman Khawaja in Australia; Hashim Amla and Imran Tahir in South Africa; Sikandar Raza who helped Zimbabwe beat Sri Lanka.

Most of these players do not lend themselves to significant sociological analysis. They are immigrants from Pakistan. Hashim Amla is the only one who reflects South Africa’s social hierarchies going back to Mahatma Gandhi’s 21 years in that country.

An overwhelming majority of Indians in South Africa, mostly around Durban, are children of indentured labourers, a device colonialism invented to circumvent the abolition of slavery. This class, along with the blacks, was too depressed to be playing a “gentleman’s” game. But a wave of Muslim Gujarati Merchants, who turned up to cater to the British and Indian clients, were financially sound. One of them was Baba Abdullah who invited Gandhi to be his barrister.

Since apartheid South Africa barred non white students from the better schools, this elite group helped set up English style public schools in neighbouring countries like Malawi under the supervision of such arch British toadies as President Hastings Banda.

It is the progeny of these Muslim merchants from Gujarat who developed a taste for Marxism, as well as cricket, later in British universities. Yusuf Dadoo, Ahmed Kathrada, Essop Pahad, Kamal Asmal, Dullah Omar, Ahmed and Yusuf Cachalia, Fatima Meer – they formed the backbone of the ANC resistance against apartheid.

Once apartheid was lifted, their children joined the all white Rand club in Johannesburg and sundry cricket clubs. That is the kind of background Hashim Amla would come from.

How does one explain the fine off spinner, Keshav Maharaj, to my knowledge the first Hindu in the South African team currently touring England? Maharaj is actually a contrived title among Indians with a background in indenture.

Brahmins never accepted indenture. For them, to cross the black waters (Kala pani) was a sin because useless action was a sin. But the Brahmin was sorely missed for religious rituals during birth, death, marriage. To make up for this shortfall, the community conferred the title of “Maharaj” on the most educated and one of “Light skin”. The most famous of this genre was one of Nelson Mandela’s closest friends, Mac Maharaj. It was he who smuggled out the manuscript of the Long March to Freedom from the Robben Island across a stretch of the ocean from Cape Town. Keshav Maharaj is presumably from this stock.

West Indian cricket, uninhibited by the class stratifications of South Africa, gave full vent to a mixture of slavery and indenture to produce the world’s most scintillating cricketers.

Of Indian origin were brilliant batsmen like Rohan Kanhai, Shivnaraine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan – all from Guyana.

It has remained something of a puzzle why Fiji, most loyal to be British crown, never took to cricket in a big way. An average native Fijian is taller than a professional basketball player in America. He is also stronger of built. This oversized human machine hurtling the ball from palm tree height would have led to bloodshed in days when helmets were not known. Is this why the Anglo Saxon never encouraged cricket in Fiji?

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