19 March 2011

"Liberty or death: India's journey to independence & division" by Patrick French

This book by UK politician Patrick French is junk.

Two examples:

One, the author says India's independence movement would not have worked under Stalin's Russia since Gandhi/Nehru would have been summarily executed. By this logic, Britain would not have had magna carta if Attila the Hun was its King at Runnymede!

Two, the author says that a few "volunteers" and not Pakistan Army invaded Kashmir in 1948. Is this still in dispute? Really? So passe.

Unfortunately I bought Patrick French's 2010 book on India last week; allegedly a history of a billion people. Now, am apprehensive. What is the focus this time? Two billion arm pits?

13 March 2011

"Tinderbox, the past and future of Pakistan" by M J Akbar

Pakistan is an idea that was born out of pride in the past and fear of the future; it would neither stabilize nor disintegrate but remain in its current toxic state says M J Akbar, renown author and newsmagazine editor in his book tracing the fascinating story of the birth and growth of Pakistan.

Akbar quotes Maulana Abul Kalam Azad from an interview given to a Lahore magazine in 1946: "After the initial euphoria dies down, divisive pressures would become assertive in Pakistan; the two wings will separate; and regional identities, fueled by outside interference, will result in balkanization. Incompetent political leadership will pave way for military rule; neo rich will loot national wealth and Pakistan will end up being controlled by international conspirators". Quiet a prescient man, Azad was.

What gave rise to Pakistan? Muslim pride and Muslim fear.

The pride of the Indian Muslim is justified. Muslims wielded power in India for 665 years from 1192 to 1857 AD. Though the rulers were Muslim, it was not an Islamic rule. Both the Delhi Sultans and the Moghuls (except an odd Aurangazeb) kept their faith away from statecraft and co-opted Hindu nobility and warriors to add depth and sustainability to their rule. The Muslim population in India too was significantly influenced by the tolerant and compassionate Sufi philosophy.

The fear set in with the gradual weakening and eventual decline of Moghul empire.

Muslim response to this fear of insecurity differed: the Deoband Madrassa, the Barelvis and the Jamat-i-Islami wanted the British out and were willing to live in peace with Hindus in a untied India; the Aligarh Muslim University set up by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan sought to co-operate with the British to carve out special treatment for Muslims including special electorates in provincial and central legislatures.

Muslim politics had five swivel moments eventually leading to the birth of Pakistan:

One, in 1916 Muslims under Jinnah leadership secured Congress agreement for separate electorates (and a united fight against the British)

Two, in 1919 Muslims were outraged by British taking away Islam’s holy mosques from the Ottoman caliph, trusted Gandhi to lead the jihad against the British (only to be disillusioned by Gandhi’s abandonment of the Khilafat movement after a violent incident in Chauri Chaura).

Three, in 1927 Jinnah failed to bridge the gap with Congress when an opportunity arose to draft a Constitution for India. After this the British kept deepening the wedge between Hindus and Muslims.

Four, in 1937 Muslim fear of Hindu domination arose after a provincial election when the victorious Congress declined to form a coalition with the defeated Muslim League. Jinnah swore to convert the dispersed provincial identities and regional leaderships into a “national minority”.

Five, in 1946 Muslims were disappointed at Congress, fearful of balkanization, reversing its decision to adopt a federal structure constitution for a united India. This resulted in partition and the birth of Pakistan unavoidable and in the best interest of everyone.

Post partition, Pakistan lived up to Azad’s predictions.

The ruling class co-opted faith into politics; sabotaged weak attempts at land reform; and left people in poverty. Jinnah’s dream of a secular state with muslim majority was ignored. Instead, as dreamt by Maulana Maudidi, theocratic urges were patched into legislative framework.

The emergence of Pakistan as an Islamic state was gradual. In 1949 the Constitutional Assembly subjected the young state to principles of Islamic faith. In 1956 the new Constitution made the country an Islamic republic. In 1962 General Ayub Khan added the Islamiyat curriculum that distorted history glorifying Arab invaders and identifying Pakistan with the invaders. In 1973/74 Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto introduced a new constitution that reaffirmed Pakistan as an Islamic republic; reserved President and PM positions to Muslims, reinforced teaching Islamiyat in schools, set up an initiative to ensure every law was in harmony with the faith; paid government salaries to imams of mosques; moved weekends to Fridays; banned night clubs, gambling and liquor; triggered movement to Sharia and declared Ahmadiyas as non-Muslims although none of this eventually won him popular support. In 1977-85 General Zia completed Islamisation process. He passed Hudood laws; imposed Zakat and made blasphemy a crime punishable with death. Finally a new constitution was adopted in 1985 that enshrined supremacy for Islam in the governance of Pakistan.

Pakistan went on to become a frontline warrior state for Islam. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto held the first Islamic summit in 1974 setting up the Organization of Islamic States; started a nuclear program that had tacit funding and support from Arab states; nurtured and funded Burhanuddin Rabani’s mujahideen in Afghanistan as early as 1972. Zia funded/supported jihadi warriors against Soviet rule in Afghanistan and Indian rule in Kashmir. Musharraf's "running with the hare and hunting with the hound" policy turned the jihadists against Pakistan.

The erosion of political framework was also gradual: In 1953 Governor General Ghulam Mohammed dismissed an elected government; installed a puppet government; and dismissed the puppet government too. An obliging Chief Justice Munir upheld Ghulam’s actions by inventing the dubious “doctrine of necessity” that would eventually destroy Pakistan’s democracy. In 1956 President Iskander Mirza (an erstwhile General) weakened civil government by dismissing elected governments four times in 30 months with power shifting slowly and firmly to the army. In 1958 General Ayub Khan set up the first military rule. In 1974 Bhutto turned to army to maintain law and order. General Zia-ul-Haq declined to help; set up the second military rule and moved Bhutto to prison/death. In 1999 Pervez Musharraf removed Nawaz Sharif and set up the third military coup and dictatorship. Pakistan alternated between military dictatorships and corrupt civil governments.

End result: Pakistan became a military dictatorship financed by US (and Saudi Arabia) administering a theology based law, pursuing terrorism as a state policy, in possession of a nuclear device, and an infrastructure that creates a large pool of terrorists with designs to take over the State.

Akbar thinks Pakistan will not disintegrate. However, the odds seem to favour Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.

10 March 2011

“பாடாத பாட்டெல்லாம்” by Kannadasan

One song that I keep humming often is this melody written by Kannadasan; composed by Viswanathan & Ramamurthy and sung by P B Srinivas and Janaki in the 1962 movie Veera Thirumagan.

Reason: Soothing emotions expressed in awesome lyrics. Kannadasan’s imagination, choice of words and ability to express emotions are awesome.

The plot is simple: He tells us of the progress of his love for her through various phases: Attraction, Expectation, Hesitation, Consummation and yearning for the union of souls not just body.

Here goes my understanding of what I consider to be one of the best songs ever written in Tamil:

பாடாத பாட்டெல்லாம் பாட வந்தாள்
காணாத கண்களைக் காண வந்தாள்

She came to sing tunes that she never sang before; implying that this is a first for her. She came to see eyes that have never seen before; implying she expects this to be my puppy love too.

பேசாத மொழியெல்லாம் பேச வந்தாள்
பெண் பாவை நெஞ்சிலே ஆடி நின்றாள்

Yet she came to say stuff she never said before; implying an intention to cross the rubicon! I am hooked!

மேலாடை தென்றலில் ஆ ஆ ஆ
பூவாடை வந்ததே ம் ம் ம்

Her upper garment. Gentle breeze. Wow!
And, I was close enough to smell her fragrance. Ahem!

கையோடு வளையலும் கல் கல் கல்
கண்ணோடு பேசவா சொல் சொல் சொல்

Physical proximity is nice but I yearn for proximity of minds where spoken word is not necessary; where one can communicate with eyes.

அச்சமா நாணமா இன்னும் வேண்டுமா
அஞ்சினால் நெஞ்சிலே காதல் தோன்றுமா 

I sense hesitation still. Is this due to fear (and therefore I need to go slow) or shyness (and therefore I need to hasten)? Can we ever make an omelette without cracking an egg? Will she open up?

மிச்சமா மீதமா இந்த நாடகம்
மென்மையே பெண்மையே வா வா வா

Is the residual hesitation a useless remainder (like food left in the plate) or useful remainder (like food left in the buffet)? Should I take a step back or a step forward? I don’t know. I would just make an appeal.

இரவிலே நிலவிலே சேதி வந்ததா
உறவிலே உறவிலே ஆசை வந்ததா

Oh yes. What made her move forward? Did the ambience trigger passion?

மறைவிலே மறைவிலே ஆடலாகுமா
அருகிலே அருகிலே வந்து பேசம்மா

Now that the physical union is consummated, I yearn for union of mind and soul. Come my friend, let us chat.

P B Srinivas, in his best years then, does full justice to Kannadaasan’s lyrics. S Janaki’s humming demonstrates how a composer adds to lyrics without writing a word.

In my younger days, there was no TV. We had to do with radios. We had the luxury of hearing a song and doing our own visualization. Nowadays when this song is telecast, I close my eyes (to not let the poor quality visual affect the excellent image I carry in my mind from childhood) and enjoy.

There is a far older poem in Tamil that goes:
செவ்விது செவ்விது பெண்மை ஆ
செவ்விது செவ்விது காதல்
A critic in that century said that the word that packed maximum meaning in the entire poem was the fourth one!

All I can say about Kannadasan's song is: "ஆ! ஆ! ஆ!"