Book Extract: Muslims took the Qutub Minar with them
The play invokes a jury comprising people who represent the ‘wisdom of India’, includes exchanges in the court and reaches a dystopian climax with declaration of a state of Emergency in the country
Title: The Muslim Vanishes
A play by: Saeed Naqvi
Publisher: Penguin Random House India
Pages : 168
Hailed as a ‘fantastic fable and a deeply disturbing view of India’ by veteran India watcher and former BBC correspondent Mark Tully, and as ‘a masterpiece’ by former RAW chief AS Dulat, the play The Muslim Vanishes has stirred interest in both political and literary circles. Filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan found it a stark and compelling portrait of our times while screenwriter and filmmaker Saeed Mirza hailed it as ‘metaphoric’ and ‘staggering’.
The play invokes a jury comprising people who represent the ‘wisdom of India’, includes exchanges in the court and reaches a dystopian climax with the declaration of a state of Emergency in the country.
Extracts from the first Act of the play:
A news channel’s brightly lit studio is ready for an in-depth show on a breaking story.
Primetime anchors Anand and Brajesh are seated about eight feet apart from each other. In the backdrop is a display panel identifying the channel—Insight Today TV. In front of them are laptops, mics and other paraphernalia typically seen in a TV studio. When the scene opens, the anchors are processing the news inputs popping up on their laptop screens.
A journalist on the news desk, young and lanky, rushes in with the latest. He somehow manages to look distraught, excited and confounded all at once.
JOURNALIST [ panting]: Oh my God! They’re gone?! And th- . . . they . . . they’ve taken it with them. It has disappeared. This is HUGE! The biggest news of our lives!
ANAND [sharply]: Breathe, man! [After a pause] Who’s gone?
JOURNALIST: The reporters are saying there’s not even one left in the city. Not one. All gone. Every single one . . . [he trails off, as if contemplating the gravity of the situation].
ANAND: Arrey! But tell us who? Where did they go? Don’t speak in riddles. There is nothing about anyone or anything disappearing on the wires
JOURNALIST: Sir, believe me, they’re just gone, each one of them. God only knows where. It must be magic, sir, black magic!
ANAND [exasperated]: You first said ‘it’ has gone. Now you are saying ‘they’ have gone. A goat could have disappeared. A bride could have disappeared. Birds could have disappeared. [Raising his voice] What is gone? Who is gone? Don’t confuse us.
JOURNALIST [tongue-tied]: I don’t know how to explain . . . It’s just . . . so unbelievable. Sir, there is no one left! I mean the Muslims. Muslims have gone. Some say they have taken the Qutub Minar with them.
A second journalist, bespectacled and stout, and possibly the first one’s senior, makes an entry and joins the discussion.
SECOND JOURNALIST: Did you get any feedback on where the Muslims have gone?
FIRST JOURNALIST: No one knows. Actually, I have not been told. There is no official information.
ANAND [looks at his laptop screen]: There is some mention of it on the wires now—PTI has one take. But no details.
SECOND JOURNALIST [to the first journalist]: How do you know they are all gone? What’s your source?
FIRST JOURNALIST: One of our reporters has reliably learnt that Khalil Darzi’s shop is shut, and so are Salaru Saloon, Asghar Ali Perfumery, Mohammad Siddiq Tobacconists. All Muslim houses in Nakhas and Aminabad in Lucknow are empty. I don’t know what is happening. The Muslims and everything Muslim seem to have disappeared
Their conversation is interrupted by an office assistant, a diminutive man in his thirties, who rushes into the studio.
OFFICE ASSISTANT: I am sorry to barge in, but I was asked by the news desk to share my news with you.
ANAND: When news rains, it literally pours! [Turns to the office assistant.] What do you have for us?
OFFICE ASSISTANT: Sir, this has got to do with Rashid’s tabela, the buffalo shed, which is near my house. This morning I found it deserted. Rashid and his family have disappeared.
ANAND: Are the buffaloes still there?
OFFICE ASSISTANT: Yes, sir. The buffaloes are very much there. ANAND: So why are you worried? Are you interested in the buffaloes or in Rashid?
OFFICE ASSISTANT: We are all worried about Rashid. Why wouldn’t we be? After all, he is a neighbour, and all our milk comes from his buffaloes. Very creamy milk, sir, pure . . . straight from the udder. And now he is gone.
ANAND: There is no cause for worry. You will still get the same milk. Perhaps you may even get a share of the profits made by selling the milk. The dividends from the buffaloes will now be shared by all of us.
BRAJESH [his eyes lighting up]: Anita has for a long time been dreaming of owning a farm—cows, buffaloes, poultry.
ANAND: Which Anita is this?
BRAJESH: My wife, of course. You know her.
Cut to the SUV going up the driveway of an expansive, colonial style bungalow. There is smoke rising from a fire lit in the veranda. A woman with a child in her lap is making chapatis. The SUV comes to a halt in the porch.
ANITA [to the driver]: Please find out if Altaf Bhai is around. [Pauses.] Who are these people?
The driver gets out of the car, walks up to the woman making chapatis and speaks to her. Seated next to her is a young boy, and behind her is a man puffing at a hookah. Two other men are lounging around. The driver returns.
DRIVER: They say they live here.
ANITA [taken aback]: Live here! Since when?
YOUNG GIRL [seated in the back of the SUV]: Going by their err. . . wretched appearance, they seem to be members of the New Socialist Party. You should know them. You’re still secretary, aren’t you, Buaji?
ANITA [shooting her a glare]: There’s no need for jokes. Don’t you worry, all of them will be enlisted in the party, if they are not members already.
Anita gets out of the car, approaches the woman who is cooking and politely exchanges a namaste with her. She then begins making inquiries.
ANITA: Where is Altaf Bhai?
The woman and the men with her shake their heads to indicate that they do not know.
ANITA [ politely]: How have you managed to come here?
MAN WITH HOOKAH: You may not know this, but many houses in this area have been allotted to the homeless.
ANITA: Who has made the allotment?
MAN WITH HOOKAH [getting up and bowing to the visitor]: Huzur, the Dalit Samaj is responsible for the good deed. But this bungalow is too big for us. There are nine rooms. You can take as many rooms as you like.
SECOND MAN: We are cobblers, ma’am. We skin animals. We mend shoes. Now the Dalit Samaj Committee wants us to make our shoes here. We were told to come here. But you don’t have to worry, ma’am. Please take half the house. Three, four, five, six rooms . . . Anything.
A young woman, one of Anita’s sisters-in-law, opens the SUV’s door and comes running with a mobile phone.
YOUNG WOMAN: Bhaiya is on the line.
ANITA [speaking into the mobile]: Altaf’s bungalow is already occupied. Some people have been allotted this house to start some leather-related work—I think a shoe factory. [She pauses as she processes the information she is receiving from her husband.] What did you say? Rashid has actually disappeared and someone else has moved in? You’d better go there and see for yourself, and bring Anand along. We will join you there in a while.
[Anita screws up her eyes, as if deep in thought or drawing up a plan in her head. She turns towards her sister-in-law.]
Strange things are happening. It seems as if the country is suddenly ripe for socialism.
FIRST BROTHER-IN-LAW [middle-aged and dressed in black trousers and a white shirt]: What a relief! Finally, the communal element is gone from our world. No Muslims, no identity politics. Bhabhi, you may be right, although I can’t believe what is happening.
SECOND BROTHER-IN-LAW [nattily turned out in jeans and a designer shirt]: We should know for sure before jumping to any conclusions. All this talk of an entire community having vanished may be fake news.
ANITA [authoritatively, as if putting things in perspective]: See, if it’s true, there are two ways of looking at it. One, the disappearance of Muslims will have a huge impact on society—I mean, now we can’t just point fingers at one community every time there’s a problem. Suddenly, everything that communalized our politics is just . . . gone. But there’s another thing too. Maybe this is finally the time for socialism. Just think about it—now we can distribute all this land, property, wealth and jobs equally among the people and . . . [She trails off, looking into the distance, imagining the future.]
YOUNG WOMAN: Bhabhi, so you think the disappearance of 200 million Muslims should be seen as a great opportunity?
ANITA: Isn’t that precisely what the Hindu Right project is all about? They have been telling us that India will be a land of milk and honey once the Hindu Rashtra is established. By the looks of it, that dream has turned into a reality…[ pointing to the new occupants of Altaf Bhai’s bungalow]: They will now get a fair deal. This is exactly what socialism is all about.
(This story was published in National Herald on Sunday)