Scent in an Islamic Garden

‘Scent is the food of the soul, and the soul is the vehicle of the faculties of man.’ –Hadith attributed to the Prophet of Islam

One has heard of literary history, social history, to some extent even economic history culled from literary sources but seldom a horticultural study based on literary texts. Ali Akbar Husain, an architect and a teacher of architectural studies undertakes this novel venture. The result is a delightful pot pourrie of disciplines: history, architecture, landscaping, poetry, horticulture and, given the context, Islam. Scent in an Islamic Garden: A Study of Literary Sources in Persian and Urdu is a remarkable book for another reason, too. It focuses scholarly attention on a largely neglected part of Islamic India: the Deccan.

Scent in an Islamic Garden

William Dalrymple, writing the Introduction to the book, rightly notes:

‘By any standard, anywhere in the world, the Deccani civilisation that reached its most remarkable flowering in sixteenth century Hyderabad was rich and remarkable. Yet it remains astonishingly little studied. So dominant are the Mughals in the historical memory of India, that the different Deccani sultanates have been almost completely forgotten outside a small group of specialists and scholars. Almost all visitors to India visit the Taj Mahal and learn about Shah Jahan, but few visit Bijapur, Bidar, or even Golconda, and fewer still read of the no less remarkable doings of Adil Shahi and Qutb Shahi sultans.’

In setting out to correct an old wrong, Ali Akbar Husain not merely brings to life the architecture, culture and contribution of the Deccani sultans but also places before us the significance of the garden in the current of Islamic thought. An earthly analogue for the life in paradise that awaits the Momin, the garden is a recurring image in the Holy Quran. The Paradisal Garden, the promised abode of the true believer, known by different names such as Iram, Firdaus, Jannah, is none other than the primordial garden that Man lost through sin but whose image is recoverable from the anima mundi. Descriptions of fair maidens, immortal youths, gushing fountains of cool waters, trees laden with fruit, gentle hills beneath which rivers flow – evoke not only images of plenitude and freedom from want but also of shade and rest and reward.

Over time, these images acquired near-mythic proportions and found reflection in different art forms in different parts of the Islamic world. The gated gardens of Cordova and Moorish Spain, the funerary gardens centred round a tomb or mausoleum of the Mughals, the classic formalism of the chaar bagh (the four waterways representing milk, honey, wine and water) and the intricately-worked pavilions and fountains of Andalusia – each has sought to replicate an imagined space, each has introduced local elements be it in the choice of plants or the demands of topography and landscaping.

In the crucible of the Deccan, we find a strange experiment taking place. An intermingling of Hindu elements with Islamic motifs, an admixture of Hindu art with Islamic architecture, an overlay of a Persian mizaj over an intrinsically Indian design sensibility combined to create an exuberant Indo-Islamic atelier. The forts, tombs, palaces and pavilions dotted across Hyderabad, Golconda, Bijapur, Bidar, etc. bear ample testimony to this synergistic flowering. And the gardens surrounding this built heritage were splendid examples of private and public spaces. Since most of these gardens have disappeared in the maw of urbanisation, what remains are references to them in Persian and Urdu literary sources. Husain’s perusal of Deccani masnawis to extract nuggets of information is, therefore, a singular contribution.

The choice of plants, trees, shrubs and herbiage – both indigenous and naturalised – as also the medicinal and aromatic properties of each are spelt out in detail. Flowering trees like kesu, amaltas, kadamb, nagkesar; fruit-bearing ones such as jamun, mango, amla, banana, kathal, shahtoot as well as pomegranate, citron, orange, lime, shaddock, fig, grape, phalsa; scented flowers such as rose, tuberose, chandni, mogra, chameli vie for space in these scented Islamic gardens of the Deccan with medicinal plants such as kafur, sandal, firanjmushk, etc. Two major seventeenth-century Deccani masnawis, Mulla Nasrati’s Gulshan-e-Ishq and Abdul Dehalvi’s Ibrahim Nama, further the analogy between the garden and the world. The fragrance from these scented gardens lingers in lines such as these:

Nazr ke rang dene kun har yek gul rang ka kasa
Muatr mann ke karne kun kali har huqqa parmal ka
(To brighten the eye, each (flower) was a cup colourful
To perfume the heart, each bud was a box of parmal fragrance)

Also read:
1. Ebba Koch, The Complete Taj Mahal and the Riverfront Gardens of Agra, London: Thames and Hudson 2006.
2. D. F. Ruggles, Islamic Gardens and Landscapes, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007
3. Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden, London: Heinemann

This review first appeared in The Herald, Karachi, July 2012. Jalil blogs at

Patriotic Music in India and the Muslim Contribution

AS we celebrate our 63rd Republic Day, let’s take a look at some Muslim contribution to patriotic songs in India over the years. The list is not exhaustive and considers only the more popular ones.

1 ‘Watan ki raah mein watan ke naujawaan shaheed hon’ from the Dilip Kumar starrer Shaheed (1948). Qamar Jalalabadi lyrics, sung by Mohd Rafi, to Ghulam Haider’s tune is popular even after 64 years of the film’s release.

2 ‘Ye desh hai veer jawano ka’ from the movie Naya Daur (1957). Sahir Ludhianvi’s lyrics sung by Rafi.

3 ‘Desh ka pyara’ from the lesser known movie Masoom (1960). Raja Mehdi Ali Khan wrote the lyrics of this lovable children song.

4 ‘Sare jahan se achha’ by Allama Iqbal. The immortal Urdu poem has been sung by many singers over the years, including a duet by Rafi and Asha Bhosle for Dharamputra (1961).

5 ‘Insaaf ki dagar pe’ from the movie Ganga Jamuna. The 1961 classic had this gem penned by Shakeel Badayuni with music by Naushad.

6 ‘Nanha munna rahi hoon’ from Mehboob’s Son of India (1962). The duo of  Naushad and Shakeel again behind this endearing effort.

7 ‘Ab tumhare hawale watan sathiyon’ from the National Award winning movie Haqeeqat (1964), which remains the most definite account of war portrayal on the Indian screen. The moving lyrics by Kaifi Azmi were given a soulful rendition by Mohd Rafi. A timeless classic.

8 ‘Apni aazaadi ko hum’ from the movie Leader (1964). Rafi, Shakeel and Naushad teams up for this winner. Dilip Kumar adds his aura to the on screen portrayal.

9 ‘Aye watan aye watan’ from the Manoj Kumar starrer Shaheed (1965). A brilliant song by the inimitable Rafi. A personal favourite.

10 ‘Sandese aate hain’ from Border (1997). Anu Malik provided the music for the song written by Javed Akhtar.

11 ‘Maa tujhe salam’ from the 1997 studio album Vande Mataram by A.R. Rahman. Rahman composed the tune for Mehboob’s lyrics, and then sang it with passion. It remains the most influential patriotic song of the modern era. The album sold 1.5 million copies in the releasing year in India alone. Till date it’s the largest selling non-film album in India.

12 ‘Zindagi maut na ban jaaye’ from Sarfarosh (1999). The immensely popular number from the critically acclaimed Amir Khan starrer was written by Israr Ansari.

13 ‘Ye jo des hai tera’ from the Shahrukh Khan starrer Swades (2004). A beautifully sung and composed number by Rahman with lyrics from Javed Akhtar.

14 ‘Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna’ by the freedom fighter Ram Prasad Bismil. The revolutionary Urdu masterpiece was brought to life by Rafi, Dey and Rajendra Mehta in Shaheed (1965). A.R. Rahman gave his touch to the lyrics, first in The Legend of Bhagat Singh (2002) and backed it with a powerful rendition by Amir Khan in the cult classic Rang De Basanti (2006).

15 ‘Rang de basanti’ from the movie Rang De Basanti. A peppy and relevant number for the youth of today. Naturally it was Rahman’s music.

Asrar-ul-Haq Majaz – A Journey of Love, Hope and Nationalism

Postage stamp on Majaz issued by the Govt of India

THE year was 1935. The union hall of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) was brimming with students and the atmosphere was electric. A young man in sherwani stands up. He runs his hand through his long locks, and recites his poem ‘Inquilab’ in his own inimitable style –

“KohsaaroN ki taraf se surkh aandhi aayegi
Ja-baja aabaadiyoN meiN aag si lag jaayegi
Aur is rang-e-shafaq meiN ba-hazaraaN aab-o taab
Jagmagaaega watan ki hurriyat ka aaftaab”

[A red storm is approaching from over the mountains
Sparking a fire in the settlements
And on this horizon, amidst a thousand tumults
Shall shine the sun of our land’s freedom] (1)

The hall reverberates with a thunderous applause. Asrar-ul-Haq Majaz was destined for greatness!

The poetic journey

Majaz’s poetry first made its mark in the culturally alive AMU during the early 1930s. His poems ‘Noora’ and ‘Nazr-e-Aligarh’ established him as a popular poet. The girls just loved him.

“NahiN jaanti hai, mera naam tak woh
Magar bhej deti hai paighaam tak woh
Ye paighaam aate hii rahte haiN aksar
Ki kis roz aaoge biimaar hokar”

[She doesn’t even know my name
But still she writes to me
Her letters keep coming to me
“When will you fall sick and visit again?” she asks]

AMU had other great poets, like Ali Sardar Jafri, Jaan Nisar Akhtar and Jazbi, during this period, but Majaz’s popularity overshadowed all his contemporaries.

Majaz finished his graduation at AMU in 1936. The same year Professor Ahmed Shah Bukhari, popularly known as ‘Pitras’ Bukhari, calls Majaz to Delhi. Bukhari made him join the then newly formed All India Radio as the editor of a journal. Majaz named it ‘Awaaz’ and managed it for a while.

Their relationship soured for some reasons and Majaz left the station.

This was also the time when the door of the married woman Majaz loved, closed on him. She was the only woman he ever loved. It left a permanent scar on his psyche. He became a compulsive drinker.

His personal grief merged with his rebel ideas. The result was ‘Awara’ – a masterpiece of the era.

“Shahar ki raat aur maiN naashaad-o-nakaara phiruuN
Jagmagaati jaagti saDkon pe awara phiruuN
Ghair ki basti hai kab tak dar badar maara phiruuN
Aye gham-e-dil kya karoon aye wehshat-e-dil kya karuuN”

[This nightfall in the city, and I wander aimless and sad
On the awake and glittering roads, my aimless wandering, O
How long in the alien city from door to door I go
What do I do, O sad heart, my mad heart] (2)

The poem became an anthem for the revolutionary youth of the time. The word Awara suddenly meant more than just troubled and jobless-

“Le ke ek changez ke haathon se khanjar toD duuN
Taaj par us ke damakta hai jo patthar toD duuN
Koi tode ya na toDe maiN hii baDhkar toD duuN
Ai gham-e-dil kya karoon aye wehshat-e-dil kya karuuN”

[I shall snatch the sword from Changez’s hand and break it apart
The glittering stone in his crown I must hit
Some body else may or may not, but I should break it–
What do I do, O sad heart, my mad heart] (2)

Heartbroken, Majaz came back to Lucknow.

A nationalist to the core, Majaz along with his friends Ali Sardar Jafri and Sibtey Hasan, took out the progressive journal ‘Naya Adab’ from Lucknow . It was established with funds from the CPI in 1939 under the auspices of UPWA (Urdu Progressive Writers’ Association). The journal was the most influential progressive literary monthly of the period, so much that its first three issues actually laid the theoretical foundations of the UPWA movement. (2)

Naya Adab ran for a decade. After its closure, Majaz joined the Harding Library at Delhi as Assistant Librarian. There he collaborated with Fasihuddin Ahmed in editing the literary journal ‘Adeeb’. (3)

Knowing the man

Majaz was a fragile soul, one who could be easily hurt. Being the nice guy he was, Majaz kept quiet even when friends misbehaved with him.

“Awara-va-majnu.N hii pe maukuuf nahiN kuuchh
Milne haiN abhi muujh ko Khitaab aur zyaadaa”

[They have not stopped at vagabond and rogue
More praises are on their way for me]

Majaz had a great sense of humour. Once somebody’s poetry didn’t go down well with him. He had this to say – “Don’t worry, when your poems are translated in Urdu then people would recognise your talent.” (4)

Majaz was a rebel poet. His anger against the capitalist system provided the basis for Awara and his hope for a better tomorrow, born out of the socialist ideology of the Soviet Russia, is expressed in the poem ‘Khwab-e-Sehar’-

“Yeh musalsal aafaten, yeh yorishen, yeh qatal-e-aam
Aadmi kab tak rahe ohaam-e-baatil ka ghulaam
Zehn-e-insaani ne ab ohaam ke zulmaat meiN
Zindagi ki sakht toofani andheri raat meiN
Kuch nahin tau kam se kam khawab-e-sehar dekha tau hai
Jis taraf dekha na tha ab tak udhar dekha tau hai”

[Such struggle, such suffering, such heinour carnage
How long has man been to superstition a slave
Human mind has at last awakened from its heavy sleep
In the stormy night of life, in the superstitious deep
Has at last dreamt a dream of the golden dawn
Looked at last towards the East, where none before had glanced] (5)

The woman in Majaz’s poetry was more than an object of beauty. He wished to see them as crusaders who could revolt against exploitation and injustice.

“Teri neechi nazar khud teri ismat ki muhafiz hai
Tu is nashtar ki tezi aazma leti to achha thaa
Teri maathe pe ye aanchal bahut hi khoob hai lekin
Tu is aaNchal se ik parcham bana leti to achha thaa”

[Your lowered gaze is itself a protector of your purity,
If you now raise your eyes and test the sharpness of it, it would be good.
The cloth covering your head is no doubt a good thing,
But if you make a flag out of it, it would be good] (6)

Majaz was also faint of heart. In the 1946 sectarian riots, Majaz saw a man being killed in Bombay and couldn’t eat for three days. He ran out of the science class the first time he saw a frog on the table. The poet left science altogether after the episode.

His drinking and poetry provided him the vent to his heartbreak. Once Jigar Moradabadi asked him to quit drinking, to which Majaz replied – “You left it just once, I left it several times.” (4)

Josh Malihabadi once said about Majaz, “He wants to capture the entire beauty of the world in one single glance and to drink all wine of the world in one gulp.” (4)

“Is mahfil-e-kaif-o-masti me, is anjuman-e-irfaani me
Sab jaam-bakaf baithe hi rahe, hum pee bhi gaye chahlka bhi gaye”

[This gathering of fun and frolic, the erudites all around
All merely sat with the goblets, but I drank to the full]

But who could know the man more than he himself. Majaz the poet summarises the man in his poem ‘Ta’arruf ‘ –

“Khoob pehchaan lo, asraar huuN maiN
Jins-e-ulfat kaa talabgaar huuN maiN
Ishq hee ishq hai, duniya meri
Fitna-e-aql se bezaar huuN maiN”

[Look at me, recognise me well, for I am Asrar
I seek love and longing
My world comprises love and just love
I know not the devil of the intellect] (7)

Path to self-destruction

By the early 1950s Majaz’s mental faculties started deteriorating. His drinking further compounded his misery. It was sheer genius that he still managed to pen poems like, Khawab-e-Sehar, ‘Shaher Nigaar’, and ‘Andheri Raat ka Musafir,’ which reflects on his last ditch attempt to turnaround his messed up life.

His poem ‘Aitraaf’ was his swan song. Majaz lost hope and accepted defeat-

“Wo gudaaz-e-dil-e-marhoom kahaaN se laauN
Ab maiN wo jazba-e-maasoom kahaaN se laauN”

[That tender heart, long dead, beats no more
That innocent passion, long gone, excites no more]

In 1952 Majaz went to Calcutta with Doctor Saifuddin Kichlu to attend the All India Cultural Conference. He was just a shadow of his old self. Sardar Jafri gave him five Rupees every evening for a drink. The rest of his drinking sessions were sponsored by visitors at the bar. One day he asked for ten Rupees. When Jafri tried to reason with him he said, “Sardar you’ve a family, a house, and you do poetry. What do I’ve? Now you don’t even allow me to drink!” (4)

Majaz landed in Ranchi’s mental asylum the same year. The poet who never wrote a weak couplet now struggled with verses. This verse recovered from his belongings tells a lot about his mental state – “Woh regzaar-e-khayal me hai kabhi kabhi humkharaam meri.” [That wasteland of thoughts is walking alongside me] (7)

The end

Jafri recalls seeing him last in the December of 1955 when he arrived in Lucknow from Bombay to attend a Student Cultural Conference. Majaz met him at Hazratganj and showered the same love and affection on his old buddy-

“Humdum yahi hai, rahguzar-e-yaar-e-khushkhiraam
Guzre haiN laakh baar isi kahkashaN se hum” *

[This slow pace, this path of bliss has been my companion
I have passed this galaxy a million times]

They then went to the conference at Baradari in Qaisarbagh together. Majaz the poet, and person, seems to come alive that night during the mushaira. He recited the following couplet several times to an eager and appreciative audience-

“Bahut mushkil hai duniya ka savarna, teri zulfoN ka pech-o-kham nahi hai
Ba-ise-sayle-ghamo-sayle-hawadis, mera sir hai ki ab bhi kham nahi hai”

[I wonder if my life gets sorted out, the way your entangled locks do
A sea of sadness surrounds me, somehow I’m standing tall]

The next day it was 4th of December. Majaz stayed with Jafri and Sahir Ludhyanvi at the hotel. Sahir bought a bottle of fine quality whisky for Majaz. He was made to promise that he won’t drink in the day and won’t go out with his friends. They even locked the bottle inside the almirah on Majaz’s own suggestion. As if he had a premonition of things to come, Majaz told Jafri twice to spend more time with him as he seems not so sure of the future.

Jafri and Sahir reached the hotel late as they had to attend a tea party after the conference. Majaz left during their absence. They searched for him in vain.

Majaz didn’t turn up for the conference on the 5th of December. At five in the evening the fears proved real. Somebody broke the news of Majaz lying faint in the Balrampur Hospital. The conference was postponed. Everybody rushed to the hospital. Majaz had an oxygen mask on him. Doctors showed little hope.

It was the result of a wild night. Majaz’s friends took him to a tavern in Lalbagh where they all drank on the rooftop. One by one they all left. Majaz stayed back into the cold winter night. The next morning the owner informed the police about Majaz. He was taken to the hospital where the doctors diagnosed a brain hemorrhage and pneumonia. He was just 44.

A female fan sharing the name of his beloved sat next to him when Majaz passed away that night. The poet was at peace finally.

Majaz often reached home late or not at all. Aware of this habit his old mother used to leave his food, a packet of cigarettes, and fifty paisa, next to his bed. The rickshaw-pullers of the city, who knew Majaz well, dropped him home and took the fifty paisa coin.

That night everything changed. Majaz’s mother was waiting on the floor next to his bed. Her son was coming back never to leave again.

“Ab iske baad subah hai aur subah-e-nau majaz
Hum par khatm shaam-e-ghareeban-e-Lucknow”

[Tomorrow awaits a new dawn
With me ends the darkness of Lucknow]

Like a shooting star, Majaz, in his self-destruction left behind a trail of brilliant compositions that forever illuminates the firmament of urdu poetry. Every time the students and alumni of AMU, like me, sing the university song, at their campus and elsewhere in the world, Majaz comes to life.

“Ye meraa chaman hai meraa chaman, maiN apne chaman kaa bulbul huuN
Sarshaar-e-nigaah-e-nargis huuN, paa-bastaa-e-gesuu-sumbul huuN”

(chaman: garden; bulbul: nightingale; sarshaar: overflowing, soaked; nigaah: sight; nargis: flower, Narcissus; paa-bastaa: embedded; gesuu: tresses; sumbul: a plant of sweet odour)

And so the great poet lives on, the way he always did – as the cynosure of all eyes!

* Ali Sardar Jafri used this couplet as the title song of his famous television series, Kahkashan, broadcasted on Doordarshan during the early 90s.

(Based on Ali Sardar Jafri’s account in ‘Lucknow ki Paanch Raatein’.)


1 Kuldip Sahil, A Treasury of Urdu Poetry From Mir to Faiz: Ghazals with English Renderings (Delhi: Rajpal & Sons, 2009), 114-119.
2 Geeta Patel, Lyrical Movements, Historical Hauntings: On Gender, Colonialism, and Desire in Miraji’s Urdu Poetry (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), 111
3 Abida Samiuddin, Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Urdu Literature (New Delhi: Global Vision Publishing House, 2007), 387
4 Ali Sardar Jafri, Lucknow ki Paanch Raatein (New Delhi: Rajkamal Prakashan, 2010), 25-58
5 K. C. Kanda, Masterpieces of Patriotic Urdu poetry (Delhi: Sterlings Publishers Private Limited, 2009), 323-339
6 “Ghazal as a form of Urdu poetry in the Asian subcontinent”, accessed December 5, 2011,
7 Rakhshanda Jalil, email message to the author, December 8, 2011.

A Journey to the Heart of Islam

THE first view of the area outside the holy mosque. A giant clock tower (second tallest building in the world) overshadows everything in its vicinity, sadly, even the house of God. Did Mecca really need it? That too so very close to the mosque. The towering hotels challenge the very principles of the pilgrimage. People with money can have the best view of the holy mosque. What about the white ‘Ihraam’, which stands for unity in simplicity!

As a Muslim you grow up prostrating in the direction of the Kaaba, five times a day. You hear stories about prayers being realised on its first sight. Naturally, you long to visit it one day. So when your plane touches Saudi Arabia, it’s this very moment you are looking forward to. When you do see it, you are speechless! You feel the closest to God and that’s when he answers your prayers.

Technology and spirituality merge at the Prophet’s [PBUH] mosque in Medina. The beautiful pillars double as umbrellas during the day. You feel trasported to another world altogether.

The mountain of Uhud in Medina is a grim reminder of hypocrites in Islam. They fled the battlefield while the Prophet [PBUH] was alive, what to talk about the state of affairs 1400 years after him.

A mosque established by a prominent follower (Salman Farsi) of the Prophet [PBUH] in Medina is one of the last few old structures holding ground.

Heritage has given way to grandness. Is this our legacy to the generations to follow!

Jannat-ul-Baqi, Medina – the final resting place of many members of the Prophet’s [PBUH] family, some of his prominent followers and other Prophets [PBUT] of Islam.

Although the Saudi government is doing a fine job in safely handling millions of pilgrims every year but they need to strike a balance between modernity and care for Islamic heritage.

March but silently

How many times? How many times they will repeat the same drill? Bomb blasts, pick up Muslims, media rushes in to declare them as “masterminds”, kill a few in “encounters” or they will die a “custodial death.” When police, media, judiciary everyone seems to be stacked up against them, what else Muslims can do except remain silent. Hence these silent marches:

SDPI ‘s silent march in Pune in 2011:

Jamia students and teachers took out a silent march in 2008 in the aftermath of Batla House encounter:

Quiz: A Mughal firman

We all are familiar with famous Mughals. So let’s play a quiz and see if you can figure out which emperor may have issued this royal firman. Translation is below the picture.

… therefore in accordance with holy law we have decided that the ancient temples shall not be overthrown but that new one shall not be built.

In these days of justice, information has reached our noble and most holy court that certain persons activated by rancour and spite have harassed the Hindu resident in the town of Banaras and a few other places in that neighbourhood.

And also certain Brahmins, keepers of the temples, in whose charge those ancient temples are, and that they further desire to remove these Brahmins from their ancient office (and this intention of their causes distress to that community) therefore our Royal command is that after the arrival of our lustrous order you should direct that in future no person shall in unlawful ways interfere or disturb Brahmins and other Hindus resident in those places.

So that they may remain in their occupation and continue with peace of mind to offer up prayers for the continuance of our God-given empire that is destined to last for all times.

Consider this as an urgent matter.

Vote your choice and add comments to explain, if you so wish.

[poll id=”7″]

Baba Ramdev: Yogi or Commissar?

Baba Ramdev has been probably most successful of God men of recent times. He claims to have a following of over a billion people. There are an infinite number of people claiming that his yoga therapy and medicines work wonders for their health. Baba in a short span of time has built a multi million empire, his Trust is owning series of Ashrams, ayurvedic drug factories, yoga training centers and many such things, in India and abroad. Overall the medicines prescribed-marketed by him are selling like hot cakes. He himself adorns the divine status and his followers also regard him so, a saint, above the worldly matters. His saffron robes are a symbol of renunciation as such. All this is remarkable, good of both the Worlds, as he is not only wearing divine halo but is also presiding over the empire running into hundreds of crores of rupees built in last decade or so and now entering politics too.

In our country where currently rational thought and scientific thinking has been pushed to the back foot, the claims that his methods are scientific go unchallenged by and large. As per him he can cure Cancer, AIDS and what have you. He also states that homosexuality is a disease, something for which he has a yogic cure. Earlier he had a spat with Brinda Karat, on the issue of contents of the medicines, powder of animal bones in the samples from his factories and on the issue of wages for the workers. Baba claiming to base his Yoga on scientific ground angrily dismissed the issues raised by Brinda Karat, and one does not know what happened to the wage issue of the workers of his factory.

Baba Ramdev

There are not many who can dare to raise legitimate question in the public domain about what is science? What is the method of science and whether mere reading and following of scriptures can be called as scientific? The issues related to the role of double blind trials, biochemical analysis, pharmaceutical composition and their side effects cannot be raised, as in doing so one can be easily labeled as anti Hindu-Anti religious deviant. The garb of Holy clothes is the best defense against all the legitimate questions. So what is projected to be working successfully can also be asserted to be a scientific practice. One would expect that the tall claims like curing cancer and AIDS, need to be questioned as many may get misled and loose the precious time which a medical intervention can play in a positive way.

One concedes that there must be some benefits due to things practiced by Baba and the likes of him, but these need to be regulated and peer reviewed to avoid their misuse in the society at large. Science is not a monopoly of anybody and peer review and evaluation is the best regulator for decisions about medications-practices for society. This is indispensable to avoid the harm, in short term or long term sense. Divinity should not be permitted to protect the real social issues involved.

Lately Baba has been in the news not for divine or yogic reasons, but for the profane issues related to corruption, and his forming a political party which will fight the elections. While the crusade against corruption is welcome as such, one observes that his sayings about corruption are restricted to one political party. This is a partisan view, an attempt to hide the corrupt practices of other political parties and other actors involved in the issue of corruption. He is scathing against Congress on the issue of corruption and is silent about BJP’s corruption. He is vocal about something and quiet about the corruption of rich who are equal partners in this social evil. This may indicate that the saffron clothes are being used for the goals of helping the communal party and the rich.

As such corruption has more to do with unbridled power, absence of transparency and lack of social audit on the economic transactions and policies. To link it with few political actors is an attempt to hide those who give the bribes to get their work done. A principled stand will also be to ensure that all the donations coming to the Ahsrams of Baba and his types belong to the category of what is ‘accounted money’! Hope Baba has already taken care of this point before starting his campaign against corruption.

Generally the ‘divine’ people have to be standing for peace and harmony. One recalls that in the wake of 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, Baba had exhorted Indian Government to attack Pakistan, and that he will fund the war against Pakistan. One shudders to think of war mongers and that too with those having divine claims leading our political affairs. The current times have been the one where the politics has been wearing the clothes of religious identity. Baba is going one step ahead. He is trying to ride on two horses, the one of spirituality-religion and the other of entrepreneur-politician, at the same time. His association with those who have done politics by abusing religious identity, the communalists, is very clear. That may be the reason as to why he is creating hysteria around corruption by one political party rather than against corruption as a phenomenon related to our socio-political structure.

Photo: vijay koul

Height Of Absurdity: Take Education Sportingly, But Treat Sports Like War

By Soroor Ahmed,

India has, of late, joined the leading nation of the world in making school education somewhat easy and simple. Though the Human Resources Development minister, Kapil Sibal, has brought about some radical changes and removed the Class-X board examination of the CBSE it is still a long way to go. Efforts are on to adopt playway system of education at the lower-level of schooling.

These steps are largely appreciated as unnecessary pressure on children was wreaking havoc among them and reportedly driving many teenagers to suicide.

But may one ask as to what has prompted sports to become more serious than war––not to speak of education. After all games are best form of entertainment and people play or watch them to get relaxed. But, in this age of capitalism sports are causing more tension and rancour not only in the mind of players, but all those involved in it as well as those who watch it in the field or television sets.

If two teams play, one is bound to lose. This is the only logical conclusion. Sometimes it may end in draw (tie-up), but that is not possible in one-day version of cricket. This is not because one of them played badly but because another one played better. With Cricket World Cup going on in Indian sub-continent the corporate media, like always, has turned the entire country mad––no, crazy would sound as euphemism.

The Indian media has debated and criticized Indian captain Mahinder Singh Dhoni’s decision to give last over to Ashish Nehra against South Africa so much that there is every reason to suspect that there is certainly some ulterior motive behind this whole sinister campaign. Now the BCCI too had asked Dhoni to explain this action, when the truth is that many of the Board officials have hardly any idea about cricket. Like Sharad Pawar they only play politics.

This is height of absurdity. Those who have half-baked knowledge of cricket and its history have started using this game as their tool to promote their respective business as well as agenda. Their agents in the media––commentators, experts, reporters and ex-cricketers––are all paid to fill round-the-clock space for discussion on all the TV channels just for the sake of advertisements and related business. This sheer wastage of time and energy of the people, especially the youth and children need to be questioned.

Scoring 13 runs in the last over to win the match is not at all an impossible challenge. When One-Dayers were not so popular in 1980s and rules not so much in favour of batsmen England––most of the time considered weak team in comparison to Australia––scored 18 runs to snatch a match from the arch-rival. Alan Lamb, the English batsman, in fact scored these runs in just five balls.

Even in the first World Cup in 1975 West Indian wicket-keeper Dereck Murray and last batsman, Andy Roberts, shared the last wicket partnership of 60 runs to win the match against Pakistan with just one ball to spare. Roberts, known for his poor batting skill, went to score 26 not out and cross the target of 266. Would you believe that at one stage the West Indies of that great era was 166 for eight.

Pakistani batsman Javed Miandad hit last ball six to ensure victory for Pakistan in 1986. Not only that, Pakistan won this match by one wicket when they were eight down for 137, still 100 runs away from victory. The bowler, who was hit for six was Chetan Sharma, who continued to play cricket even after that eventful delivery. Sometimes he is still hired as expert.

Not only that India won the first Twenty-20 World Cup Final by defeating Pakistan in the last over. Misbah-ul-Haque, the man in form, was caught at deep while repeating Javed Miandad’s performance. He chose to hit out relatively new bowler, Joginder Sharma, who after a few months sank into oblivion. A couple of years later nobody knows him. Had that catch been taken Pakistan would have won. Similarly, had Miandad failed to hit that six in 1986 India would have won.

This is sports and should be treated as such. But the corporate bosses, the match-fixers and betting mafia, who actually play the matches without taking to the field, have made the whole business extremely nasty, especially in the sub-continent. They have hijacked the game of cricket. It is at their instigation that mob turn violent and start targeting houses of players when the country loses any match.

True Nehra’s over cost 13 runs but after all it was not a semi-final or final match. If at this stage unnecessary pressure is being created then the players are bound to lose heart. After all in the last couple of years Nehra had ensured three victories in the last over and has been playing for the last over a decade.

The big question is if education can be regulated, controlled and given direction why is it that sports have been left unbridled. The Sports Minister has no role except to build stadiums. He cannot even check the illegal betting and match-fixing. The main stake-holder of the Royal Challengers Bangalore, Vijay Mallya, can pull up Rahul Dravid after he lost an IPL match but the Prime Minister of the country cannot dare to say anything on any illegal business going on in the name of sports. This is not democracy but plutocracy where the stranglehold of the rich corporate bosses over the games have rendered even powers that be powerless.

The rulers of the country are simply playing into their hands as was quite evident during the recent Commonwealth Games. In the electricity-starved country the government has been compelled to build huge floodlights for day-night matches for months together. No this is not for the occasional events like CWG or World Cup. We witness sheer wastage of electricity for months together for the IPL matches every year, yet our farmers would cry for power to irrigate land and school children would go to bed without studying as they have no light after the sunset. But if you have some money watch boring matches of IPL, most of them said to be fixed by the criminals and mafia-gangs.

After all sports is more serious than education.

Parties in India: Between Family-run And Cadre-based Ones

By Soroor Ahmed,

There are two types of parties in India. The first category is that which has dynastic control over the leadership and the second is cadre-based parties. Perhaps there is no scope for the third. However, it is also true that at places some cadre-based parties are getting afflicted by dynastic rule, and thus paying the price.

Though Nehru-Gandhi family often becomes the favourite whipping boy of the opinion-makers and academics, the truth is that leaders of all the political parties, except the cadre-based ones, have promoted dynasty politics. Be it Karunanidhi or Sharad Pawar, Om Prakash Chautala or Shibu Soren, Prakash Singh Badal or Naveen Patnaik, Lalu Yadav or Mulayam Singh Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan or Chandrababu Naidu, Farooq Abdullah or P A Sangma––let their tribe increase––are all encouraging family politics or are themselves its product.

Some observers are quick to exclude the names of Mayawati, Nitish Kumar, Jayalalithaa, Uma Bharati etc but the truth is that in their cases the scope does not arises for some very personal reasons. The fact is that they all encourage family politics in their respective parties. For example the Janata Dal (United) had given maximum number of tickets to close relatives of sitting MPs, senior party leaders etc in the recently held Assembly election in Bihar. Similar examples can be cited in Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh and All India Anna DMK in Tamil Nadu. Till now the possible exception is Trinamool Congress, but its leader Mamata Banerjee is still to be tested as she has not become the chief minister of West Bengal.

The cadre-based parties of India come from two totally opposite political poles: the Left and the Right. The Left in West Bengal, if defeated in May next election, would be voted out after 34 long years. Only Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi (of one family) together ruled more than that at the national level––for 38 years.

The cadre-based Left is almost equally well entrenched in Tripura, but the case is slightly different in Kerala, where it is ruling the state with Congress almost alternatively.

The post-Babri Masjid demolition phenomenon suggests that it is difficult to dislodge another cadre-based party, the BJP, from power in several states. In Gujarat it is in power for about one and a half decade. The party is in power in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh for too long, but was voted out in Rajasthan in 2008 because under the chief ministership of Vasundhara Raje it acquired dynastic quality. Her late mother was herself a senior BJP leader. In Uttar Pradesh the party declined fast in this period because the state leaders–– apart from other reasons––started promoting different families.

In Karnataka too, where the BJP came to power for the first time some 32 months back, the party, though cadre-based one, has acquired the traits of family dominated outfit. Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa is, of late, in trouble because of this very reason––the alleged involvement of his son in the land deal. Besides, the phenomenon of Reddys, where three brothers are calling shot, in the state politics is no less harmful for the party in power in the state. Two of these brothers are ministers and the third an MLA.

For all their demerits, one thing is clear: the Left parties remain completely cadre-based with hardly any example of family intervention. Prakash Karat’s wife, Brinda, became the Rajya Sabha MP, but it needs to be mentioned that she was associated with the CPI (M) on her own since her young age when she had hardly any contact with Prakash.

Since there is growing tendency of cadre-based parties learning the art of prolonging their stay in power the country is heading towards a different type of polarization––between family rule outfit and cadre-based machinery.

If the family-run parties have dynastic and dictatorial qualities the cadre-based often becomes fascist in their outlook and behaviour––thus there is more scope of political violence in the latter. For example in West Bengal there is presence of Left cadres even in temple and masjid committees, football and cricket clubs, Durga Puja samitis etc. Big brothers really keep a watch on everything under the sun.

Similar is the case with Gujarat, the laboratory of Hindutva, where the BJP cadres’ virtual omnipresence can be felt everywhere. Even judiciary and media are kept under the tight leash of the system.

In the state where cadre-based parties are powerful the opposition parties are often made irrelevant while in the family-ruled states the opposition remains somewhat strong. Not to speak of Gujarat even in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the Congress has lost its winning quality, even when the state had the leaders like Digvijay Singh, (now old) Arjun Singh, late Madhav Rao Scindia’s son and Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia––his father even defeated Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1984 election.

The Congress ruled for the first 30 years in the Centre not just because of the Nehru-Gandhi family but also because the opposition parties were yet to emerge as political alternative. Thus now the Nehru-Gandhi family does not have as strong the stranglehold over the party and government as, for example, Indira Gandhi had. The opposition can come back to power much more smoothly now than ever before.

But the incumbency factor had its role. In spite of complete control of the machinery by the party the Left is growing weak in West Bengal and after a long time it may be voted out. It would be out of power two decades after the Communism collapsed in Moscow, the fountain-head of the Marxian ideology.

But the collapse of another cadre-based party, the BJP, is not so imminent in several states, where it is in power. The party is in trouble only where the family factor starts playing its role.

Lastly, in India there is a bizarre cocktail of a cadre-based party with strict family control. That is called Shiv Sena––and now its off-shoot, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. They can never come to power in any state alone, as they have their own inherent weaknesses.

Vagaries Of First-Past-The-Post Electoral System

By Soroor Ahmed,

Without taking any credit away from the National Democratic Alliance victory in Bihar one need not ignore some unique aspects of the results of 2010 Assembly election in the state. The Janata Dal (United)-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance with just 39.1 per cent votes managed to get around 85 per cent of seats––206 in the House of 243––while the Rashtriya Janata Dal-Lok Janshakti Party combine of Lalu Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan ended up getting just 10 per cent seats when they actually got over 25.3 per cent votes. RJD got 18.6 per cent votes while LJP 6.7 per cent. Congress, which got 8.37 per cent votes, won just four seats. How could this happen when even in 1952 and 1957 Bihar Assembly elections, the then ruling Congress did not win so much seats notwithstanding the fact that there was no formidable opposition party in the state then? Even in June 1977 post-Emergency Assembly election the then Janata Party could win only 214 out of 324 seats when the anti-Congress wave was sweeping all over north India. Even in the parliamentary election held just three months before the Janata Party won all the 54 seats in the state.

Interestingly, this time Independent candidates and smaller parties managed to garner about 27 per cent votes in the election yet they could win eight seats. Fragmentation of opposition votes is being attributed to this landslide victory of the NDA.

Now just imagine what would have happened had these Independent and smaller parties got, say around 20 per cent votes, and not 27 per cent and this seven per cent would have gone to the Janata Dal (United)-BJP combine. With 39.1 plus seven per cent more votes the party might have won all the 243 seats. Thus with just 45-46 per cent popular mandate a party or combination can win all the seats of any House. And with 25.3 per cent votes––as in the case of RJD-LJP here––an alliance may not even open its account. Now contrast this with other situation where parties with 25-26 per cent votes have ruled the states. This once again because of the division in opposition votes.

Though nobody is demanding the review of our electoral system or introduction of Proportional Representation system the fact is that we seriously need an appraisal. Never in India any party or combination has won so many seats with such small percentage of votes in any big Assembly––not that of Sikkim, Goa etc. Even in the 1984 parliamentary election held after the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi the Congress Party won 400-odd seats when it got about 50 per cent votes, that is about 10 per cent more than NDA this time in Bihar. But in that way the percentage of seats won was less than 75. In West Bengal Assembly election of 2006 too the Left Front managed to win around 80 per cent seats (235 out 294) when it got about 50 per cent votes.

A thumping majority of about 85 per cent in the state Assembly with mere 39.1 per cent votes tend to make any party or combination over-confident and over-bearing. The complete decimation of the opposition is certainly bad for democracy. The rank and file of the ruling combination or party––more than its leaders––often forget that more than 60 per cent of mass is not with them and that they have acquired so many seats just because of the vagaries of the electoral system. Similarly, a decimated opposition, even if the largest one of them got over 25 per cent votes, becomes a demoralised lot. Such an opposition cannot put up a great show on the floor of the Assembly.

It would not be appropriate to thrust two-party or three-party system in the country from above, but the Bihar election has certainly exposed the weakness of the presence of so many candidates. More than 27 per cent of votes got by Independent candidates and smaller parties have almost got wasted as it got translated into just eight seats. So after the Janata Dal (United)-BJP alliance, this group got largest number of votes, yet hardly any representation in the state Assembly.

The present scenario in Bihar is in contrast to West Bengal, which is going to election within a few months. Though there are too many parties there as well, but most of them come under one umbrella of the Left Front, while Congress and Trinamool are the other two. There is likelihood of the two coming together this time. In that way the contest may be straight and less chance of wastage of such a huge percentage of votes, such as 27 per cent in Bihar.