Monday, December 20, 2010

Right Choice, Charia

My mother grew up in Central Calcutta; Free School Street, to be precise. It’s not called that anymore, although its new name—Mirza Ghalib street—is not very well known and is also a bit ironic since the poet envied the growing ascendancy of Calcutta over Dehlee, penning this little ditty after a trip to the city: Kalkattey kaa jo zikr keeyaa tuney hamnasheen, ek teer mere seeney pe maaraa kee haaye haaye ("the very mention of Calcutta is like a dagger through my heart", or something to that effect).

Free School Street at the time (60s/70s) was populated mostly by Sindhis, I’m told, with a fair share of Anglos and Hindustanis—a quirky Calcutta/Bong term for Hindi speakers which alludes to the historical meaning of Hindustan, a region which more or less maps to the current Hindi belt. This population mix still holds, more or less, with Bangladeshi tourists being added to the mix (which has resulted in a couple of pretty decent Bengali restaurants there). Consequently, I’ve grown up eating a fair bit of Sindhi food that my naani picked up from her neighbors which was then in turn picked up by my mother. Daal pakwaan, chanaa daal with crisp, almost brittle, puri-esque fried bread, is a personal favourite and gee’ar—basically a latticed jumbo jalebi—is nice too. And although I don’t particularly like the tangy sindhi kadhi (I think it has imli in it), a lot of people in my family do and it was the only sort of kadhi cooked in my house.

Unfortunately, the Sindhi’s best food habit—as I’ve recently learnt from Wikipedia—never made it across to my naani’s house:

Johnnie Walker Black Label is considered the sindhi alcoholic beverage of choice. Many sindhis choose to drink this with Coca-Cola or Diet Coke


P.S.: Charia is a really popular Sindhi swear word (it was, at least, popular with the Sindhis I've known). I don't know what it means though.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Origins of Israel, Pakistan and Blasphemers

Uri Avnery, in a fascinating article in Outlook, argues how the “secular nationalism” of Zionism (or so he claims) was marred by the State of Israel’s “non-separation between state and religion”
“This distinction between Israelis and Jews would not have surprised any of us 50 years ago. Before the foundation of the State of Israel, none of us spoke about a “Jewish state”. In our demonstrations we chanted: “Free Immigration! Hebrew State!” In almost all media quotations from those days, there appear the two words “Hebrew state”, almost never “Jewish state”.”
“The source of all this evil is, of course, the original sin of the State of Israel: the non-separation between state and religion, based on the non-separation between nation and religion. Nothing but a complete separation between the two will save Israel from total domination by the religious mutation.”
Interestingly, this is eerily close to a revisionist school of South Asian History which claims that the Pakistan—which, like Israel, is a confessional state founded on a 20th century ‘idea’—might have been envisaged by its founder as a ‘Muslim’ state but never a ‘Islamic’ state. Like Israel’s ‘Jewishisation’, Pakistan’s ‘Islamisation’ is a result of the country’s politics after the establishment of the state.

This, of course, is a controversial and highly charged subject in Pakistan’s politics. And like so many other historical figures—Attenborough’s Christ-like Mahatma, for example, bears very little resemblance to Gandhi—the Quaid-e-Azam of so many Pakistanis differs starkly from the historical Jinnah. It is said, only half in jest, that a politician’s stand on the matter can be deduced from the sort of portrait of Jinnah he has up: if J’s ‘suited up’, it’s a liberal’s wall you’re looking at; if he’s wearing an achkan/sherwani, the man who owns the portrait wouldn’t take too kindly to the revisionist school.

Whatever be the source of it, though, this malaise has become quite cancerous. Recently, a woman was sentenced to death by a Pakistani court for insulting the Prophet (prophets, as we all know, are in dire need of protection by just about anybody). Like most religion-based scuffles, the origins of the case are somewhat prosaic, rooted in a row over drinking water. Currently, the case is in Lahore’s high court with moves being made by Zardari to pardon her.

P.S: Just realised what a ridiculously pompous title this post carries. Oh well...