Of Harsh Mander being dragged into Delhi riots case, Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide and more

Harsh Mander needn’t have quit IAS, which he did soon after Gujarat pogrom of 2002 to become a full -time activist. And thereafter, he took to reaching out to the pogrom survivors with relief work

Harsh Mander (Photo courtesy- social media)
Harsh Mander (Photo courtesy- social media)

Humra Quraishi

I am saddened and shocked to see the systematic way in which civil servant turned activist, Harsh Mander’s name is getting dragged in the Delhi riots of 2020. Needless to go into those backgrounders, to the obvious ‘whys’ to the harassment he is facing.

In fact, each time Mander’s books were launched I made it a point to read them and also to interview him because they are laced with the ground realities which most of us sit unaware of, because we don’t take the trouble to travel to the conflict and violence hit zones. But Harsh Mander makes it a point to reach out, to all the victims surviving in the most tragic and painful circumstances.

Mander needn’t have quit the Indian Administrative Service/ IAS, which he did soon after the Gujarat pogrom of 2002 to become a full -time activist. And thereafter, he took to reaching out to the pogrom survivors with relief work in that dedicated, consistent and earnest way. In fact, a number of his books are based on the Gujarat situation. Several others focus on hunger, deprivations and the gaps and disparities, staring at us. But unfortunately, we are not reacting to those dark realities of the day!

He details each one of these realities in a calm, composed and compassionate way; yet not missing out a single hard-hitting fact. In fact, each time I interviewed him, two factors always stood out – Mander’s compassion and his ability to reach out to the poorest and the most disadvantaged. Also, his fearlessness, the ability to speak out the truth at any cost!

I recall asking him, during the course of an interview, soon after the Gujarat pogrom 2002 was officially over, whether peace was actually returning to the violence hit locales and this is what Mander had to say – “I would describe the situation in Gujarat today to be one of unquiet, counterfeit peace. Authentic peace is founded on justice, security, trust. But there is another kind of peace that one can witness in Gujarat today. This is peace based on extreme fear, resignation, compromise… The minorities are confronted on the one hand with a state that is openly hostile and malevolent to them, and is actively subverting the justice systems. On the other, they are dealing with unprecedented social divide and a social and economic boycott in villages and towns. …”

He had also spoken in an emotional way about the painful realities that the survivors of Gujarat pogrom faced – “They are desperately trying to rebuild their lives. Many of them lost their employment, or have been evicted from their lands and homes, because of the economic boycott. This extends even to the shops or small eating establishments or even rickshaws run by minorities. Of the 240 cases of POTA registered by the state, 239 are against Muslims. Nearly half the cases registered after the carnage have already been closed, by an active subversion of FIRs, investigation and trial. None of the guilty have been brought to book. There is therefore an enormous sense of despair….”

And before each interview ended, Mander would emphasize on the faith he has in the masses of our country. He’d told me that during his travels he’d realized this. “I witness an upsurge of revulsion against the brutality of Gujarat everywhere I travel. I believe people will reject the dangerous politics of hatred.” And he’d also hit out at the nexus between the political and the religious segments. “I do not describe communal leaders, whether Hindu or Muslim, as ‘religious’. In fact they are pseudo-religious, because no religion preaches hatred and killings. I see political parties, particularly of the right, in close cohorts with pseudo-religious leaders to retain power.”

For some reason Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide reminded me of Guru Dutt’s demise…

Sushant Singh Rajput’s tragic end hit hard. Compounded by the gloom and anarchy and uncertainty spreading out, all around. And whilst I sat introspecting on the sheer helplessness that 34 year old Sushant must be going through before taking that drastic step, I was all too suddenly reminded of the way Guru Dutt died at 39; taking his own life amidst deep sorrow, agony and helplessness.

I recall years back viewing this documentary made by Nasreen Munni Kabir. Titled ‘In Search Of Guru Dutt’, it focused on the life and times of Guru Dutt.

Though several film personalities have been interviewed in that documentary film –Waheeda Rahman , Johnny Walker, Raj Khosla , Murthy (Guru Dutt’s chief cameraman) , Abrar Alvi ( Guru Dutt’s favorite scriptwriter), but sadly none of them focused on the exact cause of that severe depression that led to his ultimate end . Waheeda Rahman spoke in a guarded way; she didn’t touch on the personal, but spoke only from the angle that he was a director of a this or that film and those films-related aspects.

Though none of the other commentators in that documentary focused directly on his reasons for the suicide, but they came to one single conclusion – that Guru Dutt was a little too sensitive, a little too different, and little too passionate and humane for the Bollywood industry ...In fact, one of these commentators, even said that if Guru Dutt would ever lie, his ears would turn red!

Also, Abrar Alvi did say that, that evening (before his suicide ) he was with him and found him to be in a depressed state…words along the strain, “I had reached his home around 6 pm to discuss the final scene of Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi – but found that he had been drinking from early evening. Then, he was talking in a morbid way. And the whole time I spent in trying to get him out of those talks, of those morbid thoughts … I left his home only around 1 a m, when I was sure that he had come out of that depression and was okay. But then, next morning heard he was no more.”

Guru Dutt’s sister, Lalitha Lajmi, threw some light on his personality…As the camera focused on her, she’d said that her brother Guru Dutt seemed to be possessed with one of those personalities that could be best described as “disturbed …on earlier occasions too he had tried to commit suicide…once he was in coma for three days …” And though he’d died several years back but whilst Lalitha Lajmi was narrating all this, her face looked so grief stricken as though he’d passed away only a day back!... And as the camera focused on Guru Dutt’s mother, sitting on what seemed a wooden bed or takht , she spoke in a matter-of-fact tone, describing Guru Dutt’s childhood personality traits in these words -“he was very stubborn /ziddi …and did whatever obsessed him. And at times he would ask such questions that I thought I would go crazy answering them.”

But unfortunately, none of them could throw light on the immediate reason for that drastic step that Guru Dutt took. Killing himself …taking his own life at 39. If alive he would be turning 95 soon, on July 9.

The dead don’t leave back any answers …only a series of trails…that should be followed so that the painful truth gets out, and speculations and rumors end.

Maybe or maybe not, we get to know those details to the ‘whys’ Sushant killed himself. Was he finding himself to be a misfit on the Bollywood circuit? Was he left disillusioned and disappointed with the ways of the filmi world and also the world where each one of us are surviving in, amidst challenges and pains and sorrows of all hues!

Leaving you with Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s ‘Heart Attack’

And this morning as I went through an earlier published volume on Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poetry, ' The Best of Faiz’ , translated by Shiv K Kumar and published by UBSPD, the page that opened all too suddenly, was the one carrying these lines from his verse - Titled - Heart Attack -

'Pain so intense that night, my savage heart /

wanted to grapple with every artery /

and drip from every pore /

and out there , as though in your courtyard /

each leaf ,bathed in my despondent blood /

began to look pale in the moonlight /

In my body's desert places ,it seemed /

As if , all the fibres of my wincing veins ,undone /

Began shooting out signals, ceaselessly /

preparations for the departure of love's caravan/

And when in memory's fading light /

There emerged somewhere before the eye /

one last moment of your love's kindness /

the pain was so lacerating that /

it ventured to overstep the moment/

I too willed to hold on to it

But the heart would not agree…"

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