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Satendra Nandan is Fiji’s lead­ing writer. His fourth book of es­says, Dispatches from Dis­tant Shores, will be pub­lished this year. He’s cur­rently com­plet­ing his trav­el­ogue: From Nadi to New Delhi.

In the last fort­night I’ve read two re­mark­able books by two out­stand­ing con­tem­po­rary jour­nal­ists from the so-called third world. Goe­nawan Mo­hamad is the fore­most pub­lic in­tel­lec­tual of In­done­sia, the largest Mus­lim coun­try in the world; it’s also the third largest func­tion­ing democ­racy, af­ter In­dia and the USA. For the last five decades, Mo­hamad has kept the light of free think­ing and free­dom of ex­pres­sion burn­ing in In­done­sia’s tu­mul­tuous and tragic his­tory. His vol­ume of es­says, In Other Words, (374 pages), cov­ers that pe­riod with courage and in­sight, se­lected from the weekly mag­a­zine Tempo of which he has been the found­ing edi­tor.

Nei­ther Sukarno’s bel­liger­ent na­tion­al­ism nor Suharto’s dic­ta­to­rial regime were able to ex­tin­guish the flame of a lively mind ex­plor­ing and in­ter­pret­ing a palimpsest cul­ture built on an­i­mistHindu-Bud­dhist civil­i­sa­tions over­laid by Is­lamic tra­di­tions. Three cen­turies of Dutch colo­nial­ism with three years of Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion dur­ing World War II hasn’t dimmed the per­ceived bright fu­ture of his coun­try. That to me is true cre­ative free­dom.

In­done­sia to­day is also Aus­tralia’s big­gest neigh­bour and casts a long shadow across our Asia-Pa­cific hori­zons. How­ever, the book that touched me per­son­ally is by In­dia’s Saeed Naqvi, one of the most in­de­pen­dent and in­trepid jour­nal­ists of a pass­ing gen­er­a­tion.

Be­ing the Other: The Mus­lim in In­dia ( 240 pages) is a work of a cul­tured in­tel­lec­tual con­fronting the many in­tractable is­sues on the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent.

Naqvi is a man who is more In­dian than any­one I’ve met in my many jour­neys to In­dia.

There’re, of course, per­sonal rea­sons for it: I’ve known Saeed Naqvi for the past fifty years, since the early 1960s dur­ing my stu­dent days in Delhi. His class­mate was Amitabh Bachchan; both were stu­dents in a col­lege in Delhi, next to mine. Amitabh made his name in films; Saeed be­came a world-renowned jour­nal­ist. For al­most three decades Saeed Naqvi ran a pro­gramme on In­dian TV ti­tled

World Re­port. For his nu­mer­ous sto­ries he vis­ited more than 110 coun­tries and in­ter­viewed the news­mak­ers of the times from Fidel Cas­tro, now 90, to the late Nel­son Man­dela. He was a For­eign Cor­re­spon­dent par ex­cel­lence. He brought to an In­dian au­di­ence the sub­con­ti­nent’s di­as­pora in var­i­ous parts of the world long be­fore Pravasi Bhar­itya Di­vas be­came fash­ion­able in gov­ern­ment cir­cles. Mr Naqvi also came to Fiji af­ter the sec­ond Rabuka coup on Septem­ber 25, 1987. He made two other vis­its to make his 40-minute weekly films for Do­or­dar­shan and Star TV. One was filmed in my vil­lage with me read­ing my po­ems among the sug­arhar­vest­ing gang on my brother’s farm in Maiga­nia. His cam­era­man was Kabir Khan, now a suc­cess­ful di­rec­tor in Bol­ly­wood with such films as Kabul Ex­press and Ba­jrangi Bhai­jan to his credit. The other day I read an in­ter­view with Kabir who said he’d learnt his art while work­ing with Saeed Naqvi who im­bued in him a vi­sion of a chal­leng­ing and chang­ing world. Mr Naqvi’s book is a per­sonal one full of anger and an­guish for a world that has al­most van­ished. There’s a deep sense of melan­cho­lia and nos­tal­gia rem­i­nis­cent of Keats’s poem ‘Ode to a Nightin­gale’: My heart aches ..…/ The weari­ness, the fever, and the fret/… Here where men sit and hear each other groan/… Where but to think is to be full of sor­row… Be­ing the Other is a sad and sad­den­ing nar­ra­tive writ­ten by a writer who sees so much through the prism of his per­son­al­ity and ex­pe­ri­ence, and a pro­fes­sion­ally ful­filled life.

But Saeed, who is well-versed in English, Urdu, Hindi and Per­sian po­etry, is at heart a poet who also sees his world dis­in­te­grat­ing in front of his house in Delhi. And he uses his per­sonal fate to cap­ture the agony of a com­mu­nity who chose to re­main in In­dia af­ter that ter­ri­ble im­pe­rial crime: Par­ti­tion. The book re­minded me of a poem by the Amer­i­can poet Wal­lace Stevens: Af­ter the leaves have fallen, we re­turn To a plain sense of things. It is as if We had come to the end of the imag­i­na­tion, … It is dif­fi­cult even to choose the ad­jec­tive For the blank cold, this sad­ness with­out a cause. The great struc­ture has be­come a mi­nor house. No tur­ban walks across the less­ened floor. … Those of us who have ex­pe­ri­enced the sor­rows of ex­ile, be­trayal in your home­land, will know that this sad­ness is never with­out a cause: it has many causes, per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal, of grief and glory.

It’s the hurts of his­tory that leave their deep­est scars, from Kash­mir to Kanyaku­mari, from Mustafabad, his idyl­lic place of birth, to Mum­bai where thou­sands were mas­sa­cred. To­day there are al­most 200 mil­lion Mus­lims in In­dia, the sec­ond largest Muslin pop­u­la­tion in a sup­pos­edly modern, sec­u­lar democ­racy. Saeed writes about this com­pos­ite, syn­cretic, sub­con­ti­nen­tal civil­i­sa­tion with the knowl­edge of a lived and felt life in so many arts and nar­ra­tives on which na­tions cre­ate their fu­ture. He has an en­vi­ably in­ti­mate knowl­edge of In­dia.

The provoca­tive sub­ti­tle of the book is The Mus­lim in In­dia. Mus­lims, he feels, have been be­trayed by suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments.

Naqvi’s ar­gu­ment is that In­dia, en­vis­aged at the time of in­de­pen­dence, is now sink­ing into a re­li­gious frenzy of the sec­tar­ian right, je­hadis in many colours in­clud­ing saf­fron, giv­ing a deep­en­ing sense of alien­ation for a com­mu­nity. The chap­ter ti­tled ‘A Pro­ces­sion of

Prime Min­is­ters’ makes in­ter­est­ing and con­tro­ver­sial read­ing, from the found­ing prime min­is­ter Pun­dit Nehru to the present in­cum­bent Naren­dra Modi. Crit­i­cally it’s the cen­tral strand in the com­plex In­dian saga. Saeed Naqvi is an in­trepid and in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist and his com­mit­ment to a Free Press is un­ques­tion­able. He has worked in many In­dian news­pa­pers, from The States­man to the ed­i­tor­ship of The In­dian Ex­press, In­dia’s largest-sell­ing daily with sev­eral edi­tions. Now re­tired he writes a weekly col­umn from Delhi syn­di­cated to many news­pa­pers and jour­nals, world-wide. This is his third book and it de­serves se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal and pub­lic scru­tiny by those who care for the largest sec­u­lar demo­cratic state ever con­ceived. The is­sues raised are many and var­ied but the heart of the mat­ter is that the re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism of any re­li­gious garb or race dam­ages ir­re­vo­ca­bly the in­ner fab­ric of a so­ci­ety.

And the an­cient ha­tred, like the past, can kill. Saeed Naqvi, like most of us who have lived the bib­li­cal three score and ten years, sees the old or­der is chang­ing yield­ing place to a rather grim new pic­ture of the world that is be­ing born as if through a Cae­sar­ian op­er­a­tion. The loss and grief are there and Naqvi writes mov­ingly of his world from Mustafabad to the iconic sym­bols in Delhi. We in Fiji have known the sor­rows of those who, for racial and re­li­gious rea­sons, have been dis­pos­sessed and dis­en­fran­chised.

For­tu­nately the tragedy of the three coups led to the tri­umph of the fourth that be­came the sav­ing grace of a na­tion. But once you’ve been through that ex­pe­ri­ence, you have to build your com­mu­nity with spe­cial care. Those pos­si­bil­i­ties are now present in Fiji if not fully re­alised at least sub­stan­tially vi­su­alised. A per­son who has suf­fered three heart at­tacks needs very spe­cial care both with his daily diet and the re­duc­tion of the level of racial choles­terol run­ning in the ar­ter­ies.

Be­ing the Other: The Mus­lim in In­dia should be widely read and the wis­dom of a thought­ful and in­de­pen­dent mind may have some spe­cial mes­sage for In­dia, Fiji and be­yond. Naqvi’s book has a melan­choly ring about it—it’s one man’s re­mem­brance of a lost world; but more im­por­tantly how the very idea of In­dia is be­ing mu­ti­lated from a com­pos­ite civil­i­sa­tional idea to one where nar­row re­li­gious na­tion­al­ism can be so pro­foundly dam­ag­ing. Mr Naqvi has shown con­sid­er­able courage to lift his pen against the ter­ri­ble forces within his beloved In­dia.

I’ve trav­elled with Saeed Naqvi to his vil­lage in Mustafad­bad where his fam­ily haveli lay in ru­ins, where sarso fields shone yel­low and gold in the set­ting sun, and where Mustafabad man­goes smelled sweet even out of sea­son. Luc­know of course has a deeper mean­ing for me—the de­signer of Can­berra is buried there; my grand­par­ents, I’m told, mi­grated to Fiji from a nearby vil­lage called Sul­tan­pur.

I did once visit its land­scapes but felt that my his­tory re­ally be­gins in Fiji, 10, 000 miles away. Read­ing Naqvi’s pow­er­ful evo­ca­tion of a van­ished world made me feel that one can­not quite es­cape his­tory; it binds one in its karmic cir­cle and cy­cle – one that is vi­ciously cyn­i­cal to our in­di­vid­ual fates. Mr Naqvi’s poignant por­trayal of a Mus­lim is a brave book that will be widely read for its rec­ol­lec­tions of the past, the avoid­able tragedies of the present and an imag­in­ing of some fu­ture for the sub­con­ti­nent— the three na­tion states with dif­fer­ent re­al­i­ties but an in­te­gral part of a tri­an­gle. If Europe can en­deav­our to build a Euro­pean Union of 27 states, af­ter so many wars, in­clud­ing two World Wars, surely it’s not be­yond the wis­dom of the sub­con­ti­nent known for its sages and su­fis.

It’s been said that only thing nec­es­sary for the tri­umph of evil that good men should keep silent. Mr Naqvi’s is an im­por­tant and ur­gent voice –with his jour­nal­is­tic scalpel he has di­ag­nosed many of the present ills and mis­takes of the past—it’s now for the new gen­er­a­tion to find the cure for the can­cer of com­mu­nal­ism, the ni­hilism of jihadists and re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ists of all sin­is­ter shades and colours that seems to be in­vad­ing the body-politic of his coun­try and her neigh­bours. Cry, the Beloved Coun­try is Mr Saeed Naqvi’s cry too.

Satendra Nandan

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