Friday, February 29, 2008

nationality and citizenship

We in India equate nationality with citizenship. In other words citizenship is synonimous with nationality. One cannot say one is Christian, Muslim or Hindu by nationality and an Indian citizen.

But when it comes to Indians living abroad as citizens of UK, USA, Malaysia and Sri Lanka, we like to think that they are Indian nationals.

Whenever some citizen of USA, who happened to be a citizen of India once, gets an award or goes in a spaceship, we celebrate. Mr. Shashi Tharoor in Sunday Times once wrote that we could even include Mr. Churchill in our list of Nobel winners of India because he spent a few years as an army Lieutenant.

In political science a nation is different from a state. Nation does not need geographical boundaries and soverienty. It is just the population and the we-feeling that makes a nation. Infact we have so many nationalities in India. Each caste is a nation. The bond among Khammas, Reddys, Velamas transcends Indianess.That is OK! But for example if a Roman Catholic were to say he was Vatican by nationality and Indian by citizenship, there would be furore.

By the way does Vikram Pandit hold an Indian passport? NRI should be one who holds an Indian passport but stays and works abroad.

Poets and versifiers

Faber brought out a book on modern poetry but named it faber book of modern verse, though it included works of celebrated poets like Eliot, Pound, Auden, Yeats and many others. May be they were sceptical that many included were mere versifiers.

I came across another anthology named ‘Silver poets’from ‘everyman’s library’. The introduction or the prepace gave clarification why the anthology was named so. It says, “ it acknowledges a distinction between this particular assembly of poets and their more eminent contemporaries----.”

I do not recollect having come across any anthology titled Copper poets or bronze poets. I believe this category does exist. Ofcourse I have not seen a title of golden poets either. I have come across the term lesser poets, whatever it means. On the second thought it should mean versifyers who do not have poetic content even very occasionally.

Atalji, our highly respected politician, is also a poet. Hardly anyone knew him as a poet before he became prime minister. Then there were sycophants not only of his political acumen but also of his poetry. He gave in to sychophancy. He would recite one of his verses on any given occasion or on a slight suggestion to recite one. India TV portrayed it well in their programme ‘gustakhi mwaf’. Only Kaif Azmi could say what Atalji was writing was mere ‘tukbandi’. Celebrated singers offered to sing his poems and they did sing. Composers lined up to give musical score.

Verse is a form, while poetry it’s content. When the two compliment each other it is great poetry. Even the free verse has rhythm. Great prose has rhythm. Great prose also bursts into poetry. I can think of James Joyce and Katherine Mansfield. Poets use ‘measured language of emotion’. A poem is ‘a litarary expression in which words are used in a concentrated blend of sound and imagery to create an emotional response.’

‘In its broadest sense, writing that aims to present ideas and evoke an emotional experience in the reader through the use of meter, imagery, connotative and concrete words, and a carefully constructed structure based on rhythmic patterns. Poetry typically relies on words and expressions that have several layers of meaning. It also makes use of the effects of regular rhythm on the ear and may make a strong appeal to the senses through the use of imagery.’

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Saturday, February 2, 2008


In our society one thing has not changed for sure. It is desire for a male child. Many couples have even six to seven daughters just in the hope of having a male child. Try they never stop! Couples pray to God for a male child, coax Him with offerings. Muslims, many of who have Sufi inclinations pray at a durgah—a place a Sufi saint is buried, offer to cook special dishes every year on the Urs day and say fatiha. They believe that the Sufis had ‘realised Allah or discovered the ‘ultimate truth’ and his one favourable word Allah would definitelty hear. Such faith is strengthened by coincidences, by claims of various people that in their case ‘miracle ‘ did take place. “My son was born after we prayed at the durgah” is something one hears commonly. Common argument is “ we believe Allah is supreme but you see we are sinners so we request the wali to put in a word”

Hindus visit various temples; offer mundans, annadanam, every year visit Tirupati and give offerings in the hundi.

Obviously such families have large number of female members. All affection is showered on the son. Every preference is given to him. As the children grow, the daughters slowly realise they are the ones not really ‘wanted’. They develop a kind of dislike for their brother. He is an irritant. Every time they complain to the mother the ‘misdeeds’ of him. If by chance another son is born, the girls take liking to him. May be it is psychological to prove ‘ we are not against brothers’.

Miyan was born to a couple of a middle class family. First male child after four daughters, two of them died in infancy. The boy was born after many prayers, visits to the tombs of walis and bribing them with celebrations of their urs every year with traditional sweets. This boy had a special place not just in the family but also in the entire clan. Sweets were distributed to the entire neighbourhood. ‘A bucket full of sweets’, which is how it was referred to for many, many years to come. He was darling of all. But as the girls grew up to realise, they realised what was happening. It was told very pointedly to one of the daughters that her father refused to see her because she was a female child. He did return home without seeing her. One can imagine the pain in her face whenever this incidence was narrated. It was narrated matter of factly. No one ever thought of her feelings. The girls were always treated as class two. If any sweets were brought home, major portion was for the boy. As a child not realising what was happening, he took it as his priviledge.
As the days went by, the girls ganged up against the boy. It was a female dominated house and he was made to feel lonely. They did not allow him to participate in any of their games. If he did intervene, there were shreiks from the girls, which was to suggest the boy was bullying them.

The day of his circumcision was decided. He was between 5 and 6 years of age. The day arrived. From morning there was festivity in the house. All the neighbours took part in the festivities. This young lad was terribly shaken. He knew something hurtful was going to happen to him. His young mind was so disturbed every thing looked dreadful to him. He looked upon the whole thing as cruelty. Just as a convict waits for the gallows, this youngster was waiting for his tormentors. Suddenly two men seized him and held him tight while another closed his eyes with his palms. It was all over. The boy never got over this experience. Time healed the wound but the scar in the memory would not go.

When he was six, June 1949, he was admitted to a municipal school, which was considered the best of the available schools. He spent happy days at school. It was just less than two years after independence and Gandhi was still “alive”. Children were taught cleaning of cotton, seeding it and rolling on a thin rod to make some kind of straw. Next step was spinning on takali, which was a kind of spindle. From spindle the yarn was taken on a roller and then neat garlands, the kind of which, are offered to political leaders, were made. It was great fun. Boys used to compete with each other spinning the finest thread.

Then every week there used to be fun with clay. Boys were taught to make various fruit and toys.

Every day school began with prayers. Students and teachers of all classes asembled in the yard in front of the building. “Shanti Mantra” was followed by “sur e fatiha”. It was Miyan who recited sure fatiha every morning.

There were students from all sections of society—Muslims, Lingayats, Brahmins, Rajputs and Dalits. Most of the students were from very poor families. There were boys who worked before and after school. While some cleaned and fed their cattle along with their parents, some sat with parents in a cobblers’ shop hammering animal skins to help their fathers make slippers. Some times Miya visited them while they were at work.

There were certain bad experiences with a teacher in class IV. The incidences are still fresh in memory. He did not treat all students alike. Miya just could not understand why he did so. Now after years and years he thinks he knows the reason. He does not want to believe it. He tormented the young minds. He humiliated boys who were not of his section of society. He firmly believed that only Brahmins were capable of any learning. Looking back many of those who were at the receiving end have realised his behaviour. They cannot be blamed. He was indoctrinated by his immediate surroundings. He used cane very liberally. Many times he felt too lazy to get up from his chair to slap a student who he thought had erred, instead he asked his favourite boy, of his own caste, to accomplish the task on his behalf. None dared narrate this to parents, for fear of being punished further. One day when he saw Miyan talking to the boy sitting next to him while he was supposed to be listening to what another student was saying, he got so infuriated that he threw the cane at him. The cane landed right between the eyes resulting in a small wound. He was crying. That did not have any effect on him.
He did not even come to Miyan to see the wound. During the lunch break when Miyan went home his father saw it. He just left the home. When Miyan went to school after lunch he came to know his father was there talking to the head master. After that day the teacher never touched him nor did he speak to him.

Primary education was largely under municipality and hence free. Son or daughter of district collector, judge, superintendent of police all attended the same school where a clerk’s son or a mochi’s son studied. The difference among the boys was very obvious. Children of well to do parents wore sandals and clean pressed clothes while many were in darned ones. Even as a child it did disturb Miyan. Miyan preferred going to school bare foot. Where the majority is poor and ill clad, the well-dressed children were made fun of, teased. He was broad and looked bigger than his age. He was called fatty. He was normal by today’s health standards.

There was antagonism between Lingayats and Brahmins. Sri Basava, who was the founder of Lingayats, was born a Brahmin. He rebelled against the caste system. He propogated sanatana dharma. Lingayats worship shiv ling. Though original teaching was a casteless society, today there are numerour sections if not castes among Lingayats. Sajjans are the ones whose profession was production of edible oil. A stone grinder operated by a blinkered ox, walking in circle whole day. Mathapatis are the preistly class or the descendents of that class. They are superior among Lingayats. There are Patils, landed gentry, chiefs of villages. They are respectfully referred to as Goudaru.

Brahmins had three catagories—Deshastha, Saraswat and the followers of Madhavachary, who believed in and preached Dwait phylosophy. Madhavas were very few in number. In my school there was only one boy—Purohit. Other boys showing two fingers like the victory sign, alluding to his belief in duality, always teased him. The deshastha Brahmins followed Adi Shankar’s adwaitism. Interestingly the word aikya is not used. Not being two is not necessarily one. Muslim boys were called many names. The most popular were—one referring to the circumcision, second to their script written right to left. Musula was a common reference.

At the age of 8 he witnessed a death in the family, death of a youger brother, who was a darling of every member of the family. He had fever for a few days and one day he passed away. He witnessed the convulsions of his body before he passed away. It is still fresh in his memory. Miyan’s father was shattered. He was very close to him being the yougest in the family. Miyan witnessed the burial. It was the first time that he saw someone being buried—and it was his brother. The sight of convulsions and each member of the family raising their palms praying for his life is a very agonising memory. He has not got over it though he has not told anybody about it.

He had friends in the neighbourhood, boys of his age who went to different schools. There were two brothers one in Marathi medium school and the other in Urdu. Aziz and Mushtaq and Miyan visited a school in Jama masjid to learn to read the Quran. The teacher was a very old man, Lalsab janab assisted by a college student, Mr Badruddin. Both of them were very likable persons. This class used to be between 7 and 8 am. School timings were 10 am to 5pm.

All the three boys were crazy about reading the comic strip that was part of the Urdu daily ‘Inquilab’. It was about the adventures of two boys called Chungu and Mungu. Only Aziz could read Urdu fluently as he was in an Urdu medium school. Miyan was in Kannada and Mushtaq in Marathi medium. The newspaper used to come around mid-day by Sholapur Hubli train. The pan shop owner was a subscriber. Three of them used to go to the pan shop and read the comic strip. There used to be a lot of people waiting to see the comic strip. They were habitual gamblers. The secret of their interest was about ‘Open Close’ Open-Close was a name for gambling on cotton rates. Gamblers had to speculate the opening and closing of cotton rates of next day. It was believed that the strip gave some kind of clues. The gamblers studied the strip very closely, observing the number of fingers stretched out and the language they spoke in the strip and arrive at their speculation. There would be heated discussions among the gamblers as to what could be made out of the gestures. We never heard of any one winning. Of course the people who managed the game and the intermediaries took the bids from the speculators earned lot of money. They were the ones who liberally spent during Moharram.

Miyan’s mother was keen to teach her son read and write Urdu so that when Miyan would go out of town after completing education, he could write to her and in turn he could read her letters. She succeeded. Miyan could read and write Urdu. He could read but in writing he would make mistakes. In Urdu you have multiple symbols for a seemingly single sound. ‘ze and zwai’, ‘swaad and seen’, ‘aleef and ain’, ‘swad and zwad’. There must be some difference in pronunciation of these sounds derived from Arabic and Persian. Sounds may be emenating from different parts of the mouth. Some may even be glotal and some from the palette. I think as a matter of practice and routine people use right symbol at right places. This is true of English language as well.

There was an Urdu school very near the house, built in granite with an arched corridor. There was, what appeared then, a huge playground, where they played hockey. Those days hockey was a very popular game, as popular as cricket is today. Very next to the school was a private burial ground of Miyan’s family. Behind the school there was a kind of farm, where boys from the remand home were made to work. Sometimes he witnessed boys being caned. The honorory incharge, Mr Purolkar tall, pot bellied with total grey hair was the man he used to see caning and hurling abuses. Miyan always thought he was wicked.
Many Brahmin widows, clad in red sari, without a blouse and chappals, head shaven were seen in many households. They had food restrictions also. This was a method to keep them unattractive and from going astray. Some of them were seen going to temple acrooss the playground. Some boys deliberately went near them threatening they would touch her. The widows thus accosted would shout and curse. Any touch of a non-Brahmin would make them impure for temple entry. It was a plight for the widows and fun for ten year olds.

He often visited his Hindu friends, his classmates. Their mothers were very affectionate and treated him like their own son. On some occasions he would find his friend’s sister sitting outside the house, near the main door. No one would touch her. She was served food in a separate plate. Food was almost dropped on to the plate. She had to sleep separated from the other members of the family. When asked what was wrong with her, the friend would simply say ‘ she is sitting outside’, exact translation of ‘horage koothkondada’. It did not mean any thing either to Miyan or the boy who said it. Many years later he knew that the girl was going through the menstrual cycle. That was the custom among Brahmins and Lingayats.

Hindu boys always teased Muslim boys calling them ‘katela’ (circumcised), ‘ulta’ (urdu and arabic scripts written right to left) or ‘Musula’ (slang for Musalman). Brahmins called Lingayats ‘kallu’ (stone). Lingayats worshipped shiva linga, and carried with them a small linga enclosed in a silver casing hung from their shoulder dangling at the waist. Lingayats retaliated saying’ Basava, born a Brahmin, founded veera shaiva dharma because he did not like the caste system’.

When he was in sixth standard he had a wonderful time. The class teacher Mr. Gulganji was a wonderful man, with a lot of energy and great teaching skills. He hardly used cane. He was friendly but quite firm when it came to descipline. He was very fond of Miyan. He used to visit Mr Gulganji’s house for tuitions. His wife invariably served him from whatever she made for their breakfast. Miyan always found the dishes delicious. They were different preparations from what his mother used to cook. Mr Gulganji encouraged Miyan to participate in debates and elocution competetions, which helped him in later years to compete in high school and college and earn many awards.

Class seven was a nightmate. Mr Jambh was the class teacher. Strict and cane weilding teachers were thought to be result oriented. Students were scared of him and hardly spoke. He was particularly harsh to students from lower castes. In his view Muslims should have left for Pakistan, which they had created. It never occurs to such people that ninety percent of Muslims in India are of Indian origin. For various reasons they converted to Islam. They were mostly from lower castes before conversion. They were there before Aryan invasion. Infact majority of Muslims are original inhabitants of India.
Any revolution or social chage appeals only to the under priviledged and down trodden. The previledged class always resists change, because they are afraid that their previledges will be shred. When Basava founded Veer Shaiva cult Brahmis felt uneasy. Veer shavas do not recognise caste system of Manu.

Miyan was disturbed because of his experiences with Jambh in class four. He was hardly twelve years old. There were a few, who were around fifteen, when they get to know about sex. They used to tease younger boys. This disturbed the youngsters, but they were afraid to tell anyone.

There was a scholarship examination and Miyan and Majumdar were considered as fit candidates to take the examination. Khaja Shahabuddin Trust also gave scholarships within the same exam for Muslim students. Miyan wanted to fill both the forms because examination was one and the same. Mr Jambh decided that Miyan would apply only for Khaja Shahabuddin trust, thus leaving the other to Majumdar. And he prevailed. Many years later Miyan realised why Mr Jambh decided that way. This was the first instance of injustice he faced in life. He passed the exam and got a scholarship of  five rupees every month for four years.

Mr Jambh arranged an excursion to Hampi, the seat of Vijayanagar Samarajya. This was his first outing without family. We stayed in Hampi in a mantapa of a huge temple built during Krishna Deva Raya. It was on the banks of Tungabhadra. It was a beautiful location. All the boys and teacher had bath in the river flowing through the rocks. It was a great experience. From Hampi we proceeded to Tugabhadra dam. The sight of water gushing through the sluice gates was breath taking. When they went up on the bund wall they saw water as far as the eyes could see.

Urdu monthly magazines were subscribed. Shama, film magazine with some short stories and ghazals, Beesween Sadi, a literary magazine, Bano, a womens’ magazine and Khilona, childrens’ magazine apart from Romani Duniya, a monthly novel and Jasoosi duniya, investigative novel were regular reading material in the house hold. His mother was fond of reading novels. During the reading aloud sessions he would be among the listeners. Among others he listened to Kishan Chandar’s ‘Gadhe ki aap beeti’ and ‘Gadhe ki wapasi’. The day the magazines arrived every one was busy reading. Break from reading was only routine work, done very reluctantly! On many occasions a magazine would be read aloud by one and listened to by all others. Miyan always looked forward to such loud reading as he could also participate. Those days, Muslim girls were identified by their dress. They wore shalwar khameez and a dupatta, which covered the busom and part of head. Hindu girls wore what they called ‘parkar’ (petticoat), a bouse. After certain age the Hindu girls wore half sari (petticoat, blouse and a cloth stuck in front part of petticoat and wrapped round the hips and busom and ended down the shoulder. On festive occasions this half sari used to be of silk embroidered with zari. Hindu gils never wore shalwar khameez and branded it a Muslim dress. It is Hindi films, which broke the barrier. When they saw their favourite Heroines in Muslim dress, they slowly started wearing. But in North India it was different. People down the Vindyas are traditional. Today one longs to see a girl in half sari but no one wears it.