Friday, December 16, 2011

This one's for dad.

When my father passed away last week, my younger sister was with him. The hospital formalities required filling up various forms. A column for the death certificate requires the religion of the deceased. My sister did not hesitate even for a moment to scribble ‘Humanity’. The hospital staff was confused but she insisted and they had to accept it. My other siblings and I loved her for that for that's what dad would have wanted.

As a little child of six, quizzed at school about religion, I asked him what it is and which is mine. All other children knew theirs and had mocked me for my ignorance. He patiently sat down and explained the concept and then went on to say 'you can choose whichever you like when you are 18'. My sister and I were super thrilled at having a choice over something which all other kids were burdened with.

Thus we grew up without a religion in a small town where other children, and sometime even adults, would tease us for being rootless without a religion. But the power of being able to choose after having understood our choices, was way bigger than their petty jokes. By the time I was eighteen I realized that I do not need to choose any religion... in fact all are mine. I did not cram up verses from Koran, Bible, Gurugranth Sahib or any such book, but we had access to whichever we wanted to read and understand.

Dad questioned the institutionalization of religion as we see it today. The comparison of 'mine better than yours' irked him for he had read them well and could discuss any religion with anyone for hours, straight from the books along with the context of the lives of the initiators of each religion. No wonder then that I grew up often playing with a beautiful white idol of Gautam Buddha in our house. It was a simple sculpture which I loved without even knowing who or what it was. Much later I learnt that dad wanted to name me Siddartha, as he was reading Buddhism around the time I was born.

His burial later, which was done according to Muslim tradition as mom chose that, we called all his friends, acquaintances and neighbors to our house to share his memories. Our invite read, this is 'not to mourn his death, but to celebrate the life he lived'. We were surprised to see the number of people who came in spite of their own health, age and distances. But before that, I must share a most beautiful thing that mom did as we lifted dad's body to head for the cemetery. Amidst her sobs she whispered her last words to him softly as both my sisters hugged her, 'Pardon me if you did not like it this way but I did what I thought was best to offer you my respect'.

At the gathering at home, people shared their memories. Srivastav uncle, a neighbor who had recently moved to another house quite far from dad's but never broke his contact, shared an incident about dad which we had no clue about. 'I landed up in the colony at 3.30 am in the night with a truck and laborers to move in' he said. 'I knew no one here then. But within minutes a light came on in a house and a man walked out with a bottle of water and glasses to welcome me with the ease of a friend and said, "you must be very tired, have some water and anything else you need... my house is right here". I was amazed that in this concrete jungle there is at least one person with a heart who can step out to embrace a stranger' he smiled.

No wonder then that when dad was unwell, Srivastav uncle and many others, including the children from the colony whom he used to teach, kept visiting him regularly and offering us any and every help we may need.

What else could one write in the religion column then, but ‘humanity’ for this man, if at all such a column must exist?

Parvez Imam

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Talkin about a revolution...

‘We have a revolution going…’, so I was told a week or so ago, while I loitered around in a far flung village on some work, away from the happenings in newspapers and TV. Soon as I reached Delhi, the buzz hits me… on roads, in homes, on TV and print and even in bars and pubs. I began to gather the pieces.  Anna was on a fast against corruption. And corruption, we must rout out to become the super power.

The win in the cricket world cup, (which some believe to be rigged… somewhat like the WWF that people go gaga over inspite of knowing that it’s staged) has buoyed the nation into believing that we have really achieved something. Or is it just the upwardly mobile, corporatized middle class that believes that they, and their aspirations, are all there is to the nation? Strange is the power of money that buys the media and turns a simple game of eleven men against another eleven into a frenzy.

A friend I know kept predicting the results of each match with icy coldness. They came true. Not because he is a cricket expert or a bookie but, he seem to understand the way money works. He based his calculations on what wins and situations will fetch the most money to those involved in the monetary part of cricket. So, when I watched some of the quintessential games of the world cup unfold on predicted lines, I could not help but wonder at the naivety of the crowd shouting Bharat Mata Ki Jai  and the cunning of those who created such money churning, mind numb-ers.

An entire nation is led into believing that winning a cricket cup means attaining a super power status. A country of more than a billion goes around spending (read ‘giving’) their hard earned and heavily devalued money to those very giant conglomerates, who keep them enslaved. People slog to earn and then give it back to whom they earn from, in the name of cricket and our ‘deemed’ super power status.

There appears a bizarre connection between Anna’s fast against corruption (which appears to be a more serious endeavor) and the cricket world cup. Both are turned into ‘carnival times’ for the middle class that aspires to ‘live life king size’, the elite way. Corporate employees, actors, students of posh colleges could be seen shouting slogans and uttering pious convictions against corruption on TV, alongside those on hunger strike. With their bit of goodness done, many happily got down to gulping beers at their favorite pubs… while the fast still continued. Revolution, Gandhi, Egypt, Turkey… the debacle was likened to everything possible that the journos could lay their hands on. A sense of euphoria was palpable in the air. But something was missing in the overall scene. It seemed picture perfect, but there was a something lacking which prevented it from turning into a Monalisa.

The Pied Piper of Hamlin, they say, played a tune to get all the rats, and later the children, to follow him mesmerized in the daze of a beautiful music. It seems someone out there is playing the flute again and we follow it in a similar daze. We believe it is beautiful for we are told it is. We are mesmerized by the loudness and emphasis with which the world cup is pronounced ‘world' cup - while only a handful of countries on the planet participate in it. We want corruption to go, but we do not hesitate in working for those very corporates and governments who are the root of it all. In short what we lack is a ‘soul’ - the soul that can hold our spine and head straight and make us look the other in the eye with a clean conscience.

Parvez Imam