SIGNS OF THE TIMES

By Humra Quraishi

As freshly launched books are hitting the stands, I keep marveling at our writers’ sheer output. Correct me if I’m wrong but the one and only sphere where we seem to be going ahead is on the book front! Books as never before!

In fact, it wouldn’t be amiss to say that efforts should be in that get-set-going pace to try and reach some of these books to all those who are going through turbulent times. I’m reminded of what academic writer, Sudhamahi Regunathan, had told me during the course of an interview – “Stories reach where nothing else can. A story is told that a businessman wanted his son to learn and he sent him to several acharyas. The boy did not learn, in fact, he ran away from them. Finally, one teacher managed to teach him and that he did so by telling him stories. Soon, through a path that looked exciting, the teacher led him to the underlying lesson in each story…We should have story-telling sessions and that there is nothing wrong in highlighting the morals. For, when you live in a society, there has to be some lessons on basic etiquettes, concern for others and the ways of the world. That is called culture.”

BOOKS AS CONNECTORS

Yes, books build bridges, helps one to connect. This summer I read three ‘impactful’ books —Sanchit Gupta’s — The Tree With a Thousand Apples (Niyogi Books) , Manju Kapur’s —Brothers ( Penguin) and Marion Molteno’s — If you can walk , you can dance ( Niyogi Books ).

They are different in terms of the storyline, settings, characters, plots, yet there is connect. Those works focus on the human being and with that those struggles and pains, turmoil and tragedies each one of the characters goes through, rather is destined to go through.

Whilst Sanchit Gupta’s book focuses on the Kashmir Valley and how the havoc is affecting lives, Manju Kapur’s novel dwells on human relationships in the backdrop of feuds within a Rajasthan based business family, Marion Molteno’s novel is about a young woman’s life on the run across frontiers and cultures, ‘from southern Africa to the 1970’s London, it weaves the music of Africa and Europe through the patterns of work ,love and politics in which she tries to find meaning in her everyday life.’

Days after I finished reading these three books, I kept introspecting on the very fragility of human relationships and forms. Not to overlook the psyches!

WHAT’S GOING ON

 As I’m writing this column after the killing of 16 year Hafiz Junaid Khan on a train taking him to Ballabgarh, I sit and ask myself : would I have allowed my son to go the local market with a skull cap or shervani on? No, I wouldn’t have. I would have feared for his safety. That is, the very safety of his limbs.

Not to overlook the fact that any or every terror or criminal activity gets linked to the Muslims, more than relaying that beware of Muslims as they are some sort of terror striking wolves! Nobody even bothers to question or query — how could ISIS or the Al-Qaeda or any of the propped up terror outfits survive or exist without the support of the superpowers of the world. The tragedy is that today nobody even bothers to question the very authenticity to the ISIS; fed that we are on a heady dose of outrageously biased propaganda against the Muslims.

I have been subjected to the most humiliating communal comments, getting blatant by the day. Space constraints come in way to detail each one of them, but let me write about one of them : I’d carried a green color carry bag to a grocery store from where I had been purchasing the usual routine household stuff for the last few years.

SABKA GHAR

When activist Faisal Khan, heading the Khudai Khidmatgars, sent me an invite for the opening of Sabka Ghar, I kept staring at the two words! In this political climate the very word ‘sabka’ is rarely uttered, except in fraudulent political speeches.

The why to this home- for -all , Faisal detailed , “In Sabka Ghar we’ll be inviting youth from across the country to spend time here with us, to learn those basic values of togetherness, respect for the ‘other’…in fact , we are dedicating this home to all those who have been killed in the name of religion , caste , gender and boundaries.”

Yes, I did go for its inauguration by Justice Rajinder Sachhar …and it was absolutely heartening to see this neat little ghar tucked in the localities adjoining the Jamia Millia Islamia. There was an air of warmth and togetherness .Many activists and academics and students had travelled from various locales and localities for the inauguration of not just a home but also of an idea ! Perhaps, this home could be one of those take offs towards healing many of those bruises that communal politicians and their policies have been inflicting on us.

And I did make it a point to tell Faisal that the Khudai Khidmatgars should also invite a refugee family to this ghar…Let politicians not succeed in throwing about those typical terror or potential terror tags to those seeking refuge here. Ironically, half of this capital city’s population has been refugees at some stage of their lives, yet the apathy and insensitivity towards the present day refugees. Why?

Let Khudai Khidmatgar activists help us connect with the refugees trying to survive in a hostile environment. Mind you, this hostility is building up over the years …earlier on the World Refugee Day, there would be several events lined up to mark the Day but this year nothing really except a film screened by the UNHCR. Today we don’t bother to put up even any of those symbolic gestures! Naïve and short sighted of us, not realizing that just about anyone can be reduced to this state of seeking refuge. Could the Syrians have ever visualized that the brute powers of the world would have reduced their towns and cities to complete ruin …making them flee here and there! Today it’s the Syrians, tomorrow it could be us!

OUTSPOKEN WRITER

At the launch of the Italian journalist and novelist , Carlo Pizzati’s book ‘The Edge of an Era’ (Juggernaut Books) at the India International Centre, I heard one of the starkest conversations between him and Manu Joseph.

This Chennai -based Italian journo didn’t mince words, whilst commenting on the hyped politics around nationalism, terrorism, violence, refugees…Space constraints come in way in detailing each one his comments but what touched was his honest comment on those fleeing from their homelands and seeking refuge in Europe…His words along the strain: those fleeing know they can’t get back to their home countries and then when they are not totally accepted in the countries they are desperately seeking refuge, they face humiliation on a daily basis and this humiliation carries offshoots…

 The Edge of an Era is one of those must reads. It is a collection of three interviews with critical theorist Homi Bhabha, philosopher John Gray and essayist Pankaj Mishra about the return of barbarism, the threat to cosmopolitan identity, the rise of nationalism, the many failures of globalization, the increasing challenges of technocracy and the crisis of neo-liberal elites.