No Hindu, no Muslim in Bollywood   

Ganesh Chaturthi is for everyone in Tinseltown

 No Hindu, no Muslim in Bollywood   
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Subhash K Jha

After four months of lockdown, Salman Khan finally got together with his family for the auspicious occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi, the 10-day festival devoted to the worship of Lord Ganesha. It is the most important Hindu festival in the state of Maharashtra.

Post the Coronavirus lockdown, this was Salman Khan’s first family get together held at Salman’s brother Sohail’s residence.

Salman’s father Salim Khan says the family upholds India’s secular values without making an effort to do so. “My wife is a Hindu. I am Muslim. All our children grew up with independent beliefs. For our family, Eid and Ganesh Chaturthi, which comes soon after the other, are of equal importance.”

Salman who likes to be known as, “Neither Hindu nor Musalmaan, Simply Salman, ek insaan (a human being)” has been brought up with deeply secular values.

It is no different in the homes of the other Khan superstars Shah Rukh, Aamir and Saif where Ganesh Chaturthi was initiated this year with the arrival of Lord Ganesha idols at their homes. Interestingly, all the three Khan superstars, Shah Rukh, Aamir and Saif have Hindu wives and the children are being brought up to believe in the oneness of God.

Saif Ali Khan’s youngest son Taimur’s mother Kareena reads out stories from every scripture to the little boy at bedtime. Taimur was recently seen on social media with an image of Lord Ganesa that he had made with ‘Lego’ blocks.

Says filmmaker, scripwriter Rumi Jaffrey: “Saif, Aamir, Shah Rukh and Salman Khan’s homes embody the spirit of India. I believe India lives in Salman’s home. His mother is a Hindu and his father Salim Khan Saab’s second wife (former actress-dancer) Helen is Christian. Salman’s two brothers-in-law are Hindu Brahmins. In Salman’s home, Ganesh Chaturthi and Diwali are celebrated with as much enthusiasm as Eid and Christmas, and it’s not because the media cameras are watching. Salim Saab’s family has been secular for long, much before it became fashionable to be so.”

Rumi Jaffrey, a Muslim, recalls his childhood memories in the city of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh. “All of us boys celebrated Hindu festivals like Holi, Diwali and Ganesh Chaturthi without questioning anyone’s religious identity. It didn’t even occur to us that I was a Muslim or that the others were Hindus. This kind of religious identification for political reasons has ruined India’s truly secular fabric. Why do we have to raise slogans like ‘Hindu Muslim Bhai Bhai (Hindus, Muslims are brothers)’? I have three brothers. We brothers don’t keep hugging and taking pictures together to remind one another that we are brothers.”

The formidable Shabana Azmi, a vocal Muslim activist and considered India’s finest dramatic actress, says her father, the legendary poet, Kaifi Azmi, inculcated the most secular values in his children Shabana and cinematographer-filmmaker Baba Azmi. “There was an absence of religious practice in our house but religious festivals were celebrated both in our home and the film industry, Diwali, Holi, Eid, Ganesh Chaturthi being the major ones. Both my sisters-in-law (actresses) Tanve Azmi and Sulabha Arya are Maharashtrians. Ganesh Chaturthi is big in our home, though we will miss the flow of visitors this Ganesh Chaturthi, because of the Coronavirus.”

Shabana feels the spirit of cultural and religious pluralism is embedded in India’s DNA. “India’s greatest strength is her pluralism and her composite culture. My father, Kaifi Azmi, instilled a love in the family for our rich cultural heritage which has at its core diversity and exclusiveness. We grew up celebrating all festivals and continue to do so till date.”

Shabana recalls her eminent mother’s love for cultural assimilation as reflected in the home she kept. “My mother, Shaukat Kaifi, travelled extensively all over India with the internationally known theatre group, Prithvi Theatre, and even the one 200-square feet room that we had (I lived in a commune of the Communist Party called the Red Flag Hall till the age of nine where eight families shared one bathroom and one toilet) had curtains from Odisha, kalamkari bedcovers from Hyderabad, cushion covers from Gujarat, etc . In my mother’s final home, Janki Kutir, there were temple bells, icons from Rome, Allah written in ceramic from Iran .We learnt about diversity as a virtue by a process of osmosis,” she says.

Far away from Mumbai in his native village of Budhana in Uttar Pradesh, one of Bollywood’s most celebrated contemporary actors, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, is celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi quietly.

Says Nawaz wistfully, “I miss the hustle and bustle of Mumbai during this festive season. Ganesh Chaturthi and Holi and Diwali are major events in my life. In our village, everyone, Hindu or Muslim, celebrates all festivals. I remember when I was a student of the National School Of Drama in Delhi, all of us students began preparing to celebrate Holi ten days in advance. None of us was asked a political question like, ‘Why do you celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi when you are a Muslim?’ To me this question makes no sense. It’s as nonsensical as ‘Why do you, Muslims, breathe the same air as your Hindu neighbour?’ We celebrate Ganesh Charurthi because we are Indians.”

Actor Sanjay Dutt, whose mother, the legendary actress, Nargis, was Muslim while his father was actorpolitician Sunil Dutt, is married to a Muslim. The couple’s children are being brought up in an atmosphere of religious liberalism.

“Ganesh Chaturthi was a big event in our home when I was a child. It is a big event now for my children,” says Dutt simply.

Bollywood remains truly untarnished by the politics of religious divisiveness that has taken over India.

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