Thursday, May 25, 2017

Autobiography of an Unknown Indian

Autobiography of an Unknown Indian  
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Life they say is a journey and each of us has been treading its beautiful path with its own twists and turns.  I am sure there are many who may have sketched their fascinating stories of life in words with great distinction, my attempt of doing the same is with a caveat that let it be a whimper tell-tale of an unknown Indian.

I lay no claim on Shakespearean prose or making an attempt to become a novelist, I am only trying to unburden myself, recalling the adventures of my life so far I have lived. My attempt is to weave a fascinating story about the trail and tabulation that I have undergone so far and the purpose is self-satisfaction recalling the lessons of life and remembering some of its bitter truths.

Essentially, my story revolves around the trials of getting educated, and then finding a job all by oneself. Beginning from village school and sitting on the floor on gunny bags and at one time being contemplated to be sent to religious seminary to become a cleric its hell of a journey.

It’s only an accident of fate that put me in English medium school from where I started my formal education journey. I started it from a convent at small town called Munger, Bihar and to be followed by further schooling at Delhi and then college at the AMU Aligarh and university at the JNU New Delhi.

In the educational journey I saw many high profile campuses like SOAS, Oxford, Cambridge and University of Hawaii etc. Every academic spot that I have seen has a fascinating story of its own.

My second trail was the struggle for getting a job and I realized that no matter how much one is educated or academically sound, there is little connection between education and job. The lesson learnt is getting a job could be chasing a shadow, if you do not have right connection in the right place.

My third trial was to find a match and arranged marriage again put me into hell of a trouble. The broken marriage left behind wounds wanting to be repaired. I was lucky to get them healed and found happiness with a new partner in life.

Finally, my current struggle is to get hold of my ancestral property on which many of my relatives are sitting like sharks attempting to dispossess me from my legal claim. I am waking up to this grim reality and fighting court battles to get back the property that is mine.  

My roots belong to in a farming family in Bihar and we are settled there since a century or more. My ancestral place is a village called Manay in Shiekhpura district that’s about 100 miles from the state capital Patna. My family owns landed property there and I got land records that dates back to 1800s.

My family has seen high level of education and members are engaged in professions like lawyer, doctor, engineer, administrator and professors etc. Some are settled abroad in England and America and their off springs are doing very well there. I feel pride that even with all this growth, farming still continues to be my family vocation.

I had my early education in the historical town called Munger, which is fifty miles from Shiekhpura. Then, at the age of 12, I was packed off to New Delhi for school education. I did graduation and post-graduation at AMU Aligarh and came back to Delhi for MPhil / PhD at JNU. After finishing studies it’s the job pursuit that brought me to South India, where I am currently located.

My first recollection of life’s journey is the dream of a becoming a famous footballer in the country. I have been quite passionate about this sport and can say that I did spend about 15 years pursuing this dream. I remember putting 8 hours a day, undergoing rigorous training schedule to become a professional footballer.
My efforts ended up with representing KVS at the 23rd school national games at Amritsar. There I met stalwarts like Milkha Singh, Ajit pal Singh etc.  I have the satisfaction of playing for the AMU team which became champion at the all India inter-varsity competition.

I played along with some top notch names like; Mahmud Khabazi, Majid Beshkar, Jamshed Nasari (all Iranians). They all became very famous footballers in the country. Besides I also played ‘A’ division clubs and travelled across the country to play in different tournaments.    

Suddenly, a withdrawal symptom developed inside me and I got withdrawn from the sports all together. This was when I was graduating at AMU when I felt it’s time to get serious with life. I realiz
ed that studies alone can fetch me decent living and this change of heart changed the course of my life. I totally changed my life style and from a sportsperson I became studious yogi! I was putting long hours in studies and the efforts resulted in first divisions at the graduation and post-graduation levels.

After that I set the target of becoming an IAS officer. I lived with this dream for quite some time and spent some of the most precious years of my life chasing this national hobby. It’s only those who have undergone the rigorous study schedule of this competitive exam will know what kind of grind is required to chasing such a dream.  I did made an honest attempt but my efforts were not good enough to cross all the hurdles of this exam, though I could manage to crack its two levels.

However, in the pursuit of my IAS dream, I did become reasonably educated. I extended my educational journey to gain higher academic degrees. I took pride in earning MPhil and PhD degrees and the consolation of getting field trip to England for pursuing doctoral research.

By the time I was closing my university years, I established myself as an emerging scholar. I had two books and several research papers on south Asian affairs. As a political commentator, I also contributed write-ups in many newspapers.

After that the job hunt was a killing experience. I did appear for interview at many Delhi colleges but then I realized its different ball game to get a teaching job. Eventually, it was job rejection in teaching arena that made me change the course of life once again.  I waited long enough and with such high academic credentials, I could have been adjusted in a decent academic institution if I had the right connections at right place.

 However, when nothing was coming my way and was contemplating to give it up, another twist in my life took place. I was offered a job at a newspaper in Hyderabad just based on my resume and so started a new journey in my life.

Life as a Journalist was quite a different from the world of academia. Meeting with people having larger than life size image was a colourful experience. Even though I spent about 15 years as a working journalist, again job played torrent to me very now and then. It was a snake and ladder story when it came to jobs as a journalist. However i had the satisfaction of working with print, web, and electronic media and all with distinctions. I ended this vocation being a Jefferson fellow that took me to several countries of the world.

The fascinating world of media generated academic interest in me and my media distinction made several colleges invite me to lecture on journalism and mass communication.  This prompted me to take full time vocation as a media trainer. Now I am close to spending 10 years in this profession and I am enjoying this twist of my life as a part of a beautiful journey.

 Now life looks to be settling on a flat surface here at Chennai. Currently, I am handling two jobs, one as head the department of visual communication at Guru Nanak College, the other with a digital company as its content head.

The academic in me continues to live alongside with both the jobs. I am invited to national and international conferences by various institutions across the country due to my past work. As a panelist I share the platform with some high profile academicians and journalists.

Well this not all. Off late life my life is undergoing yet another twist in its chequered tale. My long holiday at the college is taking me to my ancestral place in Bihar and I am developing keen interest in farming activity there. However, as I mud my hands in farming, I find myself in a quite a mess being created there. My long absence has made my relatives emboldened to dispossess me from my own property. I am struggling to come to terms with this grim reality and fighting seven court cases to get hold of my own property.

Well, this part of life’s journey has just begun and even though I am reluctant farmer, I have no other go than to fight it out to get what is due to me.  I am seized of the situation there and getting ready to undergo another round of struggle for a rightful cause. I have faced earlier such challenges and I am once again ready to slug it out as I move ahead in my life.

There is nothing pitiable about my journey of life. I have enjoyed every bit of it and there are no regrets as I look back. I hope my story inspires those who may be undergoing similar hardship in their lives. My only word of wisdom to them is, never give it up it’s only those who fight can win the battles of life.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at
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Friday, March 31, 2017

Idea of India is not dead; it’s undergoing pangs of rebirth

Idea of India is not dead; it’s undergoing pangs of rebirth
Syed Ali Mujtaba

The rise of Prime Minister Narandra Modi, a Hindu nationalist leader in 2014 and rise of Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu priest as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populist state, screams from the roof top that the Hindu religious nationalist vision has won the day and it is the true representation of the majority of Indians aspiration.

These pointers also suggest that India’s vision of Nehruvian secularism based on unity in diversity, peaceful coexistence, and no preferential treatment any religion is dead. What has now replaced  is equating Hindu religion with Indian nationalism and its supremacy over the rest of the identities and the denominations in the country.  

 If this is a fact, then what could be the future trajectory of India? As it appears it could be the consolidation of Hindu religious nationalism model of governance and the subversion other religious and ethnic groups in the country.

In such case, this political trajectory may follow the rule of transition, and the next course could be the rejection of the religious nationalist political forces and the establishment of the caste matrix model of governance as conceived by the British government through the Government of India Act of 1935.

The third trajectory could be the religious nationalist model would be again replaced by the Nehruvian model of governance  after undergoing systemic correction.

Well what future has in store only a soothsayer can say, right now, the Laurel (Modi) and Hardy (Shah) are rejoicing at the fact they have changed the trajectory of Indian history and have buried the vision of India that was conceived when the country was making tryst with destiny.

If such is the case, it can be argued that why India took seventy years or so to come out of the secular slough to don the saffron apparel the mascot of which is the UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

This can be answered with views that at the time of independence, India rejected the idea of being a religious society or a caste based society because doing so the loss to Hindu religion may far outweigh the gains. As a result secular identity was dished out as a facade to outmaneuver the two nation theory and to keep caste and religious groupings under the secular umbrella.

Now when India has become politically and economically strong and militarily powerful, and when there is no threat to Hindu religion, then the secular mask has been taken off and replaced by the religious nationalistic identity. As of now this reflects the correct aspirations of the majority Indians and earlier idea was just a velvet glove.

In fact around such ideas the case of Pakistan was contested. Muslim League that saw the unfolding of the Indian nationalism character from 1909 to 1936 argued that the idea of secularism preached by Congress was humbug and its core motive was to establish the supremacy of the Hindu religion. It therefore pleaded that religion alone should be the criteria of political formation in India and best way to run the country would be to get organized on religious lines.

 However, the two nation theory was rejected by the Congress and it accepted the partitioning the country on religious lines. It would be an interesting scenario if that call may be taken by the RSS or the Janasang or their current avatar the BJP, when India was gaining independence.

Well that’s a hyperbole and the fact is, India chose the ideals secularism and socialism as the future model of governance. Both, left and right forces were amalgamated into such ideological paradigm and steered the future course of governance.

In such world view unity in diversity among the religious community and socialism and secularism were the pillars of statecraft. In this model of governance religious interference in governance was abhorred. As such this idea had great appeal to the masses and it remained a dominant force for the next seventy years or so. 

However, since 1970 when the society has moved from modernism to postmodernism that is characterized by consumerism, the ideas of socialism and secularism, started becoming weak.  The failure of the secular and socialist forces to live up to the people’s expectations and floundering in performing political duties were the main reasons. Their ways of governance were filled with so much of incongruities that it paved way for the clamor to bring alternate model of governance.

The incongruities were being, preferential treatment towards certain group and specificity, appeasement policy with an eye to build vote banks etc.  Empirically this may not be true, but such political discourse at the grassroots took assertive form and the BJP sprung up as a religious and nationalist political party to replace the secular model of governance.

Now when the BJP has come to acquire power both at the center and several other states in India, how the future political discourse would pan up in the country? Right now its honeymoon period for the BJP and its fortune is on the assent. After it pass through the motion of accumulation of power and pass the test of delivering the promises made it can cling to power.

They face the challenge to control the assertive Hindu sentiments against the minorities and the deprived castes and to deliver of development front benefiting of all the segments of the society. If they flounder on such tests, they too would undergo a systematic correction for a political change.

In such case they would either be replaced by the secularist nationalist or the caste matrix, the core of Sanatan Dharma’s identity. In fact the second option was provided by the colonial rulers that thought about such framework in the Government of India act of 1935.

In this framework, Sanatan dharma was treated as an amalgamation of caste categories with each caste having separate identity and getting representation in the governance according to their numerical caste strength. The other religions categories were treated as a block and were to be represented as such in the political formation.

This idea was tooth and nail opposed by the Congress party and it provided a united front wearing the secular cloak. The Poona pact between Gandhiji and Ambedkar was a part to counter the British design to organise the political future of the country based on caste and religious identity.

In the end, such ideas were defeated and the vision of secular India prevailed at the time of independence and Nehruvian secularism, was born as the idea of India. Now it appears that this idea is on its last leg and is poised to be replaced by the religious nationalist vision of India.

The way the religious nationalist have rose from the ashes of the secular frame work and trying to supplant it and establish its supremacy, the fear is the caste matrix which is now lumped under religious umbrella may rebel leveling the same acquisitions that Modi and Adityanath are leveling against the secularist.

Such fears are not unfounded because the history of Indian civilization caste matrix has always remained restless in the deep belly of Hinduism. Ask a Hindu if he is a Brahmin first or Hindu first, one may get the answer to the core of Indian identity.

The caste identity that has been bottled up under the religious nationalism is a civilizational fact and so is their restless to break free.  Just like Modi, a tall leader from the caste group is needed that can come from behind and uncork the bottle of religious nationalism and organise the Indian politics on caste matrix.

The coming of the religious nationalists’ forces to power has opened that the floodgates for caste groupings to assert their identity and the  possibilities looms large that the religious cloak will be overthrown just like the same way the secular cloak has been shed.

This is a very disturbing scenario and the much better option for the country would be to uphold the socialist and secularist credentials. This is only possible if all such forces unite against the religious nationalist group and save the country from the disruption of peace and tranquility to ensure the path of progress.

In sum, the idea of India a secular democratic republic may have died as of now but it could be momentary phase and the fact is its rebirth remains imminent. This is because the layers of Indian social structure are so complex that it can only be protected through the Nehruvian secular ideals.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


By William Dalrymple

"Fibs," said Mir Moazam Jah. "That's what everyone of your generation thinks I'm telling, at least when I talk about Hyderabad in the old days. You all think I'm telling the most outrageous fibs."
The old man settled himself back in his chair and shook his head, half-amused, half-frustrated: 

"My grandchildren, for instance. For them, the old world of Hyderabad is completely inconceivable: they can barely imagine that such a world could exist."

"But what exactly can't they believe?" I asked.

"Well the whole bang-shoot really: the Nizam and his nobles and their palaces with their zenanas (harem) and the entire what-have-you that went with the Hyderabad state."

Born 6 October 1933 in Nice, in France, Prince Moazam Jah was the heir to possibly the world's biggest private fortune.  The scion of two great dynasties, his maternal grandfather was the last Ottoman Caliph ('Abdu'l-Mijid II) and his paternal grandfather the 7th Nizam of Hyderabad (Osman Ali Khan), widely considered the richest man in the world during his lifetime, amassing a fortune
worth a staggering US$210 billion in today's money. 

Mir Moazam is a sprightly and intelligent 84-year-old, with a broad forehead and sparkling brown eyes. "Take the palace I grew up in," he continued. "It was by no means the biggest but it had a staff of 927 people, including three doctors. There was even a regiment of African women who were there just to guard the zenana. But tell that to my grandchildren. They've seen how we live today, and they just think that I'm making it up. Especially, when I start telling them about my grandfather, Fakrool Mulk... He was a remarkable man, a great servant of the state, but he was also - how shall I put it - a larger-than-life character."

"Tell me about him."

"Well, where shall I start? You see, although my grandfather was deputy prime minister in the Nizam's government, his real passion was building. Over the course of his life, he built this great series of vast, rambling palaces, but he was never satisfied. As soon as he had finished one, he immediately began to build another. Sometimes he would just give an entire palace away. Of course, he built up enormous debts in the process."
"Was he a trained architect?"

"Well, that was precisely the problem. No, he wasn't. But every evening he would go out for a walk, and with him he would take his walking stick and this great entourage of his staff, which always included his secretary, his master mason, his builders and a couple of his household poets - some 30 or 40 people in all.

"Anyway, on these walks - when the inspiration came - he would begin to draw in the sand with his walking stick; maybe a new stable block, or a new palace, according to how the fancy took him. The draughtsmen he had brought with him would jot it down on paper and then draw it up when they got back. Well into his seventies he was still adding new wings to his palaces."
"Did he have a favourite palace?"

"The one he lived in the longest was Iram Manzil. It wasn't the largest, but the reason he really loved it was the stuffed tiger."

"The stuffed tiger"

"You see, after building, my grandfather's other great love was tiger shooting, and the season for shooting tigers was only a few months each year. So, on the hill outside Iram Manzil, he built this railway track and on the track he placed a stuffed tiger on wheels. It would be let loose from the top of the hill and we would all line up and let fire with our double-barrels: bang! bang! bang! All of us aiming at this wretched tiger as it careered down the hill. By the time it reached the end of the track it was blown to bits, poor thing. So the men who were employed to look after the tiger would patch it up and pull it back up, and off we'd go again.

"But, like my grandchildren," added Mir Moazam, looking me in the eyes, "you probably find it difficult to conceive the life I'm describing. And why shouldn't you? This entire world was almost completely uprooted years before you were born."

But I did believe Mir Moazam, for I had long heard equally fantastical stories about Hyderabad, which was, until 1948, a huge, autono-mous princely state in central-southern India.

YEARS AGO, Iris Portal, an old friend of my grandmother, had told me how, one day in the late 1930s, she had been taken to see some of the Nizam's treasure. One of the Hyderabadi princesses had led Iris to a series of open-fronted sheds in the grounds of one of nine palaces, past a group of Bedouin Arab guards all lolling about half-asleep in a state of dishabille, and there at the back of the sheds was a line of trucks. 

The trucks were dusty and neglected, their tyres rotting and sinking into the ground, but when the two ladies pulled back a tarpaulin, they found that the trucks were full to the hilt with gems and precious stones and pearls and gold coins. 

The Nizam apparently lived in fear of a revolution and had equipped the lorries so that, at short notice, he could get some of his wealth out of the country if the need came. But then he lost interest and left the lorries to rot, quite incapable of being driven anywhere, but still full of their jewels.

For all the fairy-tale quality of these stories, I soon discovered that they were confirmed in every detail by the most sober history books. The Nizam, Osman Ali Khan, did indeed possess the largest fortune in the world: according to one estimate it amounted to at least Pounds 100m in gold bullion and Pounds 400m in jewels, many of which came from his own Golconda mines, source of the Koh-i-Noor. For the first half of the 20th century, the Nizam ruled 15m subjects and a state the size of Italy as absolute monarch, answerable (in internal matters at least) to nobody but himself. Nor was Hyderabad a poor country: in its final year of existence, 1947-8, the income of the state rivalled that of Belgium and exceeded that of 20 member states of the United Nations.

Fragments of this lost world still survive as you drive through the city today. New buildings are mushrooming everywhere, often built over the old Indo-Islamic bazaars and the colonial town houses. But look a little further and you soon discover that many small pools of the old Hyderabad are still completely intact.

The Falaknuma Palace is one such place. A huge complex of white classical palaces raised above the town on its own acropolis, the Falaknuma was the principal residence of the sixth Nizam. But, today, it is subject to a bitter legal dis-pute and the entire palace complex lies empty, locked by court order, with every doorway sealed by red wax. Wipe the windows and peer inside and you see cobwebs the size of bedsheets hanging from the corners. 

The skeletons of outsize Victorian sofas and armchairs lie dotted around the parquet floors, their
chintz entirely eaten away by white ants, so that all that remains is the wooden frame, the springs and a little of the stuffing. Beyond are long, gloomy corridors, leading to unseen inner courtyards and zenana wings, mile upon mile of empty, classical arcades and melancholy bow fronts, now quite empty but for a pair of lonely chowkidars (guards) shuffling around with their lathis (long sticks) and whistles.

That this fairy-tale extravagance has always been part of the culture of Hyderabad is demonstrated by the Qutb Shahi tombs, a short distance to the east of the Falaknuma. They are wonderfully ebullient monuments dating from the 16th century, with domes swelling out of all proportion to the base, each like a watermelon attempting to balance on a fig. Above the domes rises the citadel of Golconda, source of the ceaseless stream of diamonds that ensured that Hyderabad's rulers would never be poor. Inside the walls, you pass a succession of harems and bathing pools, pavilions and pleasure gardens - a world that seems to have jumped straight out of the pages of the Arabian Nights.

This oddly romantic and courtly atmosphere infected even the sober British when they arrived in Hyderabad at the end of the 18th century, and the city became the location of one of the most affecting of Anglo-Indian love stories. The old British Residency, now the University College for Women, is an imposing palladian villa that shelters in a fortified garden in the south of the town. The complex was built by James Achilles Kirkpatrick, who, shortly after arriving in Hyderabad, fell in love with Khair-un-Nissa (Excellent Among Women), a great-niece of the dewan of Hyderabad, whom he married in 1800 according to Muslim law.

I found a battered token of Kirkpatrick's love for his wife surviving today in the garden at the back of the residency. As Khair-un-Nissa remained all her life in strict purdah, living in a separate bibi ghar at the end of Kirkpatrick's garden, she was unable to walk around the side of her husband's great creation to admire its wonderful portico. Eventually, the resident hit upon a solution and built a scaled-down plaster model of his new palace for her, so that she could examine in detail what she would never allow herself to see with her own eyes. The model survived intact until the 1980s, when a tree fell on it, smashing the right wing. The remains of the left wing and central block now lie under a piece of corrugated iron, near the ruins of the Mogul bibi ghar , buried deep beneath a jungle of vines and creepers, in an area still known as the Begum's Garden.

Another legacy of Old Hyderabad to filter down to the modern streets is a fondness for witchcraft and sorcery. In the Lad Bazar, a short distance from the Charminar, I found a shop that sold nothing but charms and talismans: silver ta'wiz blessed by Sufis, special kinds of attar that deflected the evil eye, nails worried into the shape of a cobra to protect from snake bites. On one side of the shop were piled huge bundles of thorns: "Put them at the entrance of your gate along with a lime and a green chilli and it will take on any bad magic," said Ali Mohammed, who ran the shop.

"Do you really believe they work?" I asked.

"Definitely," said Ali Mohammed. "I have seen it for myself. The murshad (sorcerers) of Hyderabad are very powerful. They can kill a man with a look if they want to."

"Magic? Oh yes, there was no shortage of magic," said Mir Moazam's wife, the Begum Meherunissa, when I told her about my conversation in the bazaar later that afternoon. "In the time of the Nizam, there were many such stories. On summer evenings, the womenfolk of my family would go for a stroll in one of the gardens. One day, after we had returned, my aunt began to behave very oddly, and there was this smell of roses wherever she went. Luckily, my grandfather realised what had happened. He called a murshad, who questioned my aunt. Quite suddenly, she started speaking with a man's voice, saying, 'I am the djinn of the rose garden and I am in love with this woman.' The murshad performed an exorcism and the djinn was sent off. After that, the murshad became a regular visitor. 

He could work small miracles."
"You saw him work miracles?"
"Many times. Or rather not him so much as his djinn"
"He had his own djinn?"

"That's right. To master a djinn you must first fast for 40 days. Very few succeed. But this man succeeded and the djinn gave him the strong powers. The children of Hyderabad all knew him as Misri Wallah Pir (the Holy Man Who Gives Sweets) and they would run after him and shout, 'Pir, sahib, give us sugar.' So he would bend down and pick up a handful of mud and throw it and, before it reached us, midway in the air, it would turn to sugar. It was delicious: clean and white, with no sand or impurity. My mother was very angry when I told her I had eaten some of Misri Wallah Pir's sugar, and said that it would become mud again in my stomach. But it never did me any harm."
"So you saw him turn mud into sugar more than once?"

"Often. We children would follow him around and spy on him. Once, my friend asked Misri Wallah
Pir for some biryani. Pir sahib said, 'I am a poor man, how can I afford biryani?' But we pleaded with him and eventually he called his djinn - ' Idder ao Mowak hal !' ('Come here, spirit!'). And, within seconds, a delicious biryani appeared before us out of the thin air.
"Another time, a sick man begged him for grapes. It was not the season, but the djinn brought them all the same."

"But, you see, everything changed after the independence," said Mir Moazam, who had listened to his wife's story. "After the Indian army invaded and toppled the Nizam in 1948, that whole world collapsed. I left for Paris to work with UNESCO and barely recognised Hyderabad when I returned 20 years later. Almost all the great houses had gone. The aristocracy lost their status and their income after the fall of the Nizam, so they sold everything - land, houses. They knew nothing about business, selling their heritage was the only way to make ends meet."

The old man took my hand: "My children tell me you mustn't live in your memories. And they are right, of course. That is why I never go back to the old palaces where I spent my childhood. At every step there are fragments of history. And, frankly, it breaks my old heart to see them as they are today."

For centuries, the Nizams of Hyderabad had ruled over an area the size of France in southern India, initially governing on behalf of the Mughal Empire but later becoming independent rulers. Eventually, they became closely allied to the British, and were accorded the status of premier princely state in all of India.

* William Dalrymple travelled to India as a guest of Greaves Travel (0171-487 9111). This is an excerpts from his new book, The Age of Kali: Indian Travels & Encounters, is published by HarperCollins

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Bliss and Heaven Feel at Jallikatu Protests

Bliss and Heaven Feel at Jallikatu Protests
Syed Ali Mujtaba

 “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!” What William Wordsworth said about French Revolution in 1888 can aptly describe the mood
of the protest against ‘Jallikatu’ ban at the Marina beach in Chennai.

Chennai’s Marina beach has become the epicenter of protests against the Supreme Court’s ban on ‘Jallikattu’, a traditional bull-taming sport popular all over Tamil Nadu conducted during ‘Pongal’ harvest festivities in mid-January.

Thousands of youngsters are squatting on the Marina sands, defying Supreme Court’s order to register their support to the traditional bull-taming sports that represents Tamil Cultural identity.

Protests erupted in support of ‘Jallikattu’, after the Supreme Court on January 12 refused to pass an order allowing the sport to conduct before the ‘Pongal’ festival.

The apex court had outlawed ‘Jallikattu’ in 2014 and the state government's review petition was dismissed last December.

The spontaneous protest has shades of Arab Spring, where all sorts, of people have joined the bandwagon at the seafront.  After a pall of gloom that was set in the city due to ‘Vardha’ cyclone, it’s a season of protest festivity in Chennai. There is defiance in the air and arguments are flying thick and fast in its support.

The ‘Babri Masjid’ demolition case is cited as the most recent example of the defiance of court order supporting the traditional sports having emotive significance in the history culture and tradition belief of the Tamil society.  

While talking to a few ‘Jallikattu’ protesters at Marina who has turned out in massive numbers after coming to know about it through the social media, one can get a sense of their anger against the Supreme Court ban.

“When the ‘Sangh Parivar’ and the BJP can defy court order, then why can’t others do the same?  Can there be two parameters; one for the North Indians other for the South Indians, one for the Aryans and other for the Dravidians, one for the Fair Skins and other for the darker ones,” said a belligerent protester, holding a torch light vigil on the breezy evening at Marina on Thursday, January 19, 2017.

The charged souls further argued; “even as the cases were pending before the Allahabad High Court, the ‘Sangh’ outfits had defied all bans, and demolished the contested mosque, without caring about its consequences.”

“What is the result of that defiance of the court ban, one asked and answered, even 25 years has elapsed, nothing has happened so far and the cases are still pending before the court.”

“Perhaps same will be case in Tamil Nadu too for defying the court ban. Who will be there to see what happens after 25 years from now,” this never ending argument stopped for a pause.

Here is a case where a huge section of people want to defy the court order and organise their cultural event that has a larger traditional, cultural and emotional significance.

The protesters want a clear cut assurance from the government to hold their traditional sports as before. Their core demand is to conduct ‘Jallikattu’ without any delay, amend Sections 22 and 27 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, scrap FIRs filed against protesters and ban the animal welfare organisation PETA in Tamil Nadu.

The situation on the ground suggest that any attempt by the government to carry out the court order, ignoring the public sentiment will only lead to worsening of the law and order situation. In such case the challenge before the government is how to defuse the situation and placate the protesters to call of the protests.

The only option before the state government is to come out with a special resolution to lift the Supreme Court ban. This can be introduced in the Assembly session that is to begin on January 23.

The special resolution can be couched with wording of   precautions against any cruelty towards animals and allow the traditional sports to continue as per the wishes of the people.

‘After all, our laws are meant for the people to address heir genuine aspirations and sentiments. If the court can give primacy to the animal’s welfare, the government of the day can make laws for the popular sentiments.

This kind of special resolution can provide a huge relief to the people and the current band of protesters can be placated and the situation could be defused without the use of any force,” goes another argument in support of ‘Jallikatu.’

However, this resolution is likely to be challenged and again could be stayed by the Supreme Court. In such case the state government will be heavily reprimanded for defying the court’s orders and should be ready for the maximum punishment.

As the pressure is mounting, the government has no other option than to take this calculated risk.  Right now the priority before it is to resolve the law and order situation, it can face the contempt of court later. Perhaps one day Jail for OPS, like it was for Kalyan Singh!

Meanwhile, the crowd at Marina is not ready to listen to anyone and they are in a defiant mood to resist any move that would endanger their heritage and identity.

It is happening elsewhere in the state too. Students and youngsters are seen on the roads and public places demanding the conduct of ‘Jallikattu.’

After the Anna Hazare protest touted as second freedom struggle in 2012 in New Delhi, this is the most significant protest movement that has happened in the country.

The notable feature is the democratic nature of the protest movement and the spontaneous nature of people mobilization. Apparently there is consensus among the protesters to keep away from all known political forces and there is complete absence of any charismatic leader to lead the protest.The capacity of the protesters to self-motivate and self-organize reminds of 2015 Chennai floods, where standing together for a cause was much evident in this protest.

The protesters is adhering the principals on ‘nonviolence’ and ‘satyagrah’ and there are no hoodlums and rowdies among the protesters.  The protest is by and large peaceful and even though there are large numbers of female participants, there is no incidence of eve teasing activities,.

The most interesting part of this protest is even though the Supreme Court order does not impact normal life of any individual, this issue has caught the imagination of the people and they have come out in large numbers to defy the ban.

Even though this protest is not being articulated or dictated by any political mandate or through written campaign material, there is a human emotional appeal in this protest that is beyond the established political and ideological narrative.

This narrative is deifying the human - animal relationship within the cultural matrix of Tamil Nadu and this is reflected from almost the entire participant's banners and ply cards and speeches.. This is the most unifying element of this protest.

The role of social media in coxing the youngsters to come out of their homes and offices, schools and colleges to join the protest is commendable.

The emergence of such massive movement in a city like Chennai that goes by the adage; ‘mind your own business’ is astonishing. Here the free spirits are quite excited about this struggle while other others like me are anxiously struggling to comprehend its complexities and its future trajectories.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Bihar Postal Series- Syed Mahmud most Conspicuous Omission

Bihar Postal Series- Syed Mahmud most Conspicuous Omission 
By Syed Ali Mujtaba

The Postal Department of India, recently has commemorated great deeds and achievements of eight personalities of Bihar by releasing stamps on them. However, the most conspicuous by its absence in this list is  Dr Syed Mahmud, one of the foremost freedom fighters from Bihar.

The eight stamps released on December 26, 2016 to remember freedom fighters of Bihar are: 1) Dr. Sachchidananda Sinha 2) Karpoori Thakur 3) Dashrath Manjhi 4) Vidyapati 5) Kailashpati Mishra 6) Kunwar Singh 7) Phanishwar Nath Renu 8) Sri Krishna Sinha.

The omission of Syed Mahmud from this list is most glaring. The presumption is, whoever has prepared the list of Bihar postal stamp series, is either ignorant about Syed Mahmud’s contribution to India’s freedom struggle, or the usual communal mindset that prevails in such selections and omissions process.

Mahmud was educated at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and as student attended the 1905 session of the Indian National Congress. He was one of those students who opposed the pro-British loyalties of the All India Muslim League.

After being expelled from AMU for his political activities, Mahmud traveled to England and studied Law at Cambridge University before going on to study at Lincoln's Inn to become a barrister. While in London, he came in contact with Mahatma Gandhi and J.L. Nehru in 1909.

He obtained Ph.D. from Germany and came back to India in 1912. It was from 1913 he started his legal profession in Patna under the able guidance of Mazharul Haq. After practicing law for a few years in Patna, he was drawn into the freedom struggle and movement for India's independence.

Syed Mahmud was one of the young Muslim leaders who played a role in crafting the  Lucknow Pact between the Congress and the Muslim League in1916. Under the influence and leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, he participated in the Indian Home Rule Movement and in the Non-cooperation movement and the Khilafat movement. 

In 1923 he was elected to the post of deputy general secretary of the All India Congress Committee along with Jawaharlal Nehru which resulted in close friendship between the two leaders. Nehru signed as witness at the 'Nikahnama' marriage of Syed Mahmud's daughter.

In 1930, along with M.L. Nehru and J.L. Nehru he was imprisoned in the Naini Jail of Allahabad, for his participation in the Civil Disobedience Movement.

After the sweeping Congress victory in the 1937 central and provincial elections, Syed Mahmud became Minister for Education, Development and Planning in Sri Krishna Sinha led cabinet in Bihar.

This development had its own share of controversy, Syed Mahmud was considered one of the leading prospective candidates to serve as Chief Minister of Bihar but instead Shri Krishna Sinha was made the Chief Minister.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad in his book “India wins freedom” talks at length about this controversy and blames Nehru for not making him the first CM of Bihar. Perhaps, Mahmud’s Muslim identity came in the way of his selection in that communally charged atmosphere and Nehru chose Sri Krishna Sinha to placate the Hindu lobby within the Congress party in Bihar.

While, serving as education minister in Bihar Mahmud’s emphasis was on providing primary education to largest possible number of people. He worked for revision of curricula, appointed Urdu teachers in the Patna University. He fought for raising the proportion of Muslims in the government jobs and in the local bodies in Bihar.

Syed Mahmud was one of the members of the Congress Working Committee that endorsed the 1942 Quit India movement, calling for an immediate end to British rule. He went to jail along with other freedom fighters for being part off the Quit India agitation.

After India's independence, Syed Mahmud was elected to the first Lok Sabha from the Champaran-East constituency and second Lok Sabha from the Gopalganj constituency.
He served as Minister of State for External Affairs between 1954 and 1957. He participated in the historic Bandung Conference (1955), where the Panchsheel was spelled out. As a mister of external affairs he played remarkable roles in India's useful diplomatic relations with the Gulf countries.

Syed Mahmud was one of the secular Muslim leaders who opposed the Muslim League's demand for the creation of a separate Muslim state of Pakistan. He was pained with communal partition of India.

Syed Mahmud authored several books. “The Khilafat & England” was one among them. He wrote another book, "A Plan of Provincial Reconstruction (1939)". His book on Hindu Muslim Accord (1949), celebrating the `Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb of India,' is widely quoted. He launched a bilingual (Urdu; Hindi) newspaper called “Raushni” to mitigate the Hindi-Urdu tension.

Mahmud's standing with Indian nationalist’s leaders was second to none. The postal department by omitting Mahmood’s name from the postal series on Bihar has belittled the contributions of a giant freedom fighter from Bihar.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He hails from Bihar and can be contacted at

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Movie Review Dangal… A Must Watch for Every Indian

Movie Review
Dangal… A Must Watch for Every Indian
Syed Ali Mujtaba

I saw the movie Dangal, meaning wresting competition last night. My first reaction was Aamir khan has evolved as an actor from QSQT to this movie Dangal. Watching him in Dangal as aged, overweight ordinary Indian was a delight as it was doing so while watching the chocolate hero in QSQT in 1988.

Watch.. Aamir Khan in QSQT….

Watch….. him in Dangal…

Dangal is a movie that has an intense and griping plot and its emotional quotients are maintained all through the movie. It’s a serious film with little entertainment value; it holds the audience to their seats all through the film.

If Lagan was about cricket, Dangal is about wrestling. In the age of cricket, making a movie on insignificant sports like wrestling is a bold attempt and a welcome change to the viewers.

One thing emerges out clearly in this movie is that foreign locations and glamour looks alone cannot guarantee the success of the film. The story line, the narration, the acting and the overall presentation alone can help in the success of a movie. Dangal excels in all of such departments.

Well Aamir Khan has a habit of coming with something completely new and different in each of his movie. We have seen it in ‘Lagan’, ‘Three Idiots’ and ‘PK’, all of them had different plots. So is the actor’s panache of looking different.

In each of the movies his looks are different. So is the case with Dangal. In order to look aged and an ordinary man, Aamir Khan has increased his weight quite a bit in Dangal. In spite of looking simpleton and de glam, Aamir carries his weight in this movie. In true sense he is still the 'Raja
Hindustani,’ of India.

In the age of item numbers and skin shows and exotic locations, Dangal is placed in a totally different. The movie showcases a dirty village of Haryana and is successful in portraying a true reflection of a piece of Indian society and culture.

Everything about this movie is natural and everyone in this film tries to look dirty and de glam and yet has its own appeal. This is the unique selling proposition USP of the movie Dangal.

The movie Dangal has not only entertainment and information and education value but also has a mass communication quotient attached to it. It tries to give the message those girls too can do what supposedly men’s domain is i.e. wrestling.

As such the movie has a huge mass appeal. It’s targeted at the most ordinary Indians and therefore should be watched by every Indian.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Similarities and Distinctiveness of Christmas Celebrations in India

Similarities and Distinctiveness of Christmas Celebrations in India 
Syed Ali Mujtaba

Christmas festival, which marks the birthday of Jesus Christ, is celebrated in almost all parts of India. Christmas is a national festival and called ‘Bara Din’ or Big Day, courtesy the legacy of the British ‘Raj’ in India. There are many unique features about Christmas celebrations in India.

As the Christmas approaches, the entire country is in a festive mood and people from different faiths, ethnicity and backgrounds come together and take part in Christmas celebrations.

The Christmas celebrations in the cities of India are almost a replica of the global culture. The shops are decorated with Bells and Santa Claus that symbolizes Christmas marking the beginning of the festive season.

Christmas fairs and Christmas parades are the integral part of the Christmas festivities in the urban life. Christian’s houses are decorated with lights and Christmas trees.

During this time carol services are held in the churches and carol singers making appearances at the door steps during late night. During this time Santa Claus, th
e special character of Christmas is most sought after person by the children of all faiths.

In the rural India, the Christmas celebrations is little different. One of the special features of rural Christmas celebration is that instead of having traditional Christmas Trees, a well decorated banana or mango tree is kept in the house.

 This is because Christmas tree is not readily available in the villages. Some people use mango leaves to decorate their homes in rural areas during Christmas. The houses have ‘diya’ or candle lit at its entranced.  Village Churches are decorated with flowers and colorful lights and colorful candles are lit at its entrance door.

The major concentration of Christian populations is in the Southern Indian state of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and in the state of Goa on the west Coast. Northeastern states euphemistically called the seven sisters have the largest concentration of Christian population in India.

India's smallest state, Goa which is on the west coast has about 26% Christian population. Christian homes hang out giant paper lanterns, in the shape of stars, on top of their houses and as one walk
down the road, the stars float above you in rows. Christmas Trees are put up in every Christian house.

 Here people like to go carol singing around their neighbors for about a week before Christmas. The Christmas cake is baked with traditional rich fruit and lots of local sweets are also made during the Christmas festival in Goa.

In Southern state of Kerala where there are 22% Christian population. Like Goa, here too Christmas is celebrated with huge religious fervor. Traditional Catholics fast from 1st to 24th of December, until the midnight service. Every house is decorated with new variety of Christmas stars and has well decorated Christmas tree.  Here some Christians put small oil burning clay lamps on the roofs of their homes to show their neighbors that Jesus is the light of the world.

The northeast states of India; Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram have high Christian population. Over 5.3 million Christians live in Mizoram, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Manipur, while there are a significant number of Christians in the other northeastern states of Tripura, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. One of the special features of the Christmas celebration here is Christian customs are mixed with the individual tribal customs.

The Western Indian metropolis Mumbai has one of the largest urban Christian populations. Many of the Christians in Mumbai have roots in Goa and so they follow the Christmas traditions of Goa like putting up the star lanterns and the depiction of the best of the nativity scenes at their homes.

In the eastern metropolitan city of Kolkata the annual Kolkata Christmas Festival (KCF) starts a week ahead with food stalls and live bands performing in the open space. The Christmas season begins with a fun-filled Christmas parade at Park Street whose decoration resembles the Oxford Street of London. There are other sots like Bow Barracks in Kolkata that comes alive during Christmas.

The rural space of central India which dominated by the tribal Christians mostly of the Bhil tribe has Christmas celebrations with its own local flavor which is more tribal in nature.  Here Bhils go out in nigh a week before Christmas to sing carols in their own language. They also tell the Christmas stories to the surrounding villages in singing and dancing format.

Anglo Indians are very unique Christian community in India.  They celebrate Christmas in very European style.  With jam session and all dancing Anglo Indians a English touch to the Christmas celebrations.  Cake, wine, dance and get-together are part and parcel of Anglo Indian Christmas celebration.

The Christmas celebration at Anglo Indian homes begins about 60 days before December 25 and continues for at least 12 days after it. Their customs are as bright and complex as a festively-knotted ribbon around their Christmas present.

On the Christmas Eve, the Midnight Mass service at the churches is a very important event and Christians attends it in large numbers. The families walk to the church for the midnight mass and when the service is over at the stroke of midnight, the church bells starts ringing and fire crackers are burst to announce that Christmas Day has arrived.

Some greet each other saying ‘Merry Christmas’ in English, others use the local expression in different languages spoken in India. The day that follows is Christmas and it is filled with massive feast that goes on with the giving and receiving of presents throughout the day.

The proverbial Santa Claus who delivers presents to children from a horse cart is integral part of Christmas festivity in India. He is known by various names in different Indian languages. In the Hindi he is called ‘Christmas Baba' or Father Christmas, in  Tamil and Telgu languages, he is  known as 'Christmas Thaathaa' or Christmas old man. In Malayalam he is known as 'Christmas Papa'. In Marathi he is called ‘Natal Bua' or Christmas Elder Man.

Christianity is the third-largest religion in India. With approximately 27.8 million followers, Christians constitutes about 2.3 percent of the total Indian population. Indian Christians have the highest ratio of women to men among the various religious communities in India.

Christians are found all across India and are visible in all walks of life. Indian Christians have contributed significantly to India’s development and are well represented in various spheres of life.  Indian Christians are Indian in language, dress, food habits, customs and tradition and are not European in any sense. This is the unique feature about the Christian community in India.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at