Saturday, November 11, 2006

This Above all
Veil of controversies

Those who watched Barkha Dutt’s We the People on the veil must have noticed that the invited audience was largely pro-hijab women who applauded every statement supporting this practice. The assumption was that the burqa tradition has to be sorted out by Muslims themselves and non-Muslims should keep their mouths shut. That was a great pity.

The burqa controversy cannot be restricted to Muslims alone; it concerns all of us because Muslims are an integral part of our society with whom we deal on a daily basis. Some of us, including myself, have deep emotional bonds with Muslim friends and their families.

I watched the programme carefully and have some comments to make on the principal participants. Shabana Azmi led those who hoped that burqas will soon be discarded. I am in entire agreement with her and regard her as a role model for Muslim girls. Owaisi, who is an MP elected by a predominantly Muslim constituency of Hyderabad, proclaimed that the Koran was the word of God and had to be followed in letter. However, he didn’t say that the Koran asks women to be modestly clad, not drape themselves from head to foot and move like mobile tents with slits before their eyes.

There was an example of one sitting close by Owaisi draped in a black burqa with only her glasses showing. Then there was Ansari doing his best to sit on a spiking fence trying to reconcile unreconcilable points of view. Next to her sat a pretty girl in see-through white gossamer, more seductive than anyone without a veil.

The queen of the audience was no other than the neo-convert to Islam Kamala Surayya Das. She reclined on a sofa looking every bit the grande dame of Malayali literature. She pronounced "they pick on Muslims." No one takes Surayya Das seriously. She is what the French call a poseuse — one who strikes poses to impress others — somewhat of a humbug.

Much as I love and admire Barkha Dutt, I was disappointed by the largely one-sided approach to a live issue. However, I have a gut feeling that no matter what they say for or against the burqa, it will soon become a relic of the past.

Kitchen-based religiosity

Jewish and Muslim friends maintain that eating pig is haraam and bad for one’s health. I have been eating pork, ham, bacon, salami, sausages all my life and come to no harm. My health is as good as anyone of my age (92). Hindus and Sikhs say that eating cow meat is unpardonable sin (maha-paap).

Most of my Hindu and Sikh acquaintances eat beef steaks, veal and other forms of cow meat when they are abroad. Many Nepalese, all Hindus, sacrifice a buffalo at Dasehra and eat its flesh. In Kerala, Hindu-owned restaurants serve beef to Hindu clientele. They have come to no harm. Their health has not suffered; their sins remain unpunished.

Jews and Muslims assert that every animal or bird they eat should be bled to death because blood contains all kinds of diseases. So it must be halaal or kosher. I get my meat from a Muslim butcher; I also eat jhatka meat from a Sikh butcher regarded as kuttha and forbidden to Sikhs. I can’t tell the difference in taste. I have not suffered any ill-effects after eating both.

Vegetarians maintain that all forms of meat, be it bird, beast or fish, is bad for you and you should be a shakahari — eat only plants and fruits. Vegans go further and forbid bird or insect byproducts like eggs and honey. I know that non-vegetarians are usually healthier and more robust than vegetarians. Furthermore, there are vegetarians who abstain from eating plants that grow under the soil — so they avoid onions, garlic, ginger, etc. I find these items add flavour to food. Dieticians will tell you that they all are also good for health.

One may well ask what in the name of God or anyone who created life has this to do with religion or moral codes of conduct? One may argue that vegetarianism is contrary to the order of nature, as apart from ruminants like cows, buffaloes, sheep, goats and deer which live on grass or leaves, all other animals live by eating each other.

There are no divinely ordained rules that prescribe what one should or should not eat. However, there is a moral dilemma — should humans, who have a choice, deprive animals, fish or birds of their lives in order to feed themselves? At times I feel killing animals is against the principle of Ahimsa (non-violence) which I regard as parmo-dharma, should be the prime requirement of every religious belief. Yet I ignore it when I sit down to eat. I have not been able to resolve the dilemma. I am still arguing with myself.

Reincarnated monkeys

Shastri Bhavan, New Delhi, houses the largest number of ministers with their civil servants, secretaries, joint secretaries, deputy secretaries, etc. A larger number of monkeys can also be seen around this huge complex. Monkeys often enter the rooms of officials, tear up files and upturn furniture. They are known to open cupboards wherein confidential files are kept. At times it is observed that they read remarks written by the secretaries and ministers on the files of the staff retired as joint secretaries.

A researcher in evaluation of soul after death has predicted that these monkeys were joint secretaries in their earlier lives and want to know why they were not promoted to secretaries in their previous lives.

Now that the course of ‘Right to Information’ is available; if a few approach the authority concerned, will their cases be considered?

(Contributed by Satish Chopra, Delhi)