17 July, 2006

Amitava & I and The Demons We Fight...

I wrote this piece long back but I feel some of it has relevance today. I am cross-posting this from my blog. If it interests you, you may read the rest here.

The relevant section is as follows,

I remember in one of the articles that Amitava wrote, he mentions it in his latest book ‘Husband of a Fanatic’ too, he reminisces his interaction with a Pakistani taxi driver. The driver said something about Americans, though not being Muslims, practice Islamic teachings in their social and civil behavior more. They give fair wages. I recall my mother echoing same sentiments after her first visit to the US though she didn’t speak about fair wages specifically. My apologies if I have hurt the sensibilities of non-Muslim readers. The idea is not to monopolize civil behavior as Islamic but understand our perceived realities. What I realized when I read about the taxi driver and heard my mother was how contact between diverse set of people change their perceived realities about each other. Prolonged non-contact leads us to look for stories elsewhere and we fall prey to media, stereotypes and our self-created demons. We construct our realities not on first hand experience but on heresy. And thus the enemy loses his or her face. The enemy becomes a perpetual demonic entity epitomizing everything evil that we are not. It becomes easier to hate the enemy, to fight him, to decimate him once he loses the face. In Amitava’s words we have a textbook enemy at hand. Easy to comprehend and perpetuate hatred against. And once this has been achieved even if textbook enemy surfaces as a face in real life, it is easier to ram a cricket stump up her vagina or chop off his body in six pieces even when he is dead. It becomes easier to lob a bomb in a shanty settlement as people sleep or walk in to a worship place and fire indiscriminately. (For details read Amitava’s first-hand reports in his book ‘Husband of A Fanatic’)

A friend chuckled and said one of the reviews said Amitava has overdone it this time. He is playing it to the galleries. No madam! Amitava has not overdone it this time. He is only highlighting the imminent danger if we do not fight this hate factory churning out textbook enemies. He is only giving a face to the enemy, making him or her more human through his personal interactions and in the process perhaps exorcising the ghost of textbook enemy. The demon is this ability of ours to create stereotypical enemies of chimerical proportions. Let us make the enemy more human. Perhaps, we will have fewer reasons to hate then.

So, Amitava and I finally meet. I sit through the book release listening intently to whatever is being spoken. One constant observation by many readers was Amitava’s intimate writing style. How he shifts from a general commentary on a political or a literary issue to a personal experience thus vacillating between an essay and a memoir. Readers found it hard to classify his work. Is it an essay, a personal memoir or may be part fiction? I could feel their discomfort. And I amusedly wondered why such an issue over his writing style. Why this urge, instinct, imminent need to classify, categorize, catalogue one’s work? A writer only speaks his or her mind whether it is a hard-hitting analysis or a personal experience or a fictitious tale. He or she knows no barriers. He or she will transcend them, flow lucidly through genres, keep writing till the myriads of emotions welled inside flow out as words on paper. This urge to classify is similar to our primal instinct to seek security, to draw the unknown in to the known. This insistence to adhere to the known, to conventions, to the practiced is a reflection of how we have become a stickler for nomenclature, systems, dogma, etc. We ought to be somebody – an essayist, a novelist, a critic, a Muslim, a Hindu, a South Asian, an American – any of this but how can we assume plural identities. And the moment we do this there is a violation. It is the same instinct that engenders an appetite to create textbook enemies. A writer strives to fight this. He or she strives for a borderless world where our identities don’t define us, our humanity does.

Murtaza Danish Husain
September 18, 2004
New Delhi


Blogger Falstaff said...

Agree entirely.

Minor quibble though: Shouldn't that be hearsay, not heresy?

17/7/06 08:05  
Blogger Dan Husain said...

No, I meant hearsay only. Thanks. :-)

17/7/06 08:26  
Blogger Enemy of the Republic said...

Wow, Dan, marvelous piece.

18/7/06 05:26  

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