Fundamentalism is on the rise, the solution is to go back to Gandhi’s teachings

Hate and violence has overtaken and intruded into everyday life, long gone are the days where every person bonded with each other

PTI photo
PTI photo

Humra Quraishi

In the last several months, with news reports gaining ground of Africans getting brutally attacked in and around the capital city, New Delhi, I wonder what explanations will the government give the South Africa President, Cyril Ramaphosa, when he comes here in January 2019, as the chief guest for the Republic Day celebrations.

Look how hate and violence has overtaken, intruding everyday life. There was a time when we bonded not just with each other but even reached out emotionally as well with the people of Africa.

There was that blissful period in our very recent history where poets like Ali Sardar Jafri and Sahir Ludhianvi wrote verse after verse in solidarity with the Africans.

These lines of Ali Sardar Jafri written in 1960s - "This African, my brother /Picks flowers, in forest after forest/ My brother, whose feet are red/ Red as roses...”

Also these lines of Sahir Ludhianvi written when Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of Congo and who was also a "staunch anti-imperialist" was deposed from office and then murdered- "Tyranny has no caste, no community, no status nor dignity/ Tyranny is simply tyranny, from its beginning to its end/ Blood however is blood, it becomes a hundred things/ Shapes that cannot be obliterated/ Flames that can never be extinguished/ Chants that can never be suppressed."

Mulk Raj Anand; the man with offbeat views and wrote in times of personal tragedy

Mulk Raj Anand would have turned 113 on December 12. When one thinks of Mulk it’s not just the books he has written or his offbeat views but also the way he had done up his home in New Delhi. To be precise one of his homes, for he had a place on Mumbai’s Cuffe Parade. I had visited and interviewed him several times at his New Delhi situated home ‘Lokayata’. It stood out at the very beginning of Hauz Khas Village, very close to the Deer Park. There was something very different about the place. Not in terms of architecture or some fancy layout. On the contrary, there were just bare basics to the home and yet it had an air of being different. And it’s with much pride Mulk would detail that he had done up the place with just about the minimum expenditure - “bought these moorahs from the village and also some of these durries and chiks … and a local carpenter has done these wooden shelves and I had these painted in bright red, because red brings in cheer to the atmosphere…” He’d always emphasized on the significance of colours, also on greenery and plants growing along the gates and backward of his home.

In fact, the last time I had interviewed him was in the autumn of 1999. I recall it was during the month of November, and though he was nearing 95 years but looked much younger and he had kept calling himself “young man”. And this “young man” had undertaken a long road journey along with Dolly Sahiar, from Chandigarh to Amritsar and from there to New Delhi. And that too in a Gypsy yet he’d looked rather relaxed. It was a long winding interview and he had been at his blatant best.

When I had asked him to comment on the social decay that was spreading, he had said, “At times I question myself whether we are the same people who created the Ellora Caves in the second century. See, what’s become of us. Today we seem to have no time to read or even think, because we are busy watching bosomy heroines on the idiot box, selling our own daughters through those massive matrimonial advertisements as though selling cattle… And look at our bureaucrats! Wonder how do they administer to us when most can’t even drive their own vehicles! And look at what our men are wearing- not cottons and khadi and none of the kurta pyjamas which is suitable for our climatic conditions but tight-fitting synthetic trousers.”

Mulk had added, “I’ve always been provoked by all that is happening around me. My novels are my reactions to a personal loss or to all that is happening around me… today there is much violence and hatred everywhere. The rise of fundamentalism is also alarming; the only answer to the growing intolerance its going back to Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings. All these years we have ignored his teachings and that’s why problems are erupting all around us.”

Perhaps, few of us would know that Mulk had spent some time living in the Sabarmati Ashram. He’d lived there till the day he had violated one of the ashram rules and was asked by Mahatma Gandhi to leave the ashram. “I had just recovered from my first nervous breakdown, which I had suffered in the UK. When I had travelled back to India and went to the meet Gandhiji at the Sabarmati Ashram, and requested him if I could stay there. After much thought he did finally allow me to stay there but only after I had agreed on three basic issues. In fact, I had taken three vows- to clean toilets, never to drink alcohol and never to look at women with desire. In the beginning it went off okay but, then somebody had told him that I was flirting with the typist also staying in the ashram. She was an American divorcee and staying there with her young son and though there was just no truth is that allegation, but I had to leave the ashram. But even that short stay in the ashram and my interaction with Mahatma Gandhi left an impact on not just my lifestyle but on my perceptions and on my very bonding with the masses. He had asked me to tour the country and interact with the villagers and see the realities for myself.”

Each time I had interviewed Mulk, what came across rather too strongly is the fact that for him writing was a form of therapy, to lessen the emotional pain and turmoil. “Writing is a therapy for me to this day. I must write every day. In fact, during 1927 when I had suffered the first nervous breakdown, my meeting with Sigmund Freud in Vienna and five sittings with him helped me to a considerable extent. But, later, the subsequent two nervous breakdowns were cured only through writings. I wrote a novel each time to recover my fragile nerves. I had written the novel, Across The Black Waters, when my friend, activist Gertrude Mitchell, was killed by the Nazis in 1936. In my personal life I have loved several women and was left shattered when they died. In fact, each nervous breakdown took off with that loss. The first breakdown came with the news of the first woman I’d fell in love with—Irene, who was an Irish and was involved with the Irish national movement was killed in 1927. The other two nervous breakdowns followed.. I’ve suffered not just in relationships but also on the marriage front. My first marriage with Kathleen Van Gelder failed. The second marriage to Anel D’ Silva couldn’t really take off because she changed her mind at the last minute. Then, I got married to dancer Shirin Vajifdar.”

Mulk wrote even in his mid-nineties, until he fell ill. What had compounded his deteriorating health was the sudden death of his companion—the well-known Mumbai based illustrator, Dolly Sahiar, who had died on board whilst traveling from the US to Mumbai. He couldn’t cope with that loss and, passed away in 2004.

Javed Abidi- the man who had brought a ray of hope for hundreds

On December 3, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPI), I kept recollecting the immense work done in this field by Javed Abidi. After all, he served as director of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) in India and was the founder of the Disability Rights Group. He’d passed away in March, leaving behind huge imprints of his work and outreach and some intense verse.

I had requested his younger brother Amir and sister Sheeba to send me his verse. I am quoting these lines from his poem titled ‘Aligarh 1985’ which he had penned way back in 1985 whilst studying in New Jersey. His family was based in Aligarh and he had gone abroad for higher studies… got back only to immerse himself in the rights of the disabled.

“Aligarh 1985-
Aata hai yaad mujhko guzra hua zamana,
woh Aligarh ki baaten woh hasna woh chahchahana!
Paida hua jahan par, pala badha wahin par,
shahar hai ya jannat mushkil hai bata pana!
log chahte the, sab mante the
kuch bhi karon yaron par in se mat takrana!
kuch ke liye farishta the ham sab,
kuch ke liye shaitan se bhi badtar!
kuch bhi the karte, saath karte the,
kiya jo chaha karna!
Paya jo chaha pana!”

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Published: 06 Dec 2018, 11:00 AM