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SIGNS OF THE TIMES: From Babri demolition to Koodankulam
By Humra Quraishi
‘Days’ fitted this month are several - World AIDS day, Human Rights day, Disability day, Babri Masjid Demolition day …but, then, mere symbolism stands out. No, nothing beyond those stale speeches and staler promises. Nothing at all, that can give you even that basic hope that ground realities will improve or are improving and better days will hold sway. As of now the human being stands eroded - either by sexual encounters or those encounters by the combined might of the State machinery. Severe demolitions are on, of structures, human and otherwise. Even the strongest of forms can stand reduced to a nothingness of sorts, if the State so decides.

Even current news trickles from Ahmedabad are not carrying positive strains, for instance, Shweta Bhatt, cop Sanjiv Bhatt’s wife, who has decided to take on Narendra Modi in the forthcoming elections, would find the going tough. In fact, Gujarat based analysts are not hesitating to comment that Zakia Jafri, widow of the slain Congressman Ehsan Jafri, would have been a better choice for that win–win situation to emerge. Anyway, if Modi’s political graph receives a dent or two, it will relay much to those communally charged elements hovering around, in that hand-in-glove positioning with those ruling cum misruling.

And in the midst of this rather depressing gloom I receive this invite …an invite which has brought about a smile on my face, as I feel this is the best way one could usher in the new year. Start off the very first day of 2013, at Tamil Nadu’s Kudankulam,along with hundreds fighting against the Kudankulam nuclear power plant. It’s a three days programme along that coastal belt, organised by PMANE - People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy.

I’m certain it will draw people from all over the country. In fact, this is writer Mahashweta Devi’s response, “I want to go to Kudankulam on 01.01.2013 to be with the fisherfolk as well as the common people who are resisting the proposed nuclear power plant; a danger for the sea, the sand and the people… In fact, the total environment will be threatened when nuclear power plant comes. The humanity, marine and animal life will be destroyed… I hope that Kudankulam, the very name, will set an example before Indian citizens and lead us towards the victory of humanity.’


With news coming in of former prime minister IK Gujral’s demise, the very first image that floated along was that of him and his poetess wife Sheila walking in the Lodi Gardens. No, not walking in that formal way, but walking like two close friends, hand in hand. Oh, yes, it was a lovely sight, to see the two together. And I am not dragging you readers towards ancient times but just about twelve years back or so. That time I resided in New Delhi and to try controlling high blood sugar levels I’d go running towards those gardens. I must confess right here that whenever I saw this couple I used to go staring at them, towards them …for minutes I’d stand there and stare. My own marriage was at that collapsing stage (later, of course, it did finally collapse, so very totally), so whenever I’d see couples in love and walking in that romantic way, I’d go staring in that envious sort of way. Perhaps, coupled with that also that lingering feeling that even in these turbulent times there do exist compatible couples …

Anyway, let me not get carried away. And focus on IK Gujral in that wider, bigger way, as his younger artist brother Satish Gujral has done in his autobiography - A Brush With Life (Penguin ). There’s this entire chapter in this volume on Inder Gujral; titled ‘Friend and Brother’ it carries those political details together with those vital socio -political backgrounders. But if you were to know the actual traits to his personality then you have got to read this entire volume for it certainly brings out Inder Gujral as one of those who, perhaps, stood out right from those early days. To quote Satish, “With my father’s indifference towards the household, the authority to make decisions had passed on to my eldest brother, Inder. Though, he was still in his teens, he was recognised as the heir apparent. He was not the first born child of our parents but the first to survive; my father doted on him. Inder had inherited many of his traits. This affinity of temperament drew them close to one another …The audacity of spirit which Inder demonstrated when he took to politics was undoubtedly inherited from our father. Inder was only ten years old when, like our parents, he courted arrest. Although he was kept in the police station only for a night, his actions reassured my father that his son was following in his footsteps …”

In fact, those passages where Satish writes of his near fatal accident in Pahalgam’s Lidder river - which had left him severely injured and affected, impairing his speech and hearing - brings out the supportive role played by his brother Inder. Then, of course, those years what followed. “Inder found an art school in Lahore where I could learn drawing, painting, sculpting and much else …” And its later when Satish shifted to Mayo that the bonding took off on a wider level. “The one thing I could not stomach in Mayo’s hostel was tasteless and badly served food. My father, who knew how fussy I was about food, arranged for me to eat in Inder’s hostel, which was only half a kilometre away. Joining my brother every day for meals brought us closer to each other. Besides eating with him, I learnt a great deal from him about literature and poetry,and above all, how personality was moulded by commitments. He also sensed that my resentment and frustration at being handicapped was building up to a climatic rage, which, unless channelled into creative pursuits, would be my undoing. It was Inder who infused in me a fervour for social revolution. He felt that this would ease my burden and instil in me the hope of a better world ….I began to mix with Inder’s friends. Because of his involvement with leftist politics most of his friends were socialist intellectuals. Among them were Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Ali Sardar Jafri and Krishan Chander. Though I could not converse much with them, but just being acquainted with them boosted my morale …the spirit of the times is accurately defined in a couplet of Israr-ul - Haq Majaz –

Dekh shamsheer hai yeh, saaz hai yeh, jaam hai yeh /

Tu jo shamsheer uttha le to bada kaam hai yeh.

( See here is the sabre, here is the lute, here is the goblet of wine; /

If you are a man of courage, choose the sword as thine.)

*(Humra Quraishi is a freelance columnist based in Delhi and is currently a visiting Professor in the Academy of Third World Studies in Jamia Milia University).
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News Updated at : Wednesday, December 5, 2012
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