Saeed Naqvi is a journalist and writer whose latest play, The Muslim Vanishes, attempts to answer the question of what would happen if India’s Muslim community vanished overnight. In this interview with Yusra Hasan, he discusses the play, the plight of the community today, and coming to terms with the Muslim identity.
Explaining that there was a time when identity “did not matter”, Saeed says, “I grew up in an environment where my great friend and editor Vinod Mehta didn’t know what my religion was, and I didn’t know his. This was roughly the milieu in which we grew up.” But now, he says, “everybody sees me as some kind of Muslim. That identity has been imposed upon me by the circumstances we live in.”
Saeed has family in Pakistan, and says he is now pitied by the same relatives who were once astounded by India’s secular atmosphere.
“They used to say, ‘bhaiya, your life is so good!’ Because they would see me with one Zahid, one Ashok, one Masood, one Ranjit – they’re all my buddies...Now, the same relatives of mine fix me in a pitying gaze,” he says. “And I hate being pitied.”
The conversation also spans the romanticisation of the Ganga-Jamuna tehzeeb, the inclusive potential of Indian society, the xenophobia spread through television news, and how the media landscape has evolved.
Bonus: Saeed illustrates what happens to the Indian electorate when you take Muslims out of the equation.
Text by Rounak Bhat.
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