Saturday, January 22, 2005

Khushwant Singh
Abandoned innocents
Khushwant Singh

A mother of three with another in her womb is convicted for being an accomplice with her paramour for the murder of her husband. Both are sentenced to jail for life. She delivers her fourth child, a girl, in the prison hospital. She is allowed to keep her daughter with her for five years. The girl has no other children to play with her only companion for these five years is her mother. Then she is thrown out in the world to fend for herself. She has never seen her mother’s other children. She has no relations to turn to. What happens to her?

Although women form a bare 3 to 4 per cent the population of prisoners in Indian jails, their plight and the plight of their children will give you many sleepless nights. The tragedy in their lives is vividly brought to light in Shadows in Cages: Mother & Child in Indian Prisons (Fusion Books) by Ruzbeh Nari Bharucha. It is a collection of case-histories with organisations engaged in taking care of abandoned children who have spent many years in prisons with their mothers, laws pertinent to the subject and what one can do to help.

Gem of a man
   January 15, 2005
Osho calling
   January 8, 2005
All that passed by
   January 1, 2005
Tomorrow yet to come
December 25, 2004
The truth about lies
   December 18, 2004
From Aryana to Afghanistan
   December 11, 2004
Goings-on in the name of god
   December 4, 2004
Of matters religious and erotic
   November 27, 2004
Faith should unite
   November 20, 2004
Fine art of party hopping
   November 6, 2004


Above the title of the book on the jacket is printed "Dr Kiran Bedi presents". Kiran was for many years in charge of India’s largest jail in Tihar which has a sizeable section exclusively for women undertrials and convicts; those under trial outnumber the convicted. She knows more about their problems than anyone else and is deeply concerned with their futures. Actually the book was not presented to me by Kiran, but by her daughter Saina — she is taking the baton from her mother in the long relay race to bring solace to unfortunate women and their offsprings.

Distorted mirrors

It is a rare person who looks at his face in the mirror and is not pleased with what he sees. Of these people seeking acclaim such as politicians, filmstars, writers and social workers have mirrors which enlarge the appearances to make them look much larger than life and are mighty pleased with themselves. It never crosses their minds that others do not share their self-esteem. They summarily dismiss criticism as being born out of rivalry, jealousy or envy. They have fragile egos which they have to preserve with much care. Robert Burn’s lines are pertinent:

Would the gods the giftee gee us

To see ourselves as others see us.

I welcome the collection of profiles of eminent men and women written by equally eminent writers who are aware of the skeletons in the cupboards of people in the public eye: Love Them, Loathe Them (imprintone). They have been put together by the novelist, Namita Gokhale and include among others Amar Singh, Jayalalithaa, Pramod Mahajan, Kapil Dev, Samir Jain, Arun Shourie, Rohit Bal and Shobhaa De. The writers include Seema Mustafa, Seetha, Sam Rajappa, Suchitra Behal, Kanika Gahlaut and Suresh Kohli who has further exposed the up and coming underclad film starlets of Bollywood: Bipasha Basu, Neha Dhupia and Mallika Sherawat.

A lot more of the sleazier side of these eminent men and women is common knowledge and the subject of salacious gossip. Very wisely authors of these profiles have refrained from writing about it or they would be exposing themselves and the publisher to actions of libel. I have some experience of it. Though nine of the cases went against me, I had to waste a lot of time defending myself at my publishers’ expense.

Hasrat Mohani

There were a few Muslim leaders who were able to withstand the Muslim League’s demand for a separate state and were nevertheless held in respect in the community. In Punjab, we had Dr Alam, Professor Abdul Majid Khan and Saifuddin Kitchlew. Delhi had Dr Ansari, Hakim Ajmal Khan and Asaf Ali. Bengal had Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad. Maharashtra had the Tyabjis and the Ali Brothers. Uttar Pradesh, notably Aligarh, which became the epicentre of the demand for Pakistan, had very few to stand against it. Among the most eminent of them was Hasrat Mohani, more known as a poet than politician.

His real name was Syed Fazal-ul-Hasan. He was born in 1881 in Mohaan village in Unnao district in Uttar Pradesh. He took on the poetic pseudonym Hasrat (desire) and came to be known as Hasrat Mohani. He was a bright student and made it to Aligarh Muslim University in 1903 and started publishing a journal Urdu-e-Mualla. The following year he attended the session of the Indian National Congress in Bombay. And never looked back. Four years later, he was arrested and sentenced to two-year imprisonment. He actively agitated for setting up a Muslim university independent of the one in Aligarh and participated in the Khilafat Movement. During World War I, he was arrested and jailed a second time. And a third time in 1922 and sent to Sabarmati jail.

There were some contradictions in Hasrat Mohani’s beliefs. He subscribed to Marxist ideology and presided over the first Indian Communist Party session held in 1925: He was also a devout Muslim and performed the Haj pilgrimage 13 times. In 1948, he was elected to the U.P. Legislative Assembly and was member of the constituent Assembly to frame the constitution of independent India. He died in Lucknow on May 13, 1951 and was buried there.

The life and career of Hasrat Mohani has been meticulously recorded by Professor Muzaffar Hanafi in a small booklet Hasrat Mohani published recently by the National Book Trust. In the appendix are some translations of his poetry rendered by Khadija Azeem. She has not bothered to give the original in Urdu, Devnagari or Roman and her translations do not do justice to the originals.