The lost precious pearls of Gujarat  

A file photo of firemen attempting to put out a rapidly spreading fire in a Muslim neighborhood of central Ahmadabad in March 2002

If Centre can run Haj subsidies and provide security to Amarnath and Mansarovar pilgrims, it certainly should also consider paying for repairs of properties damaged in religious violence

The government can run Haj subsidies, conduct Hindu pilgrimages in Kashmir and Tibet by expending diplomatic capital with China, or by deploying ace troops along the route leading to Amarnath cave.

Yet, when it comes to repairing shrines vandalised in Gujarat by hateful religious mobs targeting Muslims in the frenzy of 2002, the government should adopt its secular aloofness, if that is what it is, and should not fund the rebuilding or repairs of the buildings. This, at least, would seem to be the implied message from the Supreme Court’s decision this week. It told the Gujarat government not to bother paying for the damaged properties.

The judgment overturned the Gujarat High Court’s ruling that had asked the state government to repair the buildings and the treasured monuments that were wrecked. Indirectly, the judgment could impact the Punjab and Haryana High Court verdict against Dera Sacha Sauda. The sect, until recently headed by dubious guru Ram Rahim, was ordered to shell out money for repairs in the wake of the vandalism its followers carried out following the rape conviction. On both counts, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) should have felt happy, as the rest of the country still rubs its eyes in disbelief.

I wonder if the judges would have decreed otherwise had they known the angst of Rasoolan Bai, the legendary singer whose house was burnt down in the 1970s in Ahmedabad after which she was given refuge in Delhi by Naina Devi.

“Yehi thaiyya motiya herai gaele Rama, kahaa’n mein wa dhoondoo?” (I lost the precious pearl right here somewhere, O Ram. Please help me find it). The lost pearls could be Gujarat's lost monuments, artists, poets and singers, including Rasoolan Bai herself.

Gujarat was also the place where Ustad Fayyaz Khan, Wali Dakhani and Ehsan Jaafri sang paeans to India's syncretic icons, Krishna and Radha, Buddha and Meera among them.

This was where Begum Akhtar gave her last concert and died clasping the harmonium before the stunned listeners. As with India’s other provinces, where music and art flourished under royal patronage, the house of Baroda, favoured the very best from across the country. Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, originally from Punjab, founded the Kirana Gharana of singers in the region. He married a Hindu princess from Baroda and settled down in Miraj, where they begot children, the peerless singers Hirabai Barodekar, Saraswati Rane and Suresh Babu Mane.

Let's pay tribute to just four of Gujarat’s lost pearls. Every year in February, when newspapers and TV channels begin to chatter about the arriving budget, the memory of Rasoolan Bai, Fayyaz Khan, Ehsaan Jaafri and Wali Dakhani haunts their devotees. It was on a budget day, during the finance minister’s speech, actually, when helpless women were being raped and murdered on Feb 28, 2002 as the state turned a blind eye.

People know Ehsaan Jaafri as a Communist politician, who became a follower of Indira Gandhi. But it is his less known flair for Urdu poetry that gives an insight into the man’s credentials that challenge the culprits of Godhra, and his own killers. Jaafri’s book of verse is called Qandeel (The Lamp). Published in 1994, it is a collection of his work from the time of his association with progressive writers. It has a foreword by Majrooh Sultanpuri, himself a stalwart among India’s progressive poets.

An example that reflects Jaafri’s nation-hugging personality, which can only heighten the irony of his lynching:

“Geeton se teri zulfon ko Meera ne sanwara/Gautam ne sada di tujhe Nanak ne pukara/ Khusro ne kai rangon se daaman ko nikhara/ Har dil mein muhabbat ki ukhuwat ki lagan hai/ Ye mera watan mera watan mera watan hai. (Meera adorned your locks with her songs/ Gautam called you out, as did Nanak/ Khusro filled colours in your frills/ Every heart beats here for love and tolerance/ This is my homeland, this is it).”

People have tried to explain the tragedy in the context of provocation and reaction. The question then is: why did the same mob burn down the house of Rasoolan Bai in Ahmedabad decades before Godhra?

All the rioters and their neighbours can still hear Rasoolan’s thumri in Raag Bhairavi on the internet. Would you believe what the words are? “Kaanha, bisbhari basiya sunaai gaile na” (O Krishna, please don't torment me with your mesmeric flute).

“Ab naa bajaao Shyaam/ bansuriyaa naa bajaao Shyaam/ (e rii) vyaakul bhaayii brajabaalaa/ bansuriyaa naa bajaao Shyaam/ nit merii galiin men aayo naa/ aayo to chhup ke rahiyo/ bansii kii terii sunaaiyo naa” (Don’t play your flute, Shyaam/It perplexes my little heart/ Don’t play your flute, Shyaam, Nor come round my street/ Come not, keep it down/ Don’t play your flute, Shyaam). Rasoolan's house is probably rubble enveloped in history, but should it have been saved or repaired with an apology?

In the 2002 violence, the mob in Ahmedabad destroyed the several centuries old grave of Wali Dakhani. Instead of repairing the damaged grave, the state government flattened the vandalised structure to build a metalled road over it. Who was Wali Dakhani and why was his memory so viciously abused? The seventeenth century poet loved Gujarat and was an advocate of Hindu-Muslim synthesis. A sample from this poet’s repertoire which reflects the earliest form of Urdu poetry is reproduced below:

“Kuuchaa-e-yaar’ain Kaasii hai/ Jogiya dil vaheen kaa baasii hai/ Pii ke bairaag kii udaasii suun/ Dil pe mere sadaa udaasii hai/ Zulf terii hai mauj Jamnaa kii/ Til nazik uske jyun sanaasii hai (Shah Abdus Salam translates it thus: “Beloved’s street is exactly like the holy city of Kashi/My ascetic heart dwells therein/Due to the sadness of the separation from the beloved/My heart is always immersed in dejection/Your tresses are the waves of Jamuna river/ And the mole next to the tresses is the ascetic on the bank). Should Wali’s ascetic heart, now buried in the vanished grave, not be repaired?

A mob in Baroda attacked the grave of Ustad Fayyaz Khan, scion of the Agra Gharana of musicians. The ustad was honoured as Aftab-i-Mausiqi by popular consensus and had sung many compositions devoted to Krishna, the favourite icon of much of Gujarat. “Manmohan Brij ko rasiya” a Basant-like composition in Raag Paraj, and “Vande Nand Kumaram”, a late afternoon composition in Raag Kaafi, among other soul-searching songs, were rendered as a full-throated celebration of Lord Krishna.

Fayyaz Khan’s grave was not spared during the hateful mayhem. Now, we can’t just erase anyone’s memory at will. People have the right to know the tradition Fayyaz Khan represented. Legend has it that it possibly goes back to the Mughal court days in Agra.

Ethnomusicologist Bonnie Wade says that to understand the place of music in the Mughal court, one must not only ‘see’ miniatures but ‘hear’ them too. In her fascinating study, Imaging Sound, she shows how the depiction of musical instruments in Mughal paintings reveals the cultural synthesis which was taking place in the era; how the synthesis of Hindu, Muslim, Sufi, and Central and West Asian musical traditions led to the emergence of a north Indian classical musical culture.

India's priceless pearls lost in Gujarat cannot be replaced, but their memory could still be honoured, not the least by repairing the places associated with them.

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