Between Bharat Mata and Hindustan

There is a debate on whether Hindutva nationalism has mainstreamed in India or it remains confined to the right-wing constituencies. Whatever may be the case, the Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen MLA Waris Pathan’s suspension, through a unanimous nod, by the Maharashtra Assembly is an indication that: there is a thin line between Hindutva nationalism and Indian nationalism. For now, Pathan remains suspended for the entire budget session till April 17: for exercising his right to not to speak certain things he didn’t want to say, as guaranteed by the Indian constitution.

In the double irony – which seems to have become a hallmark of it now – it was the Congress party, with its 42 members, that aggressively demanded the ‘disciplinary’ action against the Muslim legislator, but the same Congress party had strongly criticized the Modi regime’s reactionary behavior during the JNU episode, reasoning that people cannot be forced to accept an exclusivist notion of nationalism! Given the enduring nature and long history of its peculiar politics, the Congress party can, arguably, categorized as an organization with a certain Hindutva streak. Remember notorious Sanjay Gandhi sterilization campaign and the Turkman gate massacre of impoverished Muslims and later Sikh massacre in 1984; opening up of the Babri mosque locks and allowing subsequent vandalism, and other creepy skeletons in its cupboard.

Around 80 years ago, Indian philosopher Rabindranath Tagore, who was a known critique of nationalism, had presciently cautioned his fellow Bengali patriot Subhas Chandra Bose against divisionary and controversial potential of Bande Mataram – a song in Bengali writer Bankim Chandra’s Anandmath – emphasizing that it was a patently religious hymn devoted to the Hindu female deity Durga, and thus one cannot expect “Mussalman… [to] patriotically…worship the ten-handed deity as ‘Swadesh’”. Unlike in a novel, Tagore had written in the letter to Bose, “the song [Bande Mataram] cannot be appropriate” inside the parliament. In 2016, Sangh Parivar and Congress alike do not seem to agree with Tagore.

One of the prominent figures in the India’s freedom movement like Aurobindo Ghosh, before reforming, not only didn’t find merging religion and nationalism as problematic, but in fact, started an ominous tradition of arms worshipping (Shastra puja) through organizations like Anushilan Samiti, and thus tried to make violence as an acceptable form of political action. For Anushilan Samiti members novel Anandmath was an inspiring text as it had explicitly pointed out the real enemy – Muslims – and the ways to fight them. Down in the south of India, Vinayak Savarkar, author of 1923 book Hindutava, reinforced an exclusivist Hindu nationalism, by reasoning that only those people whose matribhu (motherland) and punyabhu (holy land) was same were true Indians. By this Savarkarian logic, Muslims and Christians did not belong, because their holy lands lay, respectively, in Mecca and Jerusalem. In short, they were alien “others”. For both Savarkar and Golwalker, who are considered as the founding fathers of the Indian version of fascism, “Bharat Mata” essentially meant Hindu nation (Hindu Rasthra).

Now, as Tagore would have said, asking practicing Muslims to worship a concept (of Bharat Mata) which actually originates from a novel (Anandmath) in which, without scruple, the protagonist Satyanand asks for the Muslim blood and, ironically, welcomes the British rule, is, not to put too fine a word on it, utterly preposterous and ethically problematic.

Whether the Congress party took the aggressive posture against the Muslim legislator for certain politics ends – in terms of undercutting MIM’s growing influence among the urban Muslim youth – or to preempt the likely accusations from the ultranationalists for being too tolerant of “anti-national” thoughts and behaviors, might be a plausible explanation, but by aligning with the theo-fascists on this issue, it has lost one more battle, and allowed them to project India in their own (Hindutva imaginative) terms and at the same time also let them construct Indian Muslim as an unpatriotic category, because an Indian Muslim couldn’t bring himself to chant and venerate imaginary “Bharat Mata”, even though he emphatically said that he would rather prefer to say “Hindustan Zindabad”; but then the latter slogan is in Urdu language and for Hindutva nationalists, even Urdu is a suspect language!


First published in Kashmir Reader and Express Tribune on 25 March 2016:




A Dialogue on Time

This is a random dialogue between a half-baked philosopher and a half-baked scientist on the concept of Time:
P: There is space, but there is no time; time is just a concept for convenience; it’s the grandest illusion of all that human beings have ever conceived of.
S: But isn’t it proven by science. Thousands of scientific treatises have talked about space and time.
P: I don’t deny there is space, there is space; it has material, empirical reality and it exists. But time has no material reality as it is just an abstract conception.
S: So, do you mean the concept of time as 4th dimension is not correct?
P: Yes. It is hokum!
S: How can you prove that time does not exist?
P: You don’t prove anything about something which is non-existent in the first place; you deconstruct the idea behind it and you approach the word that expresses the concept.
S: What is your idea of time then?
P: I believe it is a concept to order our understanding of the world around us and to order our messy world; without this concept we would feel lost.
S: This is not a precise explanation, it is just an abstract opinion. You still do not convince me about the non-existence of time.
P: Can you convince me of its existence?
S: Yes, i can. Imagine your family came to the town in the 18th century. Through the succession of your forefathers came you in the 21st century. That means your family has been in this town for 300 years. A long time, in other words.
P: Hmm….
S: You seem to be not convinced still. Let me give you another example. A more scientific one. Imagine sun is millions of light years away from the earth, that is a distance, but it takes 8 minutes for sunlight to reach us, that is time.
P: That is the illusion I am talking about. What you call as “time” is your concept of how physical entities behave, change shape or grow in the space. Now let me illustrate: the basic unit of time, for the sake of argument, is second. How you measure this unit?
S: Second is measured by milli-seconds. What a weird question that is!
P: Exactly. That is the point. There is no external scale on which you measure time. It is arbitrary; the standard is already set up and standardised by humans for their own convenience; or as T.P. Thomson would say by Capitalism, or as Vanessa Ogle would argue by disparate social, religious, and political forces. How long is a second? I bet no one can answer it except saying second is equal to so-and-so of so-and-so milli seconds and when I will ask how long is a millisecond it will be stretched to absurdity. The truth is there is no time. It is a concept, a word, an idea. For example, if the duration of the second is as long as it takes to say the 2 syllable word ‘second’, than what if humans would have set it differently in which it would have been as long as it takes to say the 6 syllable word ‘imaginativeness’, which is a 15 letter word and takes longer than to say second? Even if things had been ordered a little differently due to longer duration of second nothing about the world would have changed at all. Space would have remained the same space as we experience it now. My turning 30 is not related to time, it is related to my growth within the space. Day and night are not occasions of time, but celestial movements. Some countries in the north get very little night than south. We are physical entities growing and developing and reproducing and redeveloping within a space and that is the only material reality. Time is an abstract concept through which we make sense out of all these activities, through which we give order to what is otherwise disorderly.
to be continued….in space
Occured on the 14 February 2016, 1:28 AM

A Spoonful of Lunacy

A figure—a luminous figure that was—moved through a swirling haze of blue steam, ambling on in a seamless slow motion through a passage created by a long but strong chain of policemen; a throng of agitated bodies swayed ceaselessly behind this chain.

He smiled a wide and generous smile like a Kathakali performer, and, after a brief pause in which he took a deep breath to ease his jetlag, he raised his white arm and slowly opened his fist, letting out a cascading stream of orangish luminescence from the middle of his palm.

Babaji ki?” someone cried out.

Jai!” pat came the response of the crowd. The uproarious and sweating and swaying crowd repeated the slogan several times, with such intense and blithe zealotry that a whole host of passing brown sparrows sank to the ground.

Baba smiled and nodded in approval, and, as a mark of gratitude and reward, he tapped the thin air with his open fist, thrice—ceremoniously.

With the last of the voices in the crowd trailing off, he said in his rich baritone, “Mitron, we all have one and only one master, and he is?”

“Modi, Modi, Modi, Modi, Modi!” The crowd went into a wild frenzy.

Astride a large hulking bull, the Baba waved at the crowd, leaving the place; people’s visages had turned glazing amber and their unceasing mouths had started to churn bubbling orangish froth now. The posse of cautious policemen followed the Baba on the bull, securing its wobbling stately march with their flashing orange lightsabers; they looked as awe-inspired and bemused as the crowd they were managing. This whole moment was transcendental in its nature and scope, from which everybody present there—from the common people to the uncommon ones—scooped a spoonful of lunacy.

Baba was taken to the home minister’s office where he sat on a large leather chair of the home minister.

“Baba, you know,” said the minister, “we are fighting seditious leftists in our universities, please give us some suggestion, an effective remedy against them”.

Baba closed his brown eye, while keeping the grey one open. He thought for a moment. When the moment was over, he pressed his mouth tight and opened it to say, “Don’t worry, mantriji, I will give you a wrought-iron remedy against these anti-nationals.”

The police commissioner, the solicitor general, the home secretary, the intelligence chief, the chief of chaddis, the chaddi general, the chaddi secretary, and a few more chaddis made up his rapt audience in the room. And they were all waiting patiently for the Baba’s remedy. Some of them, in their fleeting reveries, had already started building up Groß-Rosens, Auschwitz-Birkenaus, Vorkutlags and Kalapanis for the multitudes of deserving candidates—ideally clothed in kurtas and jeans.

“Ban their language,” said the Baba, suddenly.

“Language? But Baba, these lefties speak different languages, which language are you talking about?”

“Ban the seditious language.”

“Which language Baba? English, you mean?” The chief of chaddis was elated at the thought of such prospect. In his head, he imagined Macaulay as an ogre who danced with a cloven hoof at the menacing demand of a trident.

“No, Urdu. Ban the seditious Urdu language.”

A silence, a thoughtful silence followed. The audience looked at each other with a sly smile, and then, at the end of an apparently telepathic consensus, the home minister asked, “But for what particular reason, Baba?”

“Faiz, Ahmad Faraz, Habib Jalib, Shakir Parveen, yes, these are the culprits, they are the ones on whom the anti-nationals feed on; it is these rabble-rousing versifiers who have turned these leftists into lunatics, into crazed radicals, into anti-nationals, into anti-development, into anti-Adaniji, into anti-Ambaniji, into anti-Vedanta and into anti-whatever you like.”

Urdu hatao, Desh bachao!” the chaddi general, in a sudden burst of excitement, cried out.

Nobody knows what transpired inside their minds that suddenly everybody followed him and raised their clenched fists in the air and sing-songed: “Urdu hatao, desh bachaoUrdu hatao, desh bachao!” Up on the wall the portrait of Sir Herbert Baker, who, a century ago, had designed this room, trembled and his old face drooped like a painter whose most famous painting had been stolen by petty burglars.

The Baba addressed the audience in a passionate but measured tone of a wise sage: “Mahaguru Modiji has set out a noble mission for this country which he calls ‘Make in India’. It is a generous invitation to friendly foreign companies to have a grand feast with us in our rich courtyard. They will come, they will make things and everything will be Balle Balle!”

The audience chuckled on this humorous turn in Baba’s otherwise solemn speech, but he continued, “That does not mean we don’t know how to make things. We have been making a lot of things also, no? But given our ingrained predilection for not thinking beyond the confines of the lofty northern mountains and the expansive southern oceans, we couldn’t make anything exportable other than peppery samosas and half-hearted patriots called IIT graduates. So, as things stand now, I want to add my own humble contribution to this noble mission. I call it ‘Go Mad, India.’”

After an idiosyncratic brief pause in which he took a deep breath to ease his inner snuffling, Baba continued, “The idea is simple: we have to launch a full-fledged war and for that I will tell Madhumatiji—”

“Smriti,” one of the chaddis corrected him.

“Oh sorry, yes Manusmriti—”

“Smriti Irani, Babaji, Smriti Irani”, the chaddi general said, with subdued annoyance.

“Iraqi, Irani whatever, she should keep a significant budget for our cloning project.”

“Cloning project? For what, Babaji?”

Moorakh, how else are you going to win this war? We need many more Arnabs in many more news channels.”

“That is a great idea, Babaji, really a great idea.” A swift current of exhilaration and thrill travelled through their bodies. “We will shut all those Lefty and Congressi mouths and if that Togadia didn’t stop badmouthing our Mahaguru Modi we will tell all our cloned Arnabs to declare him an anti-national as well, and then—bingo!” The chaddi secretary shot an imaginary fire with his two fingers and quite dramatically blew out the imaginary smoke curling out of his cuticles.

Babaji, Babaji, now please, please tell us how to deal with these bloody Dalits?” said the perked-up minister, almost pleadingly.

“That is quite easy. Just remove all the ceiling fans from the hostel rooms.”

“But why ceiling fans? Ours is a hot country and we need fans!”

“You see, you don’t understand how these Dalits illegally use these taxpayer-funded ceiling fans to commit suicide and provoke protests and trouble.”

“Oh I see!” said the minister. Others hummed in unison, their mouths lingeringly arrested by the gaping letter O in which one could easily insert a finger.

When all the points generously suggested by the Baba had been noted down, the minister took a long heavy breath, swiftly rubbed his hands, checked around the room and the faces and then cleared his throat to ask, in the guarded tone of a punk negotiating with a jeweller, “You know Babaji, we have this problem…Kashmir.” He took a cautious glance at the audience, who had ceased their humming the moment this word was uttered, and continued, “What to do about it, Babaji?”

“Hmmm.” The Baba heaved a strange sigh, closed his bi-coloured eyes for the first time in his life, and heaved it once more and then there was a silence. The audience that had pressed their clasped hands to their navels and become almost numb in their eagerness stayed motionless.

“Babaji?” The minister gently poked Baba’s belly to wake him up. The audience stirred to life and at once started to poke at his flabby body parts with their fingers.

The doctors declared him brought dead.

Soon after the secret meeting at the home minister’s office, the government went into swift and extensive action to purge the seditious Urdu language and its seditious poetry and cleanse the libraries and bookstores around India of its last traces. Even Lucknow mushairas and poetry competitions at AMU and other suspicious places were banned. Even Daryaganj’s old, gentle Urdu booksellers were forced to switch merchandise and sell—mandatorily—Chetan Bhagat novels and the autobiography of fire-eating news anchor Arnab Goswami, The Only Nationalist: The Story of I, Me and Myself.

And then one fine hour, when the city was quiet and slumbering in the wee hours of night, a voice came from the centre of the universe. When people raised their drowsy heads to listen to it carefully, Dhoomil was singing in the distance.


First published in Kindle Magazine on March 2, 2016:



Free Universe

“The devil came here yesterday, and it smells of sulphur still today, this table that I am now standing in front of.” Thus spoke the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at the September 2006 UN General Assembly. He went on to lampoon George W Bush in front of the representatives of over 190 countries: “Yesterday ladies and gentlemen from this rostrum, the President of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world.”

Hugo Chavez was able to express his biting criticism of Bush so freely and with such blithe indifference to conventions and traditions of diplomacy because he knew that the space within which he was operating, though located on the soil of the United States, didn’t belong to the US government but the United Nations — by virtue of a treaty, which gives it an extra-territorial status.

Does a student enjoy, or ought to enjoy, the similar kind of immunity within the space the world knows as University? To form any opinion on this question will require us to first grasp the idea of university, the essence of this term. Etymologically, the word “University” derives from the Latin root Universitas (alsoUniversitatem or Universus: the whole, aggregate or entire). In its original fuller form it read as “universitas magistrorum et scholarium” (community of teachers and scholars).

But this was a community, body, guild, or association with “collective legal rights” duly formalised in charters. For example, Privilegium Scholasticum (1155), was the official document authenticated by the Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick Barbarossa, granting certain special privileges (including “immunity from the right of reprisal”) to the students of the University of Bologna (founded 1088). This foundational document became the charter of academic freedom which was subsequently adopted and improvised, with the passage into modernity, by other societies.

Such privileges or immunities allowed scholars to pursue their ideas within their “universe” unhindered and contribute in the glorious progression of the world.

Like the UN headquarters spread on 8 acres of land at the Turtle Bay, New York, a university, anywhere in the world, should be a privileged space which affords its members immunities from prosecution by the law of the country on which it is located. Though a state funds it, a university should not be claimed by it as its sole property; rather it should, by virtue of its name, belong to the universe — the whole world from which it directly or indirectly benefits in ideational and material senses and to which it contributes (by producing and critiquing the knowledge), must be its body habitus, its sphere of operation, its existential realm, not the country of its origin. This, of course, does not mean university students should not be prosecuted should they commit violence and crimes.

Yes they should, if such a case is established by due course of law, but they do not forfeit their scholarly privileges and certainly they continue to have freedom, as a university student, to question each and everything. Their freedom should be accorded to them by a universal charter like Privilegium Scholasticum by virtue of whose possession a student can assume a privileged identity not that of a citizen of a state, but as a scholar of a university, with certain immunities; and this latter identity should be protected by the states under the obligation of the universal laws.

First published in Kashmir Life on March 2, 2016:

The Messengers

In the cold night of the dark deep silence
I hesitantly came onto the balcony
And a pair of old bones I held, and whence,
Strangely, a gaggle of children i saw.
I smiled and they nodded.
I nodded and they smiled.
“What you want, dear kids?” i asked, cautiously.
“We have come for you, sir.” they told me.
In the forest a dangerous giant had awoken.
His slumber on the sly had been broken.
All his fury set free. Silence he wanted to see.
And a doomed future for all of us bespoken.
The children relayed this news to me,
Singing it like a rousing chorused plea.
“So what will happen, little angels?” i asked.
Whoever speaks will be harmed; each one the demon will pursue.
“Will i be harmed too?” i asked, flabbergasted.
Every one, everyone, and yes, you too.
“But i want to live, little angels.” i said, anxiously.
“That is why, sir, we have come to you.”
“Oh really! you have came to save me?”
“Yes, to save you, and to save everybody.”
“So now, what you want me to do?”
“Just follow us and throw the bones away.”
“But they are my old bones, you see.”
“The giant will take them anyway.”
“But tell how can you really save me?”
“You have to trust, sir. There is no other way.”
“I trust none, except these old bones of mine.”
“They will not save you, the giant will take them anyway.”
“Oh! you little devils, go go away. Your offer i decline.”
“We have come here to save you, sir.”
“I trust nobody but my bones, and these i prefer.”
“You trust us, Sir, we betray none. Follow us to the light.”
“Follow us, lest the giant will unleash his dark might.”
Reluctantly, in the cold night of dark deep silence
I came out in the open, and my pride swallowed,
I held only a pair of my empty hands, and thus,
The strange gaggle of children made a human fence
All singing in unison, a loud affirmatory chorus
Holding mysterious flags in the dark night; and thence,
Slowly slowly breaking the spell of the dark deep silence.

While the Debate Unfolds

“It’s better”, says Mehmood ur Rashid in his article Looking at it From Kashmir (26 Feb 2016), “if Kashmir only carefully watches how India opens up its problems” — These problems, ideas, and themes, which Indians seem to have started engaging with, may remain unexplored in the presence of Kashmir, that, because of its uncanny provocative appeal, “will act as a hurdle in the path of India’s progress on new ideas.”; we stand to benefit from this strategic aloofness as “the possibility of Kashmir finding a just response from the people of India opens up only if the prevalent understanding of Nationalism, Nation-State, and Sovereignty goes away”.

One couldn’t agree less with what Mehmood essentially meant to convey: Make hay while the sun shines. Yet, while it is prudent to stay away from the scene for our own good, it is equally important that our position is not misrepresented in their debates; there are more detractors of the Kashmiri cause than supporters, and there is much likelihood that our long political movement can be projected prejudicially or given a spin, or, out of ignorance or lack of complete information, misunderstood — case in point is India historian Ramachandra Guha, who calls Kashmiri independence movement an Islamist project!

Besides, we have already seen how, in academic literature, even seemingly objective scholars presented Kashmir’s Azaadi movement as a reaction to the 1987 rigged elections or chalked the whole problem up to the Indian state’s persistent interference in Kashmir’s internal politics. Such arguments, as we know, do not acknowledge that Kashmiris could (and can) express their political autonomy and organize themselves outside the institutional boundaries imposed by India, and that all politics does not need to be in reaction to what Indian states allows or denies. As an unsavory outcome of the Indian nation-state’s post-colonial nationalist project, we as brutalized and oppressed Kashmiris, can bring a moral question to bear on the debate on Indian nationalism.

Apart from that we can also participate as enquiring audiences while the debate is unfolding; we can ask questions. Since the debate centers around the concepts of nationalism and sedition and all that it means in between, I think it is also about time to mount an intelligent and scholarly critique on the idea of “Mata” (territorial deity) — how this idea leads to false cartographic imagination and how this problematic religio-nationalist iconography does not gel with the principles and spirit of a secular republic; and how by evoking this false idea rabid communalists and militant nationalists accrue to themselves this sacred duty to harass, lynch, and kill those whom they perceive as ideological rivals or outright historical enemies. It is essential for Indian secularists to ask questions and question nationalist symbols and iconographies which are taken-for-granted. “Bharat Mata” a 19th century imagination (of Bengali writers),  is no deity but a nationalist construct, an imposition which seeks to create a national body and consolidate power and reinforce the post-colonial status; it is a majoritarian idea which runs counter to the ideas of secularism, because it mixes religion and state in a subtle and not so subtle ways. It asks to worship land as god, an idea which is against the religious principles of the religious minorities of India and ethical principles of the secularists.

One should not fear speaking against this false idea, this majoritarian imposition, and one can start, as shown by some able scholars, turning the map of India upside down and ask, which is the top side and why? Why call Tamil Nadu feet and not as head of the Indian map? Why it has to be a northern province as top or head or crown? If the earth looks oval or egg shaped from the space and the cardinal directions of east, west, north, and south are all arbitrary and man-made, why accept Indian map as a priori? Flip the map and you can as well imagine Assam as the head and Gujrat as feet. And when you try to fathom out these questions in serious and objective manner, you will understand a nation is actually a construct (“an imagined community”) and the supposed anthropomorphic figure on a map is just an imagination, an imposed imagination.

P.S: Those with free and open minds take existence of everything with a pinch of salt, even their own selves. 


First published in Greater Kashmir on March 1, 2016:

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