Rahi Masoom Raza and the question of Indianness in dark times

With the Hindu-Muslim divide like never before, we should learn from poet Rahi Masoom Raza whose birth anniversary was on September 1.

WrittenBy:Abu Osama
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In a letter to the late Kamleshwar, the late Rahi Masoom Raza had sought a reply from him asking, “Yaar Kamleshwar ye mausam badal kyo nahi raha hai! (Friend, Kamleshwar the climate doesn’t seem to be changing)” This impression seems true for the present situation. When the echo of slogans chanted against Muslims at the time of Partition, which one thought was long erased from public memory have not only been resurrected but has also become more emboldened and shrill, the dehumanisation of the Muslim community has touched a new low. One cannot help but be reminded of the trauma and collective sufferings during Partition. To be a silent witness and keeping oneself aloof can be criminal. Perhaps, we are living through one of the most difficult times in the history of our nation, with a very little gleam of hope in such dark times. In this extreme depressing and disappointing time one is compelled to remember one of the finest contemporary writers and a master narrator – Rahi Masoom Raza.


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The pertinent questions which Rahi Saheb raised decades ago still haunt us in the present, as many of the questions he asked remain unanswered. The perfect tribute to his rich legacy will be upholding and standing true to the vision of society he had.  His soul will only rest in peace, till we are able to walk the path he had shown us and achieve what he wanted from all of us. His extraordinary conviction to humane ideas i.e. to remain human in inhuman conditions and stay together despite all socio-cultural and religious diversities, stood completely apart from the times he lived in. He dreamt of a society which ensured every individual a life of dignity and where social justice shone supreme.

He deliberated upon the socio-political realities of everyday and presented a historical narrative of “chosen trauma” and “chosen glory” in books such as Oas ki boond, Neem ka Ped, Katra bee Aarzoo, etc.

Rahi Saheb primarily focused on everydayness, on common history and the shared legacy of people living on the planet. He also proposed how and why we have come to this wide rift between the two communities. This is the idea which Levi Strauss presented when he argued about “cultural dialogues of different communities that, each culture, by definition, is incomplete but the very incompletion of cultures makes humanity complete”.

Aadha Gaoon is one of his celebrated novels, which deals with life at Gangauli. Its characters are villagers yet it is a literary masterpiece on the partition of India. The novel is a social and cultural account of an undivided nation.

It seemed that the Partition was the final destiny for Indian Muslims. So the case is here: while a few moved to Pakistan, many more chose to stay back. Both the Muhajirs and the Indian Muslims paid a heavy price in return. The traumatic experience of Partition had an astounding impact on all of us. Can we afford one more human displacement? Certainly not! For Funnan Mia, Pakistan was a nightmare but the only place where he wants to be buried is Gangauli. The tragedy with Topi Shukla is that he was neither accepted by his ‘community’ nor by ‘others’ which resulted in his suicide at one point of his life. Responding to the plight of Topi Shukla, Rahi Saheb conveyed a fundamental belief in the idea of human life and that suicide is a blot on the forehead of any nation or civilisation. Wazir Hasan was killed by Hindus while protecting a temple that was to be demolished. How many of us dare to play such roles in our daily social engagements? Perhaps such people can be counted on our fingers. People like Wazir Hasan need to be kept alive in public memory. The rediscovery of Wazir Hasan is a a compelling need of the dark times we find ourselves in.

In Topi Shukla, one of his most compelling commentaries on contemporary times, he narrates communal clashes and the subsequent bloodshed stretched over many neighbouring villages. All over the area, dead bodies can be seen; for him these bodies were dead bodies of Indians. In this form, they were beyond the Hindu or Muslim categorisation. In other words, he meant that these corpses symbolised the death of humanity, secularism and tolerance. Riots are byproducts of the brazen conspiracy of rogue politicians. And are we blissfully unaware of the relations between communal clashes and election notifications?

The irony is complete. The communal division of the country from Partition onwards seems to be coming a full circle. While the Muhajirs in present-day Pakistan border are least welcome, we are witnessing a desperate rush to send off the remaining Muslims to that side of the border and meet the fate of their Muhajir fellows. Someone must remind us of Rahi Saheb in such dark times. The iron confidence, with which he said no to the Jan Sangh, is worth mentioning here. But the Indian Muslim is fast losing the ability to assert their voices and their rights to be equal citizens in present-day India. The current government is not only committed to expelling Muslims from their own land but wants history re-written without them. Dehumanisation does not require official consent; it gradually creeps in unofficially but accepted widely as a universal truth after one point of time. He was fortunate enough to critique social situations and could say that with conviction till he breathed his last. But the present government, riding upon false consensus and shoddy discourse, does not even allow a note of dissent. Any act of resistance is discouraged.

We are left at the mercy of the political establishment. Each sphere of life is occupied by them, journalism has become a futile exercise in sensational news notifications; TV debates shout for TRPs; social media is destined to be the dustbin of boredom. The art of articulation through fiction has been overruled. Rahi Saheb is an abandoned idea in the age of Chetan Bhagat. As a result we have become utterly hostile to any kind of dissenting muse.

The pedagogy which Rahi Saheb offered has been rejected by us, as a nation. We are collectively responsible for the end result of an unjust society which does not even bother to understand its cultural heritage and a common history of a thousand years. His deep understanding of cultural diversity and majority-minority relationship has lost its place. With this we have also lost Funnan Mia, Topi Shukla and Wazir Hasan, who had enlivened our old idea of India. They are the true exemplars of Indian-ness. Beyond political rhetoric and hypocrisy, they present a face of humanity and tolerance immersed in their soil and homeland. Aren’t we shying away from such collective vocabularies and losing sight of and command over the tales of extraordinary courage, so beautifully brought to life by the late Rahi Saheb?

In the context of the dark times we are going through, one should not forget to remember Rahi Saheb’s staunch assertion:

“The Jan Sangh says that Muslims are outsiders. How can I presume they’re lying? But I must say that I belong to Ghazipur. My bonds with Gangauli are unbreakable. It’s not just a village, it’s my home. Home!! This word exists in every language and dialect in this world, and is the most beautiful word in every language and dialect. And that is why I repeat my statement- because Gangauli’s not just a village; it’s my home as well. ‘Because’ – what a strong word this is. And there are thousands of ‘becauses’ like it and no sword is sharp enough to cut this ‘because’. And as long as this ‘because’ is alive, I will remain Saiyid Masoom Reza Abidi of Ghazipur, wherever my grandfather hailed from. And I give no one the right to say to me, ‘Rahi! You don’t belong to Gangauli, and so get out and go, say, to Rae Bareli.’ Why should I go, sahib? I will not go.”

Indians today need to reaffirm this proclamation of Rahi Saheb, India is not merely a piece of land, it is home to a large number of Muslims. They are not going to go anywhere but will lead a life of dignity and respect in this very country, BECAUSE IT IS THEIR HOME.

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