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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Prof Mushir Ul Hasan's Smart Move

In a land where thoughtful Hindus have to hold their noses against the President of a major national party baying for a hapless prisoner's blood – George Bush as Governor was dearly beloved and admired for such proclivity - Rajnath Singh screaming "When we come to power, we will make sure that Afzal is hanged" - please Rajnathji, so sooli mein chadao me for being a thayir sadam Tam Brahm - but I would rather know how you propose to rehabilitate the tens of thousands who have been uprooted by the devastating floods - Prof Mushir Ul Hasan's offer of extending legal aid to the students of Jamia accused of terrorism comes as a blessed whiff of sanity.

Finding quality legal advice in our democracy is about as easy as finding the Sanjeevani.

For twenty years, I've searched.

I've spoken to "Gandhian" journalists and "civil rights"type retired judges, MPs, MLAs and lawyers - not Shri Prashant Bhushan or Nandita Haksar - despite advice from some erstwhile good friends - entirely my fault - "altruistic" IT tycoons, professional associations and even scientists, I have hunted in Delhi and Hyderabad and Chennai and Bengalooru - but I have not found one good person who could have an intelligent conversation about the legal options I may have about getting accountability in my "no excuses," ultra-peaceful, non partisan, individual, sathyagraha against the patronage paradigm - the paradigm of shoddiness, irresponsibility, cronyism and corruption that is cretinising our great nation.

A sathyagraha for the idea of the rule of law, that is now in its, give or take a year or two, twentieth year.

I have been pettifogged thrice.

The one case that I can prove beyond any shadow of doubt - when the then Commissioner of Police and the then AP Governor's office connived and egged on the so-called Owner's Association to cut water supply to my flat, without any judicial intervention or authority - the Commissioner of Police blithely interpreting this vigilante mob action as a "civil" dispute - the gold medallist lawyer at least left behind a saucy Hindi phrase that will forever yield me lessons in humility - "aap bhi tho dhoodh ke dhule huve nahin ho".

Till date, I have to fetch and store water every alternate day.

If there are any Peter Russos in Hyderabad, I haven't had the privilege.

Talking about Peter Russo, it just occurred to me that the sole forensic fraternization I have had on my case, was with a thirty something Australian backpacker in Pahar Ganj.

Over the tortuous years I invested, trying to get Doordarshan to be sane about working with me - with about as much success as Shri Ratan Tata had in Sonar Bangla - most of them spent in the halcyon climes of Main Bazaar, Paharganj,a Lonely Planet marked crossroads for Western backpackers and their suppliers, I had developed my own visa points system of those who would be worth my while.

In my system, "Readers of Books" topped the list. Ahead even of "Blondes wearing saris and pottu".

This guy, believe me, was really dug into "The Constitutional History of India"."If you really want to know a country, read its constitutional history." says he.
This one wanted to know.This was a brother.

Later as I became his guide and buddy, we visited his tabla teacher from DU who had accompanied my most illustrious aunt and when I confessed that I had been fatigued about writing about my plight, again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and gain and again and again and again and again and again - okay, now think twenty years - he instigated me to demonstrate at the Film Festival in Delhi, helped draft my appeal, shared zany occult insights into deconstructing prose, and through my plain horror, explained with a relentlessly imaginative zeal how I had the soul of a punk rocker and bought me a marrow moving piece of our gorgeous tribal metal sculpture.

He pissed me off later by insisting on buying rare Indian paintings from Main Bazar, and I have not replied to him after he wrote to me complaining that the "art" he bought at some expense had washed off the cloth - but if he 's reading this, write me, man. I'm generous. I have forgiven you. Its

Prof Hasan may not have the soul of a punk rocker, but he probably does have some of the Mahatma's shocking talent for doing the right thing.

It was probably said of the Mahatma that he could sight a moral high ground from a mile away and he never passed one without wanting to clamber on to the very top.

Prof Hasan has realised that its not right to let our children twist in the wind, while we hurry off to our date with the television studios.

Prof Hasan's gesture is "modern”, democratic, potent and exemplary.

Twenty years ago, when I had taken the final cut of my documentary, "Hyderabad. August 1948." to our capital city and then had to spend two years trying to save it from being vandalised by the very people who had commissioned it with your tax money, Dr Manmohan Singh had taken over as Finance Minister and the air was so thick with mediagas about the so called reforms, that I was beginning to get little niggles that my documentary was becoming somewhat dated and irrelevant in the impending Shiny New India.

Hyderabad. August 1948 is about the events that led to the "Police Action” in the erstwhile princely state of Hyderabad. It told the story of those brave, visionary and humanistic Muslims who had spoken out against the depredations of the Razakars and argued for Hyderabad acceding to the democratic Indian state.

I had the opportunity of recalling the saga of the 28 year old Shoebullah Khan, editor of an Urdu newspaper Imroose who had been harassed, intimidated and finally slaughtered by the Razakars. They shot him dead and then cut off his right palm.

It is not for mere man to fathom the mysterious ways of Allah.

But here I was, a benighted and unredeemable qafir, chosen to be an awed witness to his mad / majestic munificence.

Because even before my niggles could develop into a concern, let alone take on the proportions of a worry, I was saved.

Prof MushirUl Hasan chose this particular moment to say some mildly professorial thing about Salman Rushdie’s comedy The Satanic Verses. And a bunch of Jamia Millia Islamia students chose to take deep umbrage and explode into a riot.

"Traitor to the qaum" screamed the students, to my relief and gratitude. They could have been quoting this rhetoric from my documentary. "Cut of his tongue. String him up. Shoot him down". They manhandled the poor man, demanded his resignation.

Decades ago, much before he became famous in India, for deifying our "altruistic" IT tycoons, Thomas Friedman, had observed that a fundamentalist, characteristically, did not have a sense of irony.

Can't argue with that, but then here was undeniable proof that Allah, certainly was no fundamentalist.

There were counter demonstrations in solidarity with the hapless academic. As a humble token of my own gratitude to the All Merciful Joker in the Ether With Perpetual Bad Timing, I joined them.

I called the Hassans and got myself invited to their refuge at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. The Hassans received me most graciously and given the intense stress that they were suffering, they even organised a VCR and patiently watched my 37 minute Urdu documentary.

Years later, when I was still struggling, and had organised a projection at the Andhra Pradesh Bhavan, which the then Home Minister the late Shri Indrajit Gupta, had kindly decided to grace, I invited them.

Unfortunately for me, they had already committed to the BBC, which was showing something about The Dynasty of the Nehrus - at a local five star hotel.

The Hassans were not the only people I met.

Saeed Naqvi spared time to watch my documentary. However he could not accept my offer to get on the documentary and introduce it with a context.

I met Shabnam Hashmi and the good folks at SAHMAT.

I met MJ Akbar when he was aide to the Hon'ble Arjun Singh. And on a few occasions since.

I was given the courtesy of writing in the editorial page in Hindustan Times. Kaveri Bamzai was generous to spare me a line in her light op-ed piece in the New Indian Express. Unfortunately, we did not inspire a single Indian to even write to the Editor.

I demonstrated through the entire duration of the Film Festival 10 -20 January 2000 in New Delhi.

Some of the finest and most respected folks present, took the time to talk to me, understand my effort and sign my petition addressed to the then Prime Minister.

The Press was present in numbers. Hasan Suroor was there. So was Nikhat Kazmi. The Press ignored me.

Javed Akhthar and Shabana Azmi had seen me at the Festival. Shri Akhthar did say hello. Coincidence: I had featured Ms Azmi's uncle the late Akhthar Hassan, in my documentary and had the opportunity to include her beautiful aunt and her gangly, bespectacled nephew, kinda reminded me of me at that age, in a frame.

Of course these were not the only people I met in our corroded capital city.

I would love to report that I made some intelligent, new friends who have been an oasis of inspiration and pillars of strength to me.

Unfortunately, I cannot.

Maybe these very busy people were too preoccupied to make the connection between the nationwide, 24/7 corruption and the pulverization of the idea of the rule of law or maybe it was just my strange sounding last name or my stubbornly khadi clad presence that spooked them - we just passed each other by.

C'est la vie.

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