Debating India

A slippery friendship

Friday 3 February 2006, by SINGH*Khushwant

I am glad we asked King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to be the chief guest at our Republic Day celebrations. It was his first experience of non-Arab countries - first Communist China and then secular, democratic India. He saw with his own eyes how its non-Hindu minorities, particularly its largest section, the Muslims, are faring. They may reconsider their country’s approach to India-Pakistan differences. In the past the Saudis automatically sided with Pakistan because it is Muslim and against India because it is not. I hope his visit will make a difference.

However, it would be foolish on our part to hope that Arab nations will now become our friends. Friendship can only be cultivated between equals - we are not equals. We depend heavily on them for our oil supplies. Millions of Indians seek employment in Arab countries as teachers, doctors, nurses, hoteliers, builders, house-maids and labourers. Arabs will remain our paymasters; we their servitors.

A striking example of Arab racial arrogance is the way their middle-aged men come to Hyderabad to pick up our young Muslim girls, pay their parents, go through nikah, enjoy their company for some months or years and then dump them. Have you ever heard of an Indian Muslim marrying an Arab woman and treating her the same way? They treat Pakistanis and Bangladeshis the same manner as they do Indians. They can afford to do so because they have the money. We cannot afford to object to their behaviour because we don’t have it.

What is ironic is that even the money they have is not acquired by their own labours. Europeans and Americans discovered vast quantities of oil and gas beneath their sandy desert wastes. They installed oil rigs to pump it out, bought most of it and paid royalties to Arab landowners. There is little justification for arrogance when riches are not earned by sweat of the brow.

My experience of Arab countries is limited. I have been to the Emirates, Egypt, Kuwait and Libya. I found the people formal, over-courteous and patronising. There was little possibility of befriending them. My experience of non-Arab Muslim countries was quite different.

I spent a few days in Iran during the Shah’s reign before the Ayatollahs, befriended Iranians, invited them over to join me for drinks and meals in my hotel. In return they invited me to their homes for meals and drinks. I am told that all that has changed: women are in veils again and drinking in public forbidden. I felt completely at ease in Turkey. It was like being in Europe and never did I feel I was a non-Muslim in a Muslim country.

Theory of revolution

One evening in November 1934, a few Indian poets assembled in a Chinese restaurant in London for dinner. They decided it was time Urdu poetry showed more commitment in dealing with problems of the poor, exploitation of workers by captains of industry and governments’ bias towards capitalists. They formed the Progressive Writers Association (PWA). The moving spirit was Sajjad Zaheer of Lucknow, better known as a Communist leader than as a writer. The movement spread like a bushfire among up-and-coming writers and poets. Some ended up by being no more than Marxist propagandists; some turned out powerful poetry exhorting people to rise in revolt as they had nothing to lose but their chains. Quite a few were put behind bars for sedition. Most of them, when not in jail, enjoyed living well, drinking premium Scotch and surrounded by bevies of lady admirers. The father figure of this band of revolutionary poets was Faiz Ahmad Faiz, who drank from dawn to dusk and at the same time wrote great poetry.

After Partition, progressive writers of both India and Pakistan kept in rapport, refused to compromise with religious fundamentalism and called on the people never to forget their common heritage. India had Sahir Ludhianvi Ali Sardar Jafri, Kaifi Azmi, Javed Akhtar and others. Pakistan had Habib Jalib, Zehra Nigah, Fahmida Riyaz, Kishwar Naheed, Ahmed Faraz. Their achievements deserved to be recorded. A gallant attempt has been made with the publication of A Celebration of Progressive Urdu Poetry: Anthems of Resistance (IndiaInk Roli Books) jointly edited by Professors Ali Husain Mir and Raza Mir. Connoisseurs of Urdu poetry may carp at their selection of poems and their translations, but one is compelled to laud their efforts.

I have picked a delightful piece of satire by Habib Jalib to show the book is well-worth delving into.

Firangi ka jo main darbaan hota

To jeena kis qadar aasaan hota

Merey bachche bhi Amereeka mein padte

Main har garmi mein Inglistaan hota

Meri English bala ki chust hoti

Bala se jo na Urdudaan hota

Jhuka ke sar ko ho jaata jo Sir main

To leader bhi azeem-ush shaan hota

Zameenen meri har soobe mein hoti

Main wallaah Sadr-e-Pakistan hota.

(Had I too been a courtier of the imperialists

Life would have been a piece of cake

My children too would’ve studied in America

And every summer would have been spent

in England

My English would be devilishly clever

Had I not been a lowly Urdu-walla

Had I bowed my head for a knighthood

I, too, would have been called an exalted leader

I would have owned lands in every province

By God! I could have been the president of Pakistan!)

Terrace tactics

There was a young lady from Miranda

Who preferred to do it in the verandah

When asked to explain

She replied with disdain

Oye tainoo kee farak paindaey.

(Courtesy: Mani Shankar Aiyar, New Delhi)

See online : The Hindustan Times

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