Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Blood Brothers

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”
------------------------Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

M.J. Akbar's Blood Brothers is a nostalgic account of an Indian Muslim family against the backdrop of the partition.

The novel revolves around a sleepy town of Telinipara (near Kolkata), which took pride in its cordial Hindu-Muslim relations. Such was the love of humanity greater than anything else that a certain Wali Mohammad, a tea-stall owner, adopts a hindu refugee Prayag. With time the boy gets so overwhelmed with love that he becomes Rahmatullah, a Muslim. That boy was the grandfather of MJ Akbar and a big exponent of Hindu-Muslim unity in that area.

The focal point of interest is the Sufi Islam that binded the two communities together. A dervish who came to Telinpara shares the origin of Sufism in India -

"My spiritual lord is Syed Muin al-din Hasan al-Husain al-Sijzi Chishti, born in Ispahan in the first half of the twelfth century. He was nearly fifty years old when he travelled to Mecca, where, in a dream, God commanded him to show the people of Hindustan the way, the tariqa. And so, resplendent in the cloak of poverty, he journeyed from Mecca to Baghdad and then to Delhi, sleeping in cemeteries along the way. He reached Delhi in the reign of Maharaja Prithviraj, one year before the armies of the Afghan, Mohammad Ghori, defeated the Rajput king. Rajas and sultan play games of war. Muinuddin was the emperor of hearts; his titles, Nabi al-Hind, and Aftab-i-mlk-i-Hind, the messenger and radiance of India, were given by the people."

The same dervish questions the violence in the name of religion -

"Our Prophet gave us a religion of peace. He said, 'If a man rejects war when he is wrong, he will go to paradise. But if a man rejects war when he is right, he will sit beside Allah!' Why then do some Muslims seek war in the name of their faith?

Allah has ninety-nine names: Al-Rahman, the beneficient; Al-Rahim, the merciful; Al-Salam, the peaceful; Al-Haq, the truth; Al-Wadud, who loves me; Al-Mubdi, the creator... Not one of ninety-nine names describes Allah as a warrior. Allah is a creator, not a killer."

There are numerous incidents in the novel which makes one ponder over the state of affairs in India today. One such thing which stands out is the Muharram procession. Some 100 years back it was a joint effort of the Hindus and Muslims in Telinipara.

"And so my (M.J. Akbar) grandfather and Grija Maharaj took equal ownership of the Muharram procession...Hindu fakirs arrived, their mouths sealed with locks that would be opened only after the taazia had been immersed. On the seventh day of Muharram, men gathered for the dupahariya maatam, the afternoon atonement, and beat their bare breasts to the rhythm of ancient memory: Ya Ali! Ya Husain!"

A generation later the Hindus started to stay away from it as it became a Muslim thing. Maybe during the same time the first Shia-Sunni riot broke out in Lucknow over the Muharram procession. So much is the divide today that the involvement of Sunnis in such processions is decreasing by the year. What constitues as 'shirk,' and what as 'biddat,' has further divided an already divided community, what to talk of Hindus and Muslims.

The creation of Pakistan and the division of India was one incident that affected the Hindu-Muslim relations more than anything else. Those Muslims who stayed back in India were fortunate enough to continue living in a neighbourhood which had both Hindus and Muslims. The scars are deep but can be healed with regular contact and inter-faith diaglogues. I pity the Hindus left in Pakistan. What more can one say about a country where not even a Muslim, praying in a mosque, is safe. Inspite of a overwhelming Hindu majority India is a secular democracy, and I'm proud of it!

Akbar's account is not just his own, it is exactly what every Muslim family went through during the partition of India. Some lost homes and hope, so they left for Pakistan. Some lost both, and their lives too, in the carnage. And some, like Akbar's grandpa returned or stayed back in India. Not because they had faith in the system but because they had people like T.P. Singh and Bhagwan Singh (charachters from the novel) around them. There are similar tales of bravery and brotherhood on the other side of the border. And that for me is what humanity is all about!

I would recommend this novel to all the Indians out there. We have seen the worse of times, surely we can survive the religious fanatism of today.

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