Wednesday, November 09, 2011

From Breswana to Bangalore - for Metallica

My blog post in Mint Lounge a couple of days after the Metallica concert.
Basically, it was fantastic, and Shro and I were doing silly shit like this before we headed out for the gig that day:

The complete, unedited, much longer version follows:

It is only fitting that months of planning, excitement, long-distance travels and pre-show jitters came to fruition with a very satisfactory attendance of the Metallica concert followed by temporary deafness in the left ear. Yes. Metallica. I was there.
The magic of attending any live gig lies mostly in the tremendous buildup to it. What goes down at the concert is only the culmination of everything up to that point – scrambling to get initial information, shrieky high-five behaviour with other fanbois and fangirls, huddling with friends to plan attendance and logistics, procuring tickets, travelling to concert city, rendezvous, make-up, costume, emotions, excitement, and… BAM! …final body frisk as one walks into the venue.
Anyway. Here is a full personal account of travels on my noble Metallicause [apologies in advance, this sort of word play will be rampant throughout the piece].
A few days ago, in my village in the mountains of Doda, Jammu and Kashmir, a full day’s travel away from the nearest city, I sheepishly told the parents I had to head down to Bangalore.
‘Why? It’s very far away.’
‘I know. Music concert.’
‘Metallica.’ [*awkward silence followed by quick exit stage right*]
Early next morning, I was packed and ready to leave for the city from the village. Downhill walk for a couple of hours, then on horseback for some time till we got to a motorable road, and finally the highway whence I traveled to Jammu at day’s end. Final packing, more shrieky behaviour and expensive last-minute ticket-booking later, I was ready to begin the final leg of the journey. Overnight on a near-empty train to Delhi – it was Diwali - with phosphoric celebrations in the night sky outside through the lands of Jammu, Punjab and finally, the capital. And the last easy bit - plane hop to Bangalore and its naturally-chilled climes. Two full days of travel concluded, I was here.
Preparations for this had begun back in April 2011, when the first vague rumblings of a possible Metallica gig in India were doing the rounds. As soon as a confirmation came in that Metallica [oh, my God, METALLICA!] was playing in India, one knew one would attend somehow, come what may. By the time tickets were up online in July 2011, with dual options of Gurgaon or Bangalore, I had decided on attending the latter gig [fortuitous?].
Forget about everything else; Bangalore has rock concert vintage. We have had the best of the best here over the years [and we have also had the other sort]. When jokes are made about ‘Bangalore’s knowledgeable crowd,’ it’s not all jokes, let me tell you. More than anything else, Bangalore is known for its rock. From school and college level up, you get a good schooling in indigenous and international rock music. The underground rock scene is booming. Teenagers and their coolth infest garages and makeshift studios across the city. High quality Bangalore bands like Thermal and a Quarter, Galeej Gurus, Kryptos, Synaps have made it big across the country. Let us look proudly on Bangalore’s modern concert history, in no particular order: Mr Big, the Scorpions, Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Sting, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Jethro Tull, Mark Knopfler, Roger Waters, Megadeath, Lamb of God, and IRON MAIDEN for the love of God [phraseology to be noted] – they have all played here. It thusly followed that Metallica would too, and that I would witness the event in my home away from home in ‘Luru. And so, on a hot July afternoon in Jammu, this writer purchased concert tickets for October 30, 2011 at the Palace Grounds, Bangalore.
Cometh the hour, cometh the band. With great trepidation one watched news of the Gurgaon fiasco and Metallica’s cancellation there. Bangalore was on the edge of its seat. We waited. And waited. The gig was still on! Celebrations! By the morning of the 30th, the interwebs resounded with many variations of: ‘In Bangalore, Metallican.’ Ha. Ha ha. Precious.
One knows that good people from all over India [and maybe abroad?] had descended on Bangalore to see the band perform. The most obvious travelling fans were identifiable across the city by their unique appearance – in their grungy tees, dirty jeans, long, greasy hair and a certain look - thronging M G Road, loafing in malls, being sullen in pubs. Complete strangers would glance at one another, exchange a slight nod, or alternatively, show the finger affectionately in a spirit of oneness with Metallica. It was almost spiritual.
The morning of the 30th. Comfortable shoes had been purchased just for the event. Attire selected carefully. Rain predictions in [it would rain], we were prepared. Metallica merchandise and jeans for them as had it, and mostly black for the rest. By noon, we were ready to leave. We had decided we’d watch India’s first F1 race after lunching somewhere and then head to the venue. We zeroed in on The Biere Club, renowned for its, well, beeru, and as for my teetotalling sort, I recommend their fresh lime soda [sweet and salt] also. Heady mixture. The flat screen TVs served our F1-viewing motives and it was a most pleasant interlude. The Biere Club was packed to the rafters with other Metallicans, and smug, knowing looks were being thrown around like it was someone’s coming-out party. It was all quite silly, and quite beautiful.
By midday on the 30th, well before the gates opened at three, an ocean of black T-shirts, jeans and otherwise comfortable attire was slowly making its way across to the Palace Grounds. ‘No drinks at the venue’ was the weird rule for this heavy metal gig, so enterprising concert-goers planned an early start to the day and tanked up at various watering holes across the city before staggering in to Palace Grounds. All the contraband that need be smuggled in *wink*nudge* was arranged for also, with bags and pouches concealed artfully in hair, inner garments and footwear.
At five in the evening we pushed out towards the Palace Grounds. Nodding and grinning at all fellow concert goers in other vehicles headed the same way. In a pre-planned maneuver, we parked the car at a friend’s house, quite a ways from the entry at Gayatri Vihar. Hopped an auto and oh-my-God, crazy traffic as we neared the grounds. What a sight. Thousands of black tee shirts inching their way along roads and in vehicles, and streaming in through the gates. We were borderline manic happy. A crush at the beginning where tickets were being checked, and then the final walk towards the stage grounds.
The high-level security at the entrance has to be mentioned specially, and appreciated, and giggled over. We had the faintest of pat downs, and the lady checking one would ask apologetically, ‘Cigarette toh nahin hai?’ [You’re not carrying in cigarettes, right?’] ‘Maachis?’ [‘Matches?’] All one had to do was shake head in the negative, and they would take our word for it and we’d be politely passed on without so much as a ‘But-wait-let-me-check-properly-anyway’. I suppose the men had it easy as well. Let me tell you, a LOT of stuff got in. *grin*
There we were. After decades of fandom and adoration, we were going to watch Metallica [oh, my God, Metallica!] live, in front of our eyes. Right there. Ah, but we could have peed our collective pants. Everyone was smiling. Everyone was ready, all tens of thousands of us.
And so into the crush of bodies, in the rain, trying to home in on the most suitable location to settle down into for the rest of the concert. A few moves and attempts later we found our sweet spot. By this time the opening acts had kicked in. We walked in on Biffy Clyro, a Scottish rock band, warming the crowd up. Apparently two other acts, Guillotine and Inner Sanctum had gone up before, but we missed that lot. It was past 6 now, lightly raining and everything was most enjoyable, even the minor scuffles and shoving that is natural in huge crowds of very drunk, quite stoned people. Biffy Clyro were tight, impressive and did not get booed off stage. That is saying a lot when you’re opening for Metallica.
Then. A lull. Tense moments in between as organizers asked the crowd near the stage to move back a little. ‘We need you to move back so the security can move in.’ ‘Come on, guys, cooperate.’ ‘Safety first.’ What, after the opening acts they realized this needed to be done? I can tell you we were pretty nervous about things turning fugly again. Obviously it took a while, but the knowledgeable Bangalore crowd worked it out in time, much to the chagrin of many people who were hoping for a second cancellation. Ha to you! Ha!
For almost an hour there was nothing except music playing on the speakers. And amusing incidents with cops chasing down people from the scaffolding and sound towers. We waited.
The Black Album or 'Metallica'
And just past eight, the lights went out, the crowd roared, drums and a familiar riff screamed through the air… AND METALLICA TOOK THE STAGE! Starting their set with Creeping Death and right through the two plus hours they played, IT-WAS-ON. Hetfield, Ulrich, Hammet and Trujillo [My heroes! My heroes!] blazed through a mix of their best songs from all albums – Fuel, Ride the Lightning, Sanitarium, Sad But True, One, Master of Puppets, The Memory Remains, Cyanide, Nothing Else Matters and the performance of the evening – Enter Sandman – pyrotechnics and all. The encore closed with Battery and Seek and Destroy. The older music definitely took it, especially songs from The Black Album, because people of a certain vintage [like me] know that music better. So the kids enjoyed the newer numbers more, but the classics were for everyone. The opening riff of Enter Sandman caused a near-frenzy, and the crowd sang as one. Roaring, head banging, smoking, drinking – it was a true-blue concert. Great sound on the speakers [though we lost audio on one set for a couple of numbers in the beginning – fixed soon] and enough big screen projectors for those who couldn’t see the stage that well. From just past eight till about ten thirty, Metallica gave us heavy. For me, Hetfield’s clear vocals, Ulrich’s crazy drumming and Hammett’s guitars-from-the-gut always win it. The gig of the year wound up with the band thanking us, us thanking them, them throwing souvenirs into the crowd, emotions running high and overall awesomeness.
As the band disappeared, we hung around on the grounds taking it all in. Thousands of happy fans – Bangaloreans and guests of Bangalore - with our once-in-a-lifetime experience. Metallica’s first ever gig in India. With the promise of more as they left. All of us were mud-stained, tired and happy. Feet killing us. Many smiles. The throng moved out slowly. There was the long trudge out to the gates, and then the horror of exiting the car park. By the time we worked our way out it was well past midnight.
As always after a late night, Bangalore headed to the very few restaurant chains it knew would still be open – the most popular being Empire. We headed to the Infantry Road joint and one hears that all the Empires were hit alike. So also those comfortable eats in the heart of Shivajinagar that know how to care for the nocturnals. It was like a spillover from the concert. Hundreds of hungry rock fans laid siege to the restaurant, some eating outside on the street, some seated, some waiting. Everyone was served, the entire black sea of concert goers - it was slightly surreal.
That was a special day. A good day. Completely worth the long pilgrimage here from my mountains. As the deafness in my left ear wanes, let me end the narrative with a suitable smarmy something I read online: ‘If you like Metallica, raise your hand. If you don’t, raise your standards.’ Such Metallicads we be. And well done, Bangalore, you do us proud again and again.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Kashmiri Muzaks

Confession: Kashmiri songs used to bore me growing up, because I couldn't understand what them mellow singers were singing. Also, the tunes, lyrics and instruments were very, umm, let's say not exactly world-changing. 
Happily my hearing has improved, and my understanding of the language as well. Also have started listening to some fine new talent recently, thanks to an uncle and his musical pals.
There's Naseem Ul Haq of Doda, also known as 'Raju', a young singer with a sweet voice and good compositions. I love that the lyrics are so non-typical. Very Gulzar in a Kashmiri setting. [No, really.]

Mamujaan has just been introduced to Windows MovieMaker, so he's putting up videos of Kashmiri songs- with subtitles. I find subs help.
Here's one of my favourites - 'Azti Gae' / 'Even Today'.

Let me work on a translation for this beautiful song. Will post soon.

In the meanwhile, recommend you subscribe to zamalik5811 on YouTube. He means to upload truckloads of these. Joy!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Edit: Someone implied to me that maybe Pawan Durani is not the writer of 'that' post. I don't know. How ridiculous all this cloak-and-dagger business is. In any case I am replacing his name, just in case.

 If there's anything I find trying, it's a complete misreading of something I've written by people I don't really care to invest time in. But the misinformation is so annoying, it must be set right.
Last September I wrote an opinion piece in the Hindustan Times 'Are We Ready To Let Kashmir Be?' which was followed by the usual noise and backlash from trolls or other readers who saw much in the piece that I did not even imply. As happens always, the noise faded after a while, and I even had a few civilised though very opposing responses such as this one by Primary Red. One does not have a problem with a different point of view. One even welcomes it provided it is done with a certain amount of reason, sense, civility, absence of silly assumptions, and an impersonal-ness. [I made that last word up.]

Anyway. I was linked to a Tweet about my article [but no mention or tag given to me, hmm.]  This post happened yesterday, and it's coming on to almost a year since I wrote the column in 2010, so I was a little surprised at the timing. Soon after, surprise turned to irritation turned to amusement.

Just to quickly get back to certain observations made by AnonWriter Ji, the writer of the piece ['Ji' implies a lot of respect as I gathered from his blogpost where he has addressed me as Sabah Ji every single time ~ yay! thank you!]. 

I'm going to keep it short and simple. Here we go. AnonWriter Ji's quotes in blue:

1. 'Sabah Haji starts with why does it justify to be called a Kashmiri for those living in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. How can a person from say Ladakh , who may not even be able to say “hello” in Kashmiri call himself a Kashmiri ?  How can a Dogra from Udhampur , Jammu , Kathu , Samba call himself a Kashmiri when he hardly knows the language or doesn’t even live in . How can a a Gujjar Muslim from Poonch or a Shia from Kargil call himself a Kashmiri , when they speak a different language  ?

Errr. Yes, thank you. I never said a Ladakhi or a Dogra should call himself/herself Kashmiri. I was speaking for people like me who live in the Jammu belt but speak the same language. Instead of repeatedly implying that this is a Kashmir Valley-specific movement, please know that there are substantial portions of the Jammu pahari belt that identify with the sentiment. Within Kashmir, I can call myself Pahari. Outside, I take the generic Kashmiri to apply to me. To quote myself [since it was an opinion piece coming from me about what I feel]: 'We speak Kashmiri. So that's our identity.'

2. I would be delighted to know how does a 5 or a 6 year old child know what different nations are ?  What “Azaadi” means ? Why  India should be hated ?  Does this not get picked up while watching how the elders behave or act .  This is purely a behavior a child from any community in Kashmir or elsewhere is likely to pick up from the parents or elders he/she witnesses each day .

I would love to delight you, but am at a loss as to how. I tried to do this in simple English in the original post but it seems to have escaped your notice.
If you pick up my line immediately after the one you've quoted: 'Somewhere between infancy and childhood, I had picked up unwittingly on what most of my family and people felt.'
Now, when I say my parents or any of my cousins'/friends' parents or any adult that I know of, did not feed us kids revolutionary mantras or hold daily sessions to tutor us in the art of 'knowing something is wrong', it is quite possible that that is exactly what I meant, and can you believe it, that I was actually stating the truth! You can, of course, imagine that we are some sort of sick 'others' where parents don't even know how to bring up their children without introducing politics and prejudices in their heads, but that's your call. And has nothing to do with what I've written. What you're saying quite simply then is that I'm lying. Errr. Oh-kay... *shrug* Whatevs.

3. Sabah Ji has very intelligently tried to balance and clear the issue of exodus and atrocities upon Kashmiri Pandits. Now isn’t that interesting , nowhere a courage to call spade a spade ! Instead she goes to extent of even blaming , yes you have read it right , she has ‘blamed’ some Kashmiri pandits of ‘communalising’ the ‘movement’ as well.

Ah. My favourite bit. Where you play the famous Muslim versus Pandit card, implying that because I am a Muslim I don't think what happened with the Pandits at the time of their departure was wrong.
And slightly hyperbolic outrage that I was blaming some, yes you read it right! blaming some Kashmiri Pandits for events around  the time.
I am not into the blame-game you and other easily side-lined Kashmiris are so fond of on the Twitters. That Pandits were made to leave is indisputable fact, as is the reason why. That there were Kashmiris - Muslims and Pandits - who worsened the situation, is also indisputable. I am not blaming the entire community for having to leave. I am not stupid, but thank you for attempting to imply that. It amuses me even today.

4. Can Sabah Ji pls let us know if Subhas Chander had killed innocents and raped women ? Did Bhagat Singh go out and plunder places of worship of others?

Hmm. Let me see... NO! These two heroes of the Indian Independence Movement never did rape women or plunder places of worship that I know of. You really should read your history textbooks closely. It's all mentioned in there. 
Now, Bhagat Singh Saheb was in fact hanged for shooting a police officer - I am unable to comment on whether that qualifies as killing an innocent or not. [Also, according to Rang De Basanti, random people were shot by the revolutionaries. Okay, okay, I won't take facts from a movie. But awesome film it was! Have you watched?] 
Anyway. What these two gentlemen did advocate, which is what I was referencing, d....uh!, was violent resistance. The same ideology that was the armed resistance in J&K in the '90s. I don't support it, but I find it laughable that people throw this in our face all the time as if India's Movement was something wholly sacrosanct and its leaders never had to resort to violent means to get their point across.
Another beauty by you of course is the implication that ALL the militants of the time were into killing innocents, raping women, and plundering places of worship. Nicely done! But, mehhh, lame. Not so. Certainly outrages were committed, there were horrible crimes done, and again, this is indisputable fact. I'm not going to ask you to look at the outrages done on the other side because apparently they don't matter.  
Am also not into comparing wrongs or pitting numbers against each other. We know how that works.

What's next, what's next?

5. As for someone asking “Aap Hindustan se hai ” to people in Kashmir , all I can say is that the argument is a bit to stretched by Sabah Ji . Unlike her, I am from the valley while she is from Doda district .

Tsk tsk. AnonWriter Ji, there you go calling me a liar again. And also all my friends and their families who have told me that their tour guides have asked them this question. Erm... What does my being from Doda district have to do with the simple fact I stated that tourists from India ARE considered as coming from Hindustan, and therefore not Kashmiris? I'm not saying it happens to each and every tourist. I'm saying it happens, and has happened often enough. My point was one of Kashmiri identity. I'm sure the very intelligent and quick-witted tour guides even KNEW the tourists were from Hindustan and therefore asked them. You see? 

Oh, forget it.
This was fun. *insert smiley*

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Convert - NOT a book review, just a response

Deborah Baker’s latest biography ‘The Convert - A Tale of Exile and Extremism’ chronicles the astounding story of Maryam Jameelah - a ‘prominent female voice for conservative Islam’ [Wikipedia] and a well-published author - her conversion to Islam, her sudden move to Pakistan and her life and work there.
The ‘tale’, spanning a period from Jameelah’s childhood in the ‘50s to her ‘hijrah’ or ‘escape’ to Pakistan in 1962, and thereafter her life and work till even as far as 2009, is ‘astounding’ in its very essence. Jameelah was born Margaret Marcus in a Jewish family in post-WWII New York and ‘The Convert’ traces the story of how she gradually came to reject America [and all that the West symbolised] and embraced Islam as her chosen way of life. It is even more fascinating as we see Jameelah’s story intertwined with that of her mentor and guardian in Pakistan, Maulana Abul A’la Al Maududi. [Maududi was the founder of the Islamic evangelist group and political party Jamaat-E-Islami, but is more famously known as the intellectual founding father of militant Islam.] It is on Maududsi’s invitation that Jameelah eventually moves to Pakistan and renounces her life in the America she grew up in.

Not knowing anything about either Baker or Maryam Jameelah, and only very little of Maulana Maududi except his renown as an Islamic scholar, I approached the book with no preconceived notions at all. My first impression was based on the cover of course. A fully-veiled Muslim woman, the by-line to the title ‘A Tale of Exile and Extremism’, and a typically dramatic blurb by Fatima Bhutto on the face of the book did not recommend themselves to me and already I was rolling my eyes. Happily, judging the book by its well-marketed cover proved to be premature. Because Baker’s careful biography turns out to be a very interesting, balanced read on a decidedly difficult and intriguing subject spanning many years.

‘The Convert’ was an easy read, start to finish; pacy in portions and lagging sometimes. It is told to us through a series of letters/correspondence between Jameelah, her family and Maulana Maududi, interspersed with Baker’s thoughts at the time of reading and her narration. The correspondence is not always arranged chronologically. My reactions to Maryam Jameelah’s story, with a female Muslim point of view at my core, were as follows.

First and foremost, I do not ‘get’ Maryam Jameelah. In that, despite a detailed observation of her childhood and thoughts growing up [through her correspondence], it is still pretty unbelievable to understand how she [or anyone] could suddenly opt for a complete change of life, religion, culture, geography and situation – with the mere support of an as yet unknown but generous stranger halfway across the world [Maulana Maududi]. It boggles the mind and is unsettling till the very end. This and various other clues and ‘reveals’ throughout the book [tantrums, nervous breakdowns, schizophrenia, stints at various mental institutions], point to a Maryam Jameelah who is not entirely the most reliable narrator of events.
From the beginning we see a maladjusted, intellectually precocious, socially misfit Margaret with contrarian views and a fixed opinion on everything. There are periods of prolific writing and correspondence, and then periods of total silence. We are also told that there is much that Maryam Jameelah does not reveal about herself, and that a significant portion of her correspondence is written much later than the dates shown in them. Which means Maryam wrote the letters retrospectively. Why? We find out towards the end of the book that Maryam continued to show behavioral problems in Pakistan.  There are so many oddities like this which leave one with a feeling of skepticism about Maryam Jameelah. She comes across as very eccentric, particularly in the all-too-brief meeting Baker has with her in Pakistan. Baker tells us in her ‘Note on Methodology’ at the end of the book that Maryam’s letters do not appear as she wrote them in the original and are mostly edited, rewritten and condensed by the author. There is no reason to believe the real meaning of the letters was changed, but this fact casts a slight shadow over the reading. Just a bit. Was it the author’s intention to cast a doubt over Maryam’s credibility at the end of the day? Because it certainly comes across as such, though Baker never at any point makes a statement one way or the other. Being the subject of the book, I was expecting complete clarity and a better understanding and appraisal of Maryam’s personality and thought process. Unfortunately I am left disappointed.

As to her writing and work as a scholar, there can be no doubt that Maryam Jameelah was lucid, trenchant and very on the ball in this regard. She was scathing in her criticism of the West and all that it signified. She believed that ‘Western civilsation and Islamic civilsation were implacably opposed’. This coming from an American Jew who had completely rejected her life there was a major attraction in the Islamic world, and the Jamaat naturally encouraged and patronised her. Maryam’s writings have ‘bristling and grandiose titles’ and open denunciations of the West, which appealed to many Muslims. As they still do. Together with Maududi, Maryam rendered the gap between a superior and just Islam and the unjust, overbearing, morally deficient western world as unbridgeable. This goes down very well with a huge population particularly in developing and poor Muslim countries. Again, I cannot understand where the ferocity of her convictions and her distaste for the West spring from, and this is another aspect that makes Maryam’s story so unique.

In her personal capacity, Maryam believed in a very severe form of Islamic living. To her it was an ‘all or nothing’ practical life choice. I may not agree to such a rigorous interpretation [full purdah, complete segregation, women not leaving the house], but I can neither begrudge her those choices nor stand in superior judgment on her. If that is the choice she made for herself, I can disagree on an ideological and intellectual level, but that’s about it. This part of Maryam’s life – her purdah, her being a second wife - is what will irk most people, women especially. I don’t see why.

The book is as much a story about Maulana Maududi as it is of Maryam Jameelah. At the same time as Maryam was discovering herself and Islam, on the other side of the World in Pakistan, Maulana Abul A’ala Al Maududi was already at the helm of a powerful political-Islamic organization called the Jamaat-E-Islami, which aimed at the establishment of an Islamic state as the ideal.
For me, I got a clearer picture of Maududi’s mind and the Jamaat-E-Islami’s history than Jameelah herself through the reading of this book. There were many interesting things I picked up, like excerpts of his writing, and personal details of his home and family which we find out through Maryam’s correspondence with him. Instead of a raving, blood-thirsty fanatic, we see a very reserved, serious, no-nonsense, scholarly, and powerful man, completely dedicated to his cause and beliefs. That he was very set in his convictions, that he thought an Islamic state was the best form of governance for leading a true Muslim life and propagated it is indisputable. I am not familiar with any of his treatises on ‘jihad’ and hence unqualified to comment on whether or not he is truly the ‘father of militant Islam’ and the cause of its more virulent strain that we see rampant today.

As a female Muslim reader, there was certainly a lot of food for thought in this book. Because it is presented matter-of-factly and without condescension or that patronizing tone I have come to expect in the context of ‘women in Islam’ and ‘Islamic extremism’, I found it an enjoyable read. It is interesting to note Jameelah’s and Maulana Maududi’s school of thinking. I have the slightest misgiving about the title of the book, ‘A Tale of Exile and Extremism,’ which gives quite a different idea of what to expect in the book and what I find there. 
On the whole, Baker’s narration of Jameelah’s life, her relationship with Maududi, her life in Pakistan and her views on Islam are objective and non-judgmental. However, and to me this is the greatest failing of the book, Jameelah comes across as quite unconvincing and non-credible as a person. At the end of reading a biography on her, I wish it wasn’t so.  

There is no compulsion in religion.

Here's an edit of my reflections on reading 'The Convert' and 'The Good Muslim' as published in Tehelka Mag.

And below is my original, lengthier piece.

What is it about burqa-clad/veiled Muslim women that gets so many people’s goats? Such condescension, such disdain! Especially from women, and surprisingly to me, from Muslim women who choose not to wear the veil. Note: None of condescending/disdainful/disapproving women’s voices come from ladies who actually choose to wear the hijab/burqa. Like myself. Or so many other fantastic Muslimahs [female Muslims] I have interacted with in real life and online. Like regular girls, we like our share of laughs, our silly (oftentimes risqué) jokes, our music, our sports, our books and what have you. The only difference is we have chosen to wear the hijab, others haven’t. I don’t hold it against you that you don’t want to wear something, why must you hold it against us if we do? Or rather, and this is what I’m getting at, what gives anyone the right?

I recall the hue and cry from not so long ago regarding France’s ban on the full face veil. The intense debates online, especially on the worst forum for having any debate: the 140-characters-a-time-restricted Twitter. What a waste. To me, the debate was not about man’s gross injustices upon womankind over the ages, nor forcing women to cover up, nor was it about culture-over-religion, nor about a misreading of religious texts [‘It doesn’t say hijab anywhere in the Qur’an!’]. These were beside the point, which was: a matter of choice. Anyway, what happens in France can stay in France. The good thing is it opens up a very interesting subject for discussion.

One of the most endearing lines of the Qur’an to me, is the beginning of verse 2:256: ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion.’ I read it in the broader sense of ‘I cannot impose my religious will/practices/dictates on you, and you will kindly return the favour to me.’ Please note, it works both ways. This verse tells hardliners not to enforce their strict, often unreasonable rules, on others. It also demands that the other extreme not judge and rail against those who choose a certain way of life, dress and conduct. A more conservative way of life, if you will. No compulsion either which way.

I read two newly published books recently, both with their focus on female Muslim characters and Islam, both primarily set in the Indian [or South Asian] subcontinent. One was a biography by Deborah Baker, The Convert, and the other, a work of fiction by Tahmima Anam, titled The Good Muslim. I am not going to discuss the literary or factual merits of either work. I’ll pick up certain points that struck me in their reading, as a young Muslimah with a decent grasp of my religion.

Both works convey a slight puzzlement at conservative Islam. Maryam Jameelah in ‘The Convert’ and Maya’s brother Sohail in ‘The Good Muslim’ are individuals who go the whole hog in terms of Islamic convention. In the former, Maryam opts for complete seclusion, full burqa, no physical contact with the outside world etc. In the novel, Sohail undergoes a transformation beginning with a change to ‘the garb of the faithful’, and eventually he moves to the strictest Islamic lifestyle [or his interpretation of it], and a severance with even his family and friends. In both cases, the author/narrator’s reaction is perplexed. Why this change? HOW can anyone think and choose this voluntarily? This here then is my grouse. While I may not agree with many points of someone else’s religious practices, I must always understand that it is after all their personal choice and I cannot compel them otherwise. Non-religious, liberal voices have a particularly self-righteous way of holding up the faithful to scrutiny. Why? In your minds, are you better than us for the choices we make inside our hijabs and burqas and with our long beards and short trousers? Is it my clothes that bother you, my overt display of my religion? Or does it peg me in your mind as someone that thinks a certain ‘dhakyanoosi’ way? [I am sorry I cannot come up with a proper English translation for that word – unfashionable, outmoded, backward?]

Again, this works both ways. I might let the extremely conservative be, but will he/she kindly stop asking me to become a better Muslim by covering up, not going out, not doing this, that and the other? To stop haranguing against the ‘kuffaar’ and spreading negativity? Is my mullah going to answer for me on the Day of Judgment? *insert sound of the Last Trumpet* I think not. So, to the religious conservative, kindly pass on your words of wisdom and guidance to me, and then let me do my thing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work this way in real life.

What is visible in both stories are the kernels of an unsavoury truth that we see all around us – that religion is hijacked by the narrow, often baseless interpretations of a few ‘scholars’ - those ‘deemed’ religious people, who eventually gain huge popularity as stalwarts of Islam versus the evil, decadent West. It is always a case of one-upmanship with these voices – our religion is superior, yours is inferior because of so and so. Unfortunately, this formula seems to be very popular with most. It is also responsible for most of the religious diatribe which taints what is essentially pure.

What is also visible is this other judgmental voice I speak of. The aghast-at-religious-conservatism section which really irritates me. Maya’s character in ‘The Good Muslim’ is clearly outraged at the ‘Islamisation’ of her brother. She despises any show of religiousness [for example a spat she has with a vegetable vendor who replies ‘Allah Hafiz’ instead of ‘Khuda Hafiz’]. In the novel, we see a possible justification for her feeling this way [the horrors of the Bangladesh war for independence are telling], but even so it irks. Other characters are also depicted realistically, always ready to mock religion. This is very common, we see it every day. I see this attitude online in well-read, well-educated people.

Religious judgement works both ways. The flag-bearers of ‘complete freedom and no rules’ versus the flag-bearers of closeted, narrow religious notions – neither are in the right.  At the end of the day, ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion.’ Please.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cousin Riaz debuts in Tehelka Mag

What joy! What kicks! 
On the last evening of my last trip to the village, Breswana as you all should know by now, I scribbled some information after quickly interviewing young Riaz on the Government's new BPL classification policy.  Riaz is one of five brothers, all of whom are the hardest-working, most decent lot of kids I know from the current generation. Like all the rest of my village, he is a sort of cousin to me.
Spot the Riaz: Correct! Sweet fellow on extreme right.
To my utter delightful delight. Riaz's piece was picked up for a Tehelka report compiled by lovely Nisha Susan, who BTW is a brilliance. I do love her. 
Anyway, moving on. I proudly present 'The New Fortune List' in Tehelka mag, featuring the first lad from our area in any publication. 
*rabble rousing cheers*
Instructions to find Riaz:
1. Look at the page.
2. Appreciate the two columns of faces, and their info.
4. Click on 4th thumbnail in right column. Yes, the one that clearly says 'Riaz Ahmed Batt. 22'
5. Enjoy reading about his take on things.


Tuesday, February 08, 2011

V for Veena and Vastanvi

An abbreviated edit of this post appeared in this week's Tehelka mag. Here's the online version. Print also available, I believe. [Can someone hold a copy for me, please? :) I'll collect it when back.]
So here it is.

What a fascinating start to the new year. As a young, relatively serious Muslim, I am naturally interested in news stories and opinions pertaining to Islam. More so in today's climate where Islam is, shall we say, not exactly subject to much praise, or even authentic, objective appraisal.
Which is why it is more than a little disheartening to see two recent big news stories doing the rounds in the subcontinent in this regard, that are so inane and yet reflect so well what is wrong with:
  1. the Islamic ummah [community] itself, and
  2. the perception of Islam as bandied about by mainstream media and lapped up by everyone.
I speak of the chart-topping story centred around Pakistan's Veena Malik, her Bigg Boss stint and the subsequent outrage it unleashed. [But of course we all know this already.] The second case I refer to is that of Maulana Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi and the controversy surrounding his statements. Exactly. A lot of you are probably thinking, “Who? What?”, and to save you the trouble of Googling said gentleman, let me introduce Vastanvi saheb as the recently appointed 'Mohtamim' or Rector of the Darul Uloom, Deoband, who has now resigned after a fair bit of noise by 'the good Muslims of India'.
[What is ironic here, from a Muslim P.O.V. is that most regular Muslims don't know and certainly don't care who the rector of the Darul Uloom is – it does not affect our daily lives. On the other hand, all of us are pretty much up to speed on Veena Malik and the sordid details of her private life; she would have been the subject of much discussion in most Muslim households. And therein lies the problem.]

Vaaii? Just because I'm a womaan!!?
Let us take the curious case of Veena Malik first. We all know of the 'slut-shaming' hue and cry Pakistan's media and masses are directing at Veena. We also know of bright, sane voices in Pakistan speaking out against this [MUST READ: Sana Saleem, Shyema Sajjad, Raza Rumi, Urooj Zia etc.] but that's unfortunately not too many in comparison. Here's the thing. The outrage is not limited only to Pakistan. Muslims across the region are taking Veena's behaviour as a personal affront. I can cite examples from my own moderate, well-educated Muslim family and community.
How does Veena Malik's private participation in an entertainment show make her a representative of either her country or her religion? Why are people going hysterical over her actions when it has nothing to do with them? Where does this intrusive, and frankly, very ridiculous Islamic moral policing get off? One's faith is a very personal thing and in the context of Islam specifically, you will never be held responsible for something someone else did, so please back off. 'Nafsi-nafsi' as the saying goes. [Or, to use the vernacular: 'Whose father what goes?'] Veena, in a teary-fiery confrontation with a Mufti Abdul on a recent news show in Pakistan, was spot on when she said what she did is between her God and her. [The same channel called her back for more public bashing the next day, with Pak veteran actor/director Syed Noor and Atiqa Odho - and again Veena stood tall. w00t!] Who is anyone else to butt in and stand on judgement? There are far bigger problems with Islam as practised today than what a starlet/cricketer/actor/politician/academic did in his or her personal life. Unfortunately the point is, that for some reason, Muslims mostly tend to get rubbed the wrong way on all inanities. [This happens with other communities and groups as well, but I am speaking of the Muslim ummah.] First things first. Veena Malik is not an aberration or a shocker, hence need not be made a loud example of. I may not approve of Veena Malik personally but that's my opinion and I cannot foist my judgement on her – more so using the tag of Islam to browbeat her with. I will say this: I now respect her for her courage, for facing up to a most vicious and unfair attack by an unthinking people and for standing up for herself publicly. I thumb my nose at mullahs and all other self-righteous thekedaars of Islam and really, more people need to do so. My simple request to today's Muslim everywhere: look to yourself, mind your own business and do jihad the best way – that is, struggle against your own self. [Before everyone starts panicking, please note: jihad simply means 'struggle' not 'holy war', in the same way that fatwa simply means 'opinion' and not 'death sentence'.]

Abeyaar, WTF did I do?
And now, on to the next segment: Maulana Vastanvi's predicament. In short, all the Maulana really said was that yes, Guajarat 2002 happened, it is now 2011 and since the state as a whole is doing so bloody well economically, it stands to reason that Muslims in the state are also doing okay, there is development and we should take this positive and move ahead. Nothing wrong as far as I can see. No particular eulogy or praises for Narendra Modi or any reference to his being faultless in the riots and general horror of the time. But no! Offence must be taken, outrage must be had. Hot-headed loonies decided that the Gujarat card was being undermined. “Muslims are the victims! Always the victims!” and how dare this forward-thinking, sensible educationist talk about anything else?
Now. Frankly speaking, the Darul Uloom and its administration or opinions don't really figure in a common Muslim's day-to-day life. One does not look to the Darul Uloom for daily guidance or direction. It may be India's most historic and renowned seat of Islamic learning - but is more popularly only known as 'that Muslim joint where they hand out unsavoury fatwas from time to time' [a whole different kettle of fish we can leave for later] by the general populace. Which is to say, that unless Vastanvi's tepid remarks in some interview with, who else, the TOI *insert applause* was not played up and given its current tabloidy-political-communal-controversial tint, none of us could have cared less. There is so much outrage because fragmented and choppy edits and reporting can cause such things. Again, the outrage is only on the part of a few people, and possible has some shady political angle to it which I do not care to go into. That's my point. I don't care what some administrator of some religious body said – especially since it was so neutral and non-news- worthy. Somewhere I see ridiculous media shenanigans in raking up another controversy surrounding Islam-Gujarat-mullahs-Modi. Sure the Deobandis are now screaming bloody murder [not really, but you know], Vastanvi has had to step down as Mohtamim and the issue is still getting acreage in publications when it is all such a big yawn. Here's the thing: was all this necessary? Does it affect the common Muslim in any way if Vastanvi says Gujarat HAS developed under Modi? [Well, hasn't it?] Can we all please stop feeling that Mulsims are still being crushed underfoot when in fact they may be not, and that the events of 2002 were a terribly unique occurrence and not the norm? Muslims – please stop playing the victims when not needed, media- stop your silly news-byte worthy shenanigans. The resulting noise is a bit much.

A closing thought. I am sure there is a significant number of Muslims today who think along reasonable lines, do not fall for every old provocation in the book, know their religion for what it is and do not need to nod along to everything certain clerics and scholars say just because they appear to know better. It is time to stop being a 'silent majority' [as I hope you are] and come out of your shells.

All I can say is, the outrage is outrageous.
Bas, khallaas.

On a seriously light note, please turn up the volume and watch this hilarious remix tribute video to Veena Malik, created bye DJ Shahrukh. Phrases that we can take away from Veena's epic interview and laugh forever over: Agar-magar?!, jazbaati, bos-o-kinaar, husn-o-jamaal, fohosh, and the epic cultness of “Mufti Sahab! Yeh kya baat hui?!!” 
Which phrase I and many others have already started using with relish in appropriate situations.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Meanwhile Back Home...

Kashmir does not rest. The media party has ended, sure. But nothing has really changed since last summer's horror.
Tehelka is possibly the only popular publication that continues to show real interest in Kashmir, after all the hurly burly was done.
I recommend subscribing to's Kashmir Uncut YouTube channel, for some real reporting, ugly truths and hopefully, eye-openers. Special series directed by Pragya Tiwari and team.

Note: Most vids are- well, apart from worth watching - saddening, disturbing or plain infuriating. Keep that in mind before you start.

I've Come To Look For America

So I finally made it across various seas, a couple of oceans and substantial portions of land to reach the United States of America [Wiki it] on the 30th of December, 2010. I know. That's like so last year, right?
The adventures began when I left Jammu a week earlier. Idea was to train in, spend a few days in the Dilli, meet old and new friends and then take off for foren. As always, that whole 'the best laid plans of mice and men...' deal happened. Meaning the foren came later rather than sooner. Not that I minded. I love D-D-D-D-Dilli, Dilli. Song follows. Sing along, please.

Now, things started off as planned. Reached Dilli okay, met new Twitter fraands [to wit: St_Hill, Mah_Ima, Fakeha, as1fk, s_purba, Marryam, mriganayanika] and regular old fraands. Metro'ed as much as I could from Ghaziabad abode to all ends of the city. I do like the Dilli Metro, in spite of occasional 'yatra seva mein vilambhs'. Clean convenient and most wonderfully, 'ladies only' coach at the front of every ride.

Finally visited posh Hauz Khas market on Christmas day for lunch with the Avegiii which we had planned at that place called 'Gunpowder'.
Avegiii took me through some winding, shady alleys of Hauz Khas, and since I trust her so much, I didn't panic. Turns out my trust and friendship were not misplaced. We reached lakeside and there was the Gunpowder signage. Up three flights like giggly gals we went, only to realise at the very end, that the place was closed for Christmas. Sigh. There had been a sign at the ground floor, which we totally ignored in our chatty-laughy climb upwards.  
Anyway. Nice facepalm walk downstairs it was. Where we saw the Junglist Movement, saluted etc.
[BTW, verrr interesting kitschy film poster stores which I will visit on return journey.]
Lunched at 'Naivedyam' eventually, for okay-to-above-average South Indian khaana. Had nice filter kaapi after ever so long. Also met the fantastic foodie Marryam Reshii and her adorable Kashmiri husband. 

Dilli days were made up of sight-seeing. Street-walking in Puraani Dilli, which I love returning to. Visited Balli Maaran and the utterly uncared for Ghalib Memorial in Gali Qasim Jaan. Very heartbreaking to see the nonsense state of Ghalib's last abode. 'Ghalib-e-khaasta ke baghair kaunse kaam band hain? Ro'iye zaar-zaar kya, kijiye haaye haaye kyun?' :(

Prayed at Jama Masjid, and unlike last visit where I was completely pissed off with the peeps inside making noise and having a picnic of sorts, this time around it was quieter, and more masjid-like. [Also, w00t! w00t! Running hot water at the wodhu  nooks, which was very lovely in the Dilli winter.]

Did book shopping [Urdu poetry, Islamic books] at one sweet uncle's carpeted bookshop. 'Please remove shoes and all' deal it was. Spent a pleasant hour there, shoeless.

Now, right opposite Jama Masji'd maingate, was this deadly sweet-laden cart. Delish matka firni, doodhi halwa, gajar halwa etc. for ridiculously awesome price of INR 12/- or something. Please to try. 

So far, so good.
Then it started snow-blizzard-ing in Dilli [or at least fogging up verrr bad] and all flights went for a toss. Which is when the exciting phase of my travels began - the Dilli Layover in Swank Hotels, or as I like to call it - DilLiSH. 
The first night my flight was cancelled, I was pretty kicked. Air France [nice enough airlines, tres sucky ground staff at IGI Airport] put us stranded passengers up at the Ramada in Gurgaon. I got a swank double room with a view all to myself, see-through bathroom, TV, Wi-fi, the works. Plus I became pals with one cute Bong-boy-kid traveller and it was a pleasant stay for two days. 
Managed to go sight-see at Humayun's Tomb with two lovely ladies, so that's one more item crossed off my To-Do-In-Dilli list . 

Am pretty sure you've all seen Humayun's Tomb [if not, Google Image it], so I'll show you something you might not have seen in relation to it.

This would be Imran Khan and Kat Kaif doing a song shoot at said location on the very day Fakehaa, Mah_Ima & I were there. Coincidence? I think not. [Stalkers...]

The next flight delay/cancellation was sordid, tiring, unbelievable. Horrendous night at hawaai adda. Was ready to crash and burn by 0400 hours. After very Kafka-esque experiences, finally found self with room at The Park, CP. Well, well, well! I know, right?
Extra colourful rooms at The Park
Anyway. I liked Ramada Inn better because of cosy feel, and, this is most important, it had a bidet in the toilet. I HATE HATE HATE this concept of waterless bathrooms. It may be right up the foreigners' alley, but I need a tap and lots of water in my loo because I was born and brought up the desi way. Steeuuupid swanksters. I had mineral water bottle to keep me company but marble bathroom with telly in it did not impress.
Marble-sharble, Tv-sheevee theek hai, get bidet.
Bedroom and bed were fine, no complaints. I slept off immediately. 
And may I just say what a fantastic spread for lunch. Am regretting having slept through breakfast. The hotel staff is most definitely not. I mean, I went all out. Cleaned out the buffet. *flashback*

Allors. Flight to Paris was nice, what with sudden barrage of French by everyone on board, and very Francais accented Anglais, just like the movies. I was having giggle fit listening to it. To make matters worse, was seated next to lovey-dovey French couple, and well, you know... *blush*

Reached Charles de Gaulle hawaai adda, negotiated through various terminals and metros and security checks in a daze, thinking, "ZOMG! I am actually in Paris. ZOMG!" Also having visuals from various postcards and Paris, Je T'aime.

I must confess that I deliberately went over and spoke to many peeps in the airport just to practise my basic French. Cheap thrills. 

After reaching departure lounge, I learnt that my flight was 'retarded'. [See pic.]
Also, some issue with mon billet, so had verrrry awesome time listening to to hot French men discuss my situation and how to get me on the flight. As I was twirling my tresses [underneath scarf] and smiling suggestively, they sorted out the mess and that was the end of that dream sequence. Sigh... Very Joseph Fiennes one of them was, and with a French beard to boot.

And then a few hours later I reached, can you believe it, the US of A. Sweet immigration guy; had a lovely chat with him although was very miffed he did not know about Kashmir. I mean, WTH??!! Still, he was polite and smiley, I was polite and smiley, we made small talk, I got a quick stamp on passport and here I am, in the wintry Mid-West.

So far Umreeka has been pleasant and quiet, and polite and internet is really fast. Also, I am in love. Crazy love. Check out how crazy:

Zizou, the nephew

It has snowed beautifully in the past few days. I love it [because I don't have to go out and shovel the driveway].

Here, this is me and boyfriend.

Final notes on initial thoughts on Umreeka:
1. Clean, quiet, polite, peeps follow rules - Yayyyy!
2. Huge servings of everything. Unbelievably huge produce. Like gigantic fruits and vegetables. It's scary.
3. Too much availability/use/waste of energy and resources. Too much. Disturbingly much. In that I am constantly disturbed by comparing to the way things are back home. Non-CFL lights, power sockets without ON/OFF switch so gadgets are in stand-by mode forever, dishwashers, big fuel-guzzling cars, central heating, instant hot water... Sure it's comfortable but... it's l'excessive, non? Anyway. I feel bad about it.
4. Great community care by Govt - libraries, Recreation Centres, facilities for each town/community. How nice for families and kids especially. There should be no crime at this rate what with all the perks you get with being an American. Hmmph.