Tag Archives: Nadeem Aslam

The Golden Legend is Scary and Yet True

Nadeem Aslam’s recently released ‘The Golden Legend’ is scary and yet true. It is the story of our times. Killings on the name of religion, nation, prophet and cows. They are all there in the novel. The landscape is oozing and overflowing with blood. That doesn’t deter the lovers. They keep loving. It is love and the memories of love which matter the most.

There is an elaborate description of violence. The reader is pushed to the wall with many existential questions. Is there any value of human existence? Are our destinies pre- determined by the geographies we are born in. Are religious men cause of all violence? Or is there something more to religion? Are those skull cap wearing Mullahs, with rosaries in their hands and long white beards dictating bloodshed or are they marginal players, victims of the circumstances, they have been pushed in?

There aren’t any clear answers, neither in the book, nor in life. There is hope, as some of us are carrying those questions, and there are few, who may have answers- “How one person carried the answer through his life until he met person who was carrying the question.”

The protagonists of the novel are like real people. They are daring. They keep the flame of love alive, even in the hurricane of violence. Story moves between five individuals, and memories of many more. All busy in saving their lives. They escape to save themselves. Their escape is not escapism. Some are able to save themselves, some return as ghosts.

Novel challenges us, it forces us to take stand. The story is located in Pakistan. What is happening in Pakistan is happening in India too. Blasphemy laws, cow protection laws. Killing of humanity for some abstract ideas. It is happening everywhere. There is a global civil war and world is bleeding.

“Everything this land and others like it were going through was about power and influence. All of it. And these struggles of Pakistanis were not just about Pakistan, they were about the survival of the entire race. They were about the whole planet.”

In these circumstances, we can’t be escapists. This need to be confronted.

“It felt strange to think this about a place that could be violent, but most of the time there was a deep desire to avoid confrontation in Pakistan. Ordinary people wished to be left alone, and wished to leave others alone, finding pockets of love and comfort within the strict laws that governed them. They had been owned and abused so often that at the most basic level ownership and abuse meant nothing at all. It also mean, however, that loud, belligerent individuals and groups could remain unchallenged.”

We need to be daring, daring to fall in love and love which breaks boundaries. It’s only love which can help us survive the age of anger and hatred. And Aslam’s novel is all about the survival of love in the world blinded by violence.



Sufism and Atheism, Paris and Beirut, Tipu Sultan Secularist and Religious Despot

Modi patronizing Sufism in Wembley Stadium, Tipu Sultan Jayanti celebration, protests against the state sponsored celebrations and terrorist attack in France- Are they all link? Certainly they are. There are many co-relations. All three acts force us to think in the binary world of a software engineer- 0 and 1, there is good, there is evil. Terrorists are evils, armies are good. Sufism is better, Wahabism is criminal. Tipu Sultan was a secularists and internationalist, Tipu Sultan was a tyrant- mass murderer. Our world view is rather very simple- Great or Worst.

Starting with Sufism:  Let us not romanticize Sufism in first place as Modi has asked us to do. Not all Sufis were and are lovey – dovey and peace loving, from Al Ghazali to Sheikh Sirhindi there are shades of Sufism which prefer extremism. Blasphemy novel by a Pakistani novelist Tehmina Durrani is one living example of violence perpetuated by many Sufi pir Masters. According to Durrani, novel is based on true accounts. It’s very easy to say Islam needs one way and one belief- Sufism strives for peace, Wahabism preaches mass bloodshed. Lets promote Sufism. There is a novel by Nadeem Aslam -Season of Rain Birds, where a Maulana with a tilt towards Wahabi- Deobandi Islam was more compassionate and affable towards a Christian girl and Ahmeddiya teacher than the Barelvi Maulana. Barelvis are closer to Sufi Islam. Killer of Salman Taseer was a Barelvi.

There are versions of Islam and Sufism as there are shades of Buddhism and Christianity. Jalalluddin Rumi and Al Ghazali were both Sufis. Not all Sufis or Sufi schools have similar orientation. Some love, others have superiority complex and many prefer violence, like the Christian monks in the desert. Many monks served with compassion, others burned down the pagan temples and synagogues. Many did both-with one hand helping the needy and using other hand to murder pagans and Jews. 

Many may say secularism and atheism are less violent. I would like to remind those loud atheists and secularists, please do read the history of France and Soviet Russia. The amount of murders committed by Atheist Russia and Secularist France in past centuries are at par with the violence perpetuated on the name of religion. Number of Priests, Monks and Nuns chopped and burned alive by secularists and atheists in France and Russia, later in Communist Cuba can a put a lot of Islamists and Hindutva terrorists to shame. The early Zionists who wanted to create Israel were no one else but the atheists with Jewish ancestry.

Coming to Tipu Sultan- Was he a secularist, internationalist or a tyrant despot? In my answer can I not state both? Janaki Nair says it all- “In fact, history has become the court room itself, for judging the past rather than understanding it. Professional historians have long laboured to peg out an understanding of the past, based on careful examination of evidence, buttressed by an ability to corroborate, and imaginatively produce a persuasive narrative. But today’s history wars are based on a sense of the past, sometimes but not always relying on evidence as much as on perceived insults and injustices, which must be settled in the court house of history. Like well entrenched legal adversaries, winning the battle is more important than the tactics that are used.”

There are contradictions in Tipu Sultan. He gave money to a temple demolished by Marathi (Hindu) Peshwas for renovations, continued funding of Dharmaswamy temple. Employed Shudras who were condemned by caste Hindus to have animal like existence as soldiers and this helped them confront the upper caste genocidal tendencies. He also was responsible for mass murder of caste Hindus and Catholics and all this while allying with French who may have been Christian. There is no black or white history of Tipu Sultan. There are many contradictions in his life.

Instead of merely exploring the religious and ideological background of perpetrators of violence,  Let us force ourselves to ask a better question- how is it possible for some to kill the other. Where do they derive their energies from? Why are we moving in same cycles of violence- time after time? Are we living in different eras, where violence is justified on one side and unjust on the other, where there are ‘just wars’ of Bush, French military interventions in Maghreb and terrorists attacks in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad.

When some one says ‘O its sad what happened in Paris’, we get in #whataboutery mode, and question- what about Beirut? Why don’t you condemn bombings in Iraq, killing of Palestinians at the hand of Israelis, terrorism of Hamas and Boko Haram? Why are you silent on illegal jailing of democratically elected Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and so on. There is no end to this #whataboutery, there are many people who are genuinely hurt and emotionally wounded. This #whataboutery is not going to help them.

Paris, Baghdad and Beirut- terrorism including the one sponsored by state is a symptom of our collective failure. No point of blaming and othering each other. The path to modernity is full of bloodshed, no other cities epitomise it so well as Paris, Baghdad and Beirut do. From past many centuries histories of Paris, Baghdad and Beirut are saying it loudly -violence begets violence and the cycle continue. Can we please halt it, Can we stop making the narratives too simplistic?

We humans are each other’s only hope in this whole wide and apparently lifeless universe.