Monday, October 26, 2009

Dr Rafiq Zakaria and Jinnah

Few years back when I was working for a Mumbai-based daily I had a visitor. He was a cartoonist, working for an Urdu publication as its sole representative based in Mumbai. I had met him a few times before and as he had come to the newspaper's office for some work, he asked for me. "So what are you reading these days?" he asked me. "I am reading a book by Dr Rafiq Zakaria," the moment I uttered the name he asked me to stop. "I do not want to discuss this," he said, in an angry tone. I asked him why was he so agitated.

"This man (Dr Zakaria) wants to show that the only person responsible for the Partition was Jinnah. Not once or twice, but in his every major work, speech and talk he loves to criticise Jinnah," he said. I was shocked. I just mumbled and heard him patiently. How and why would an Indian Muslim show so much contempt towards Dr Zakaria?

After this conversation, I read references to Jinnah made by Dr Zakaria in his books. In one of his books he describes his experiences of inviting prominent Indian leaders to Ismail Yusuf College, where he was studying. He managed to get some national leaders, including Jinnah, to the college and wrote in detail about how he got them. Reading that account Jinnah came across as arrogant as compared to the other leaders.

In one of his books Dr Zakaria writes about a joint rally by Dr Ambedkar and Jinnah in Bombay. According to Dr Zakaria, Jinnah made most of his speech in English for the benefit of the present press members, conveniently overlooking the fact that the majority of the people assembled would not understand a word.

Such writings and his 'uncharitable' remarks made him hugely unpopular in some Muslim/Urdu circles. Some would insist, "Why does he lay the blame for Partition only on Jinnah?" I remember attending one of Dr Zakaria's talk in which he said if our leaders had acted like Abraham Lincoln who did not let the USA crumble, we would have been one. The Partition happened and the riots and killings took place. So if the Partition had not happened the riots and killings would have still taken place but at the end the country would not have been divided.

So why is it that Dr Zakaria primarily holds Jinnah accountable for Partition? Jinnah asked for a separate homeland for Muslims thinking that they would not get their due in a Hindu-majority nation. Dr Zakaria on the other hand maintained that the Partition only divided Muslims in three different nations diminishing their power and prestige. It was I believe this thinking that made Dr Zakaria come harsh on Jinnah. If Jinnah was interested in the welfare of Muslims, what happened in the end? They were left grappling with the struggle of a new-born state, being viewed suspiciously by their own neighbours and fellow countrymen, and fought to see their mother tongue getting the status it deserved.

Dr Zakaria had seen the atmosphere and the situation during those tumultous years that led to the Partition. And he lived to see what happened much after that. After the World War II, Dr Zakaria led a delegation to meet Lord Pethick Lawrence, the then secretary of state for India and demanded that India be given independence. He was involved in India League and was also leading a students' association, while he was a student in London in 1940s. He also met Nehru in London saying that the Partition should not take place. He must have been constantly bothered by the question: Who benefited from the Partition?

His comments on Dr A P J Abdul Kalam sent shockwaves when he wrote in a newspaper that Kalam cannot be considered a Muslim. Personally, it was a shock to me as well. But that was Dr Zakaria. In one of my journalism class, veteran journalist M V Kamath described him as a 'nationalist Muslim without a beard'.

It was only the welfare of Muslims that was uppermost on his mind. Be it the numerous educational institutes that he started or the writings that he put forward defending Muslims and Islam, Dr Zakaria was a man of impeccable reputation and charisma. Viewing him only on the basis of his criticism of Jinnah would be unfair and demeaning to the work he did for the nation and Muslims.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The personality of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan has been painted and presented in several shades by historians and academicians. He has been shown as communalist, supporter of the British Raj, educationist, social reformer, father of Pakistan movement, Urdu-supporter and much more. For a young person though he will be mostly identified with the establishment of the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).

While there is no doubt that Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was a pioneering social worker who set his sights on imparting education especially to the Muslims, no one can deny that his views and thoughts changed with time.

I read somewhere that he was shocked to find that the Hindu members of his Scientific Society wanted the society's journal to be published in Hindi. A strong proponent of Urdu he is also reported to have made highly controversial comments on the Urdu/Hindi issue. He told a commission looking into the education system in India: "Urdu was the language of gentry and Hindi that of the vulgar."

A large number of Muslims saw Urdu as one of the most important tools defining and symbolising the 'Muslim identity and heritage' in India. Urdu was one of the last few branches of the once strong and robust tree of Muslim dominance and power, and with the gradual decline of Muslim powers they felt it needs to be protected and nurtured.

I believe Sir Syed Ahmed's 'transformations' mirrored the complexities of the Muslim society. The end of the great Mughal rule, the increasing might of the British Raj, and the 1857 mutiny pushed Muslims into a corner. They were dejected, perhaps had an identity crisis, and were left to grapple on how to conduct themselves in a British-dominated India. The ones who were the most hit were the Muslims who were Hindu converts and belonged to the low class and were artisans, weavers, carpenters. A change in the religion did not change their economic status or standard of living. This legacy still continues and I believe is one of the major reasons for the 'backwardness' of Muslims in India. The wealthy, educated and well-settled Muslims opted for Pakistan.

Coming back to Sir Syed Ahmed. He gauged the situation of Muslims and realised that the English did not think Muslims could be loyal to them. Bahadur Shah Zafar's titular role in the 1857 mutiny, which also marked the end of the Mughal (Muslim) dynasty, was also a factor that made the British place Muslims below the Hindus. So what did Sir Syed Ahmed do? He thought of establishing a learning center based on the model of Oxford and Cambridge Universities. He visited England and impressed by the British education system, established what is now the Aligarh Muslim University.

To meet his objective Sir Syed it seems became very flexible with the British. An educational institute of the magnitude he visualised was perhaps impossible without the support of the ruling Britishers. Recognising this, Sir Syed, who was in the English judicial service, started to make 'amendments' with the British to ensure that they do not paint every Muslim with the same brush.

He figured in the book 'Pillars of the empire' where he rubs shoulders with senior British officers and administrators. Published in 1878, a portion in the chapter on 'The Hon. Syud Ahmed Khan, C.S.I' says:"Even many of the warmest admirers of Syud Ahmed Khan personally, still maintain, his political and social doctrines to be utterly antogonistic to the spirit, and inconsistent with the vitality and progress, of Islam. But though the Naturalists are in a minority, they comprise among their adherents the best educated and the most intelligent of the Mahomedan population, and in reality their influence is far greater than their numbers and is steadily increasing." It is the same Sir Syed who wrote a book countering some offensive directed at Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him. The same book also says that his imperfect command of English came in the way of promotions.

The resignation of Syed Mahmud, his son, as a judge of the Allahabad High Court made Sir Syed write about the way Britishers treated the native officers. The man who was seen as pro-British had indeed changed. Sir Syed's utterances on Hindi/Urdu had also galvanised 'Hindi supporters' who sought to make Hindi the primary language. Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, the founder of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) was one of the many who felt that Hindi was being neglected at the expense of Urdu. Pandit Malviya was well versed in law and a famous lawyer at Allahabad High Court.

Interestingly, it is a great irony that during a condolence meeting held for Pandit Malviya, the then chief justice of Allahabad High Court, Kamlakanta Verma also remembered Sir Syed, linking them to their common background in law. I reproduce below the relevant text: "If I may here digress a little, I should like to say that we lawyers have every reason to feel proud of the great services which lawyers in this country have rendered. Confining myself only to the field of education, I wish to remind you that the Aligarh Muslim University also owes its origin to the vision, courage, perseverance, hard work and devotion to high ideals of a lawyer. It was the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College which in the fullness of time, grew into the Muslim University and that College was founded, you will remember, by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, who was also a lawyer. Although he was not a practising lawyer, being a member of the Judicial Service of these provinces, he was still a lawyer."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Emperor's 'Borrowed' Robe: Part 3

"Narang however, has entirely distorted his image. It is not up to Sahitya Academy or Narang’s supporters to reinstate his image. Only Narang can restore it - not on the same altitude however - if he admits his unethical and unliterary act. At this stage, it is not up to the Sahitya Academy to decide the future of the plagiarist. Let the honest readers determine the actual place of Narang in Urdu literature and criticism."

-Imran Shahid Bhinder


You wrote about it in a Pakistani journal and later in a Delhi-based Urdu magazine. What response did you get?

Primarily the news about Narang’s plagiarism was appalling for the literary community in general and for Narang‘s companions in particular. Its impact was certainly anti foundational. Initially when I published my first article in a Pakistani journal, a common reader perhaps was all at sea so he or she considered it better to keep silent. However, as the matter ascended further, when I published, simultaneously, a number of detailed articles particularly in a Germany based literary journal “Jadeed Adab”, many readers responded harshly. Narang and company intended to convert Narang’s detestable act of plagiarism as a part of traditional literary antagonism between the two rival literary groups based in India.

Nevertheless, this time it was a genuine literary concern not just an act of mudslinging against each other as they have been indulging in for past many years. A particular literary community in Pakistan who claims to have done a lot in introducing postmodernism to Urdu readers has been quiet since the beginning of the issue. Their silence gives a unique message to the genuine researcher that he or she should excavate the issue of plagiarism further.

Have you spoken to Mr Narang? Or someone from his behalf got in touch with you?

Why should I speak to Narang? Why should Narang’s companions need to contact me? When the evidence about his plagiarism is there which they have not rebutted, Narang like a true reader of literature just needs to execute self-introspection. Similarly, Narang’s helpers need to analyse the evidence that I thoroughly recorded in my four essays and must condemn the act while adhering to the literary ethics. I will draw their attention to this point again, to compare the plagiarised material, which I have identified, against the actual writings by the western interpreters of structuralist theory.

This is no longer a demanding exercise as I have made the matter smoothly accessible even to a layperson. After getting confirmed the integrity of evidence, if they feel motivated by the crooked act of their mentor, come forward and play their part to get rid of this firmly established iniquity in Urdu. This matter must not be considered between two persons or two groups, it is twenty first century for God’s sake, and it must be a concern for the whole Urdu world. Rationalist approaches must go on. I also expect from Narang, if he has ever been an honest student of Urdu literature, to come forward and confess his blatant mistake.

In addition, it will be of great interest to your reader to know that an increasingly condemnable act by Narang was committed as a response to my articles. Instead of repenting over the act which is supposed to ruin his own literary standing, Narang approached the publisher of “Jadeed Adab”, and threatened him that if he publishes more essays about Narang’s plagiarism, he will have to face the consequences. I must say thanks here to the editor of “Jadeed Adab”, Mr Haider Qureshi, who really deserves appreciation. Qureshi took a firm stand and published my three essays in his journal. The details of this episode can be read in another Mumbai based literary journal “Esbaat-3”.

Narang got the Sahitya Akademi award for the book. What do you think does it say about the Urdu writers and intellectuals who did not seem to have found it for so many years?

I think all awards, including Sahitya Academy award, which Narang has received after the publication of his book have absolutely lost their credibility. All other writers who did not get it so far must thank God. Think for a while what impact will it have on a sixteen-year old student of Urdu as well as a student of other languages? To plagiarise and get awards? The awards are not given on the basis of true achievement of writers.

In the West, only those writers are honoured who help expanding effectively an ideological apparatus for the ruling class. In order to accomplish the assignment they extensively sponsor subjective philosophies. Subjective philosophies question the validity of objective truth. Rather than concentrating on the actual exploitative and barbaric capitalist structure, which shape even the literary and artistic trends in the west and has a deep link with both their real and imaginary life, students are compelled to believe on some timeless abstractions because they consider these abstractions a superior part of reality.

However, in India extreme communal factor as well as ideological propensities of the ruling elite plays a decisive role in determining the credibility of writers. Against this background a true intellectual - rather than waiting for the awards - should extinguish such a desire if he or she has one.

Do you think this is an exception, or is it that plagiarism is rampant in the Urdu world? Gopi Chand Narang is a renowned name in the world of Urdu literature. Do you think this episode will sully his image? Or will it be forgotten?

I would like to give a detailed answer to this question. Plagiarism is not an exception. It has always been a part of Urdu literature and criticism. For the past several decades particularly with the rise of modernist movement in Urdu literature, this tendency in Urdu literature and criticism seems to have escalated. Plagiarism is an act of enormous moral bankruptcy and cause serious damage to the literary process. If you analyse this activity more deeply you will find out that a plagiarists absolutely ignores the society he live in. Plagiarism is committed not with an intention to lead literary process to a different dimension, but under the sole desire of image management.

For past few decades, plagiarism has expanded like a plague in Urdu literature. I view the roots of this rising phenomenon in the modernist movement started in the west and blindly adopted by the Urdu world. Although in the west, the modernist movement flourished with the imagist manifesto in 1910 it however intensified the tendency of extreme subjectivism among the poets and critics. It is true that in the Urdu world the passivity borrowed from the modernist movement revealed a partial and inherent compatibility with the Indian mentality and temperament.

Proponents of the western modernist borrowed all their appropriate theoretical instruments from great German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Modernist movement under immense influence of Kantian philosophy culminated in Heideggerian and later Sarterian existentialism.

Heidegger was an important representative of German Nationalism; he preferred ontologism rather than rationalism, and borrowed the key philosophy of time from Kant, which meant that man was not in time; on the contrary, time was in man. Based on this Kantian conception, it was important for Heideggerian Being to understand his own destiny as historical being. Heideggers Dasein was not an empty abstraction; it was not wise to imitate it without understanding the causes of the emergence of Heideggers philosophy of Dasein. In this way, Existentialism helped in promoting selfishness in the west that ended as barbarism.

Urdu writers did not locate the emergence of philosophies within a particular context; lack of this aspect led them to ignore the internal contradictions of their own societies. Western existentialism founded the modernist movement in Urdu. Politically western existentialism never lost the collective spirit, in Urdu it emerged in its distorted form as individual based process that finally ends up as all sorts of insatiability.

I give you some examples of the poets and writers of the west see how they established a link with the political history of the west. The overall objective situation of the twentieth century was not so encouraging, which further strengthened their subjectivism. Ezra Pound turned out to be a fascist. W B Yeats propagated Irish Nationalism and another important figure T S Elliot, first converted into fascism but later abdicated from fascistic activities. Western philosophical approaches have always been rational in both subjective and objective process. Having influenced by this kind of philosophy, Urdu writers said good-bye to collective causes and adhered strictly to their own passive individualism.

When we read the history of Indian mythology, we discover that it has remained subjective throughout, but as there is a difference between subjectivism of rationalism and mystics, Indian subjectivism will have to be classified as mystical subjectivism. Western rationalism centralizes human subject although ideally, mysticism however decentralizes human subject in the name of human centrality.

In short, however, under the huge influence of western rational subjectivism, Urdu writers found western rationalism more attractive. Because unconsciously they could see a clear link between social and political life and theoretical discoveries, although they do not express it, but if you read any book by the Urdu critics or poets you will find innumerable references of the western writers and hardly find any by the Indian mystics. Deep contradiction in their writings and behaviour is that they support Indian mysticism in a self-contradictory way. Western rationalism questions the decentralizing aspect of Indian mysticism.

Extreme form of subjectivism debases objective process and reality, and turn writers to pursue self-interests. Urdu writers for their personal interests - their desires to be popular - completely ignored the objective process and eventually fell victim of this plagiaristic virus.

Narang however, has entirely distorted his image. It is not up to Sahitya Academy or Narang’s supporters to reinstate his image. Only Narang can restore it - not on the same altitude however - if he admits his unethical and unliterary act. At this stage, it is not up to the Sahitya Academy to decide the future of the plagiarist. Let the honest readers determine the actual place of Narang in Urdu literature and criticism. I would further add that if Sahitya Academy does not take stringent action against Narang’s act of Plagiarism, you would see that in the near future Sahitya Academy would have to rectify its own image. I understand that this deeply rooted literary evil can never be uprooted within days, which occupied so revered place among the hearts and minds of the so-called theorists and poets of Urdu.

However, I can hear the echo of a storm rushing towards these privileged people and places. Honest writers and critics must come forward and raise the issue further. They should also contact the relevant authorities to form a committee as Haider Qureshi suggested few months ago, and decide the fate of Narang’s plagiarism as far as award related activity is concerned, as well as devise strategies to prevent it from arising in the future.