Mehboob Qadir
Tall, strong and shady trees do not grow in thin air, shifting sands or swamps. Our sturdy Bunyan is a local tree which stands majestically in the firm soil through the ages and even centuries of ferocious storms, sun and shower. It goes on replanting itself where it originally grew out from. The result is a deep and popular respect bordering on reverence. It is a well-regarded part of our folklore from Khyber to Kanniya Kumari and from Jalpaiguri to Jam Nagar all across South Asia. That is why it is a lasting, loving legend in popular sentiment. It is because Bunyan belongs here incontrovertibly and finally.If a tree could be so faithful to its roots why can’t we be of our physical and moral origins? One has frequently wondered where really one belongs to? There has been a disconnect between physical belonging and moral belonging. Historic record in the subcontinent is a brew of facts, fiction, falsification and communal emotionalism, therefore hardly of any constructive use. Foreign historians have been a little more objective but riddled with their own prejudices. Travelogues of globetrotters had been useful but provide a very narrow window of observation.By far the most reliable source in this regard had been the folklore. This medium has certain practical limitations. Being mostly episodic it does maintain the core intact but the mode of description, emotive content and emphasis shift as the time passes. Barring a few lasting episodes, folklore stories have a short shelf life and decompose with a significant change in the belief system and political restructuring which keep occurring through the times. That leaves one to turn towards conscious retrospection. But even this exercise pivots in a shortcircle around the way one understands things.We are told that we are native sons of the soil which in other words means we were the ones who have inhabited this land since times immemorial. Fine but tell us whom to take pride in; Raja Purus who fought bravely and checked Alexander the Great’s deeper advance into the Indian subcontinent, the Afghans who valiantly contested Emperor Ashoka’s armies invading Central Asia or the Persian king who victoriously swept into Balochistan and Sindh from Sistan? The choices were simpler then.They have becomecomplicated and complex after the advent of Islam in the subcontinent.Options for affiliations that we have now are confusing and difficult to rationalise.This haze tells severely on one’s sense of belonging, breeding frustration and disorientation. Most of us get disillusioned, throw the knotty debate out of the window and busy ourselves with issues of the passage. This way of existence frees one’s mind of a consuming debate. However, the puzzle gets harder.It was the doctrinaire’s invidious induction of pre-cooked ideas into our value system which created a hopeless duplicity. One in the physical domain and the other in the moralsphere.As a native, one would lament Raja Dahir’s defeat, but on the moral plain as a Muslim one is required to take pride in Bin Qasim’s military victory over him.I am also expected to condemn Raja Dahir’s immoral patronage of sea pirates who raided and captured Arab boats along with women and children, yet overlook Bin Qasim’s executions when he put three thousand prisoners to the sword before the Battle of Rohri.The page turns, and there is a flurry of Muslim invaders from the north-west campaigning into Northern India. Most famous were Sultan Mahmood of Ghazni’s 17 daring raids and finally the Mughals from Central Asia who stayed put and set up a glorious Mughal empire in India. One could even resent these invasions and may even have fought against them under native kings. But we are faced with difficult options at the moment. Should one rejoice in their conquests because they were Muslims or should one regret the destruction and plunder that they caused in our land?When it came to Emperor Aurangzeb and Shivaji, the dividing lines had been drawn, and the sense of communion was chopped into two right at the middle. A purely political struggle was lapped up by the holy hounds as communal; the schism has stayed to this day.How does one regard Sultan Tipu and his father Sultan Hyder Ali before and after the Battle of Srirangapatnam (1799)? Great patriots or rebels? Maharaja Ranjit Singh carved out the Sikh Kingdom out of splintering Mughal Empire at the point of his sword and drove Afghan governor and his forces out and across Hindu Kush mountains. Sikh army routed Syed Ahmad Barelvi and his jihadi Lashkar at Balakot in 1831.Whom should I clap for and which one to grieve about?Was Faqir Syed Aziz-ud-Din, Maharaja’s famous vizier a realist, a pragmatist or simply a man of higher intellect above the sticky cobwebs of such emotive preoccupation? How about those Muslim soldiers and Sardars who laid down their lives under a Hindu commander defending the Fortress of Multan against British siege in 1849?Where do they fit into this black and white picture? How about the Sikh and Hindu contingents who fought and died for the Mughal Emperor during the siege and fall of Delhi by British forces in 1857? Rational history tells me to uphold the nativecauses, but the mullah and the pundit tell me to side with their co-religionists. Why does are novation of thousands of years old Katas Raj Temple in Pakistan and allotment of a piece of land by Islamabad in the capital for construction of a Hindu temple sound so unfamiliar? Isn’t it civilised and expected? Was 1947 Partition a result of this dilemma or an answer to it? What about the noxious Wahabist-Salafist sandstorm sweeping over our national landscape tearing our sails apart? How about the devastating Hindutva flood inundating vast Indian plains drowning differing ideologies and dissenting voices and where is it taking that great mass of people to? Both are viciously dragging us out of sanity; one to a distant land and the other to obscure times. Simultaneously there is an enormous internal struggle going on within Islam too, which adds to the discomfort of a Muslim from the Indian subcontinent.India is convulsing in a different variety of its own fundamentalism. In order to rediscover their roots, they have opted to either deny or reconfigure the intervening period between Mahabharata to Partition. The result has been a monstrous confusion agonising over moral grounds. The glorious period of India under Emperor Ashoka, a Buddhist, has to be repainted as Hindu. Babri Mosque had to be demolished to make way for Ram Temple. Akbar the Great set up the next largest Indian Empire but it has to be obliterated from the pages of Indian history because his ancestors were Central Asian Muslims. Splendid Muslim monuments like the Taj Mahal, Red Fort and numerous others have to be water cannoned to fit into the neo-Hindu nationalist narrative. This mindless drive for comprehensive self-erasure has become illogical, communal and dangerously racial.

Chanakya, Nasir-Ud-Din Toosi and Machiavelli were master statesmen. I am expected to choose between them but do I have to? Is it a talent to exist within one’s own religion or is it universal? What about great sages like Aristotle, Plato, Ibn-e-Rushd, BhagatKabir, Rumi, Guru Nanak and numerous others. Does one have to drop one for the other? Don’t we think the whole thing is becoming clearlyabsurd? They have poured their prejudices and caprice like molten lead into our ears for centuries. We want to get on with the business of life in earnest but before that pray tells me where does one really belong to?

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