Tuesday, May 12, 2015

TAREK FATAH - Gandhi, India, Pakistan and me

For more than three months I have been living out of a suitcase in India, the land of my ancestors, which I was made to hate by the leaders of the country where I was born — Pakistan. I am in India researching and writing my next book, The Hindu is Not My Enemy.

On Sunday, I performed a political pilgrimage. I travelled to the city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat to the home of the man whose name I have carried as my nickname since I was 10 — Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi lived in an “Ashram” on the banks of the River Sabarmati for 12 years after returning to India from South Africa in 1915. This is where he developed his ideas of non-violence, self-help and campaigning against “untouchability”, alcoholism, ignorance and poverty. And this is where he led Indians to challenge British colonial rule with a 400-km “Dandi” (walking stick) Salt March.

Gandhi and I have had a 60-year relationship through our names. It began when I was barely 10 and my maternal grandfather nicknamed me “Gandhi” because, or so I was told, I was as thin as a “dandi” and wore thick eyeglasses. As a child, I was surprised when my Pakistani classmates mocked me when I proudly disclosed my nickname. I was beaten and shunned for no other reason than the fact I was as fragile and ghostly in appearance as Mahatma Gandhi, whom almost everyone in Pakistan hated.

It wasn’t until I left school for college in 1965 that I got to study Gandhi’s history. That year, there was a war between India and Pakistan and all the students were riled up against the “evil Hindu sons of Gandhi.” I too was drawn into the jihadi hate fest of non-Muslims that swept the country. In 17 days, Pakistan’s attempted invasion of Kashmir by soldiers dressed as civilians was thwarted by India.

The Soviet Union then bartered a ceasefire. The fact Islam’s armies could not win against the supposedly “cowardly Hindus” and that godless communists had to intervene was a rude shock for many of us. But I took it seriously. It dawned on me that mixing religion and politics was a mind-numbing, hate-inducing intoxicant that needed to be fought. But who was our enemy? And why were Muslims so angry with Hindus, despite being fans of Hindu film stars such as Raj Kapoor and Vyjayanthimala?

To understand our “enemy” I picked up two books from my dad’s library: The Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru and The Story of my Experiments with Truth, Gandhi’s autobiography. As for Pakistan’s side of the story, I was shocked to learn the founder of the country, M.A. Jinnah, had written nothing, not even a letter to the editor in all his life. No essay, no biography, nothing about peace, war or secularism.

Thus began my 50-year journey that culminated on Sunday at the footsteps of M. K. Gandhi’s home, where I sat on the floor of the “veranda” (porch) and let my thoughts wander into the skies over Gujarat, wondering what “Bapuji” (Gandhi’s nickname) would make of the threat posed today by Islamic terrorism to his India and the world.
Then I kissed the floor and walked away, knowing I might never step again on the sacred ground where the Mahatma strolled as he dwelled on the unfinished business of the Muslim-Hindu question.​

NB: A comment on religion and politics (extracted from a review I wrote recently:
Nationalism has emerged as a civic religion and patriotism a political form of prayer. As such, it can combine zealotry even with atheism. But to compare nationalism with religion is not the same as identifying it with this or that religion. French nationalism, for example, began with atheistic rejection of religiosity. Gandhi’s religiosity was not the basis of his nationalism, but the source of his philosophical questioning. The spokesmen of religious nationalism on the other hand, used it for political differentiation, and sought to exclude people on that basis. It is a moot question as to whether systematic murder, of one person or many people, can be judged to be an ethically sound state of mind for a prayerful person... Religious nationalists, Hindu and Muslim, conflated nationalism and religion, producing a hateful perversion that Gandhi intuitively named irreligion. Those who mistake Hindutva for sanatan dharma forget that nation-worship is a manifestation of right-wing atheism, an identitarian numbers-game, wherein all truth is reduced to a philosophy of number. The discourse of national homelands for religious communities turned faith into geo-politics; and replaced metaphysics with raison d’etat. To mix philosophy with nationalism renders wisdom itself into an ideology, and it is good to remember that ideology is the antithesis of wisdom...DS