An optical illusion of sanity

Jawed Naqvi | Published: 00:00, Mar 18,2020 | Updated: 00:08, Mar 18,2020


Dr Mubashir Hasan. — The News

‘BABU. Do you have any idea of the enormity of what you have just reported?’ The memory came wafting in of a rather worried phone call from Dr Mubashir Hasan. ‘Babu’ was his term of endearment. If I remember right, he was on the line from Lahore during one of the short-lived rough patches in India-Pakistan relations.

What a pleasure it was to hear him speak with the force of clarity in a soft, measured tone. But this was early morning, an unusual time for a cross-border lesson in dialectical reasoning. The voice was soft, but the tone was not. ‘Stopping the flow of water to a country would be an act of war.’

The reprimand over, I quickly remembered the previous night’s story. It was a for-the-record short file with no upstream linkages or downstream consequences. A former high commissioner to Pakistan was advising the Indian government on TV to stop the flow of Indus water to punish Pakistan. Every day, someone in India wants to bomb Pakistan or destroy the country.

The boot was on the other foot years ago when a cousin among others from Karachi dreamt of becoming a fighter pilot to drop bombs on India. The nuclear nightmare had not erupted in the Ayub era, and the nationalist fever may have lasted a couple of military dictatorships. Suffice it to say, the cousin is now a leftist rabble-rouser, and an ardent supporter of Mubashir Sahib’s peace initiative in South Asia.

Stopping the flow of water had been one of the wilful post-9/11 ideas against Pakistan, but such fantasies rarely made the grade as credible news between nuclear-armed neighbours, ones with notoriously short fuses. As it happens, every other day under the current dispensation, a politician or a religious sage reveals their inner minds to the world, and the ideas are not always dipped in hostility.

The latest from the pulpit in fact explores the advantages of sipping cow urine or munching the dung as a cure for coronavirus. But such fulminations rarely qualify as serious news stories.

Also, the episodes are too numerous to stand in for a novel human-interest story. It is only when someone of the stature of prime minister Narendra Modi posits, for example, that ancient India had the technique for head transplant — which he called cosmetic surgery — would it threaten to impact the future course of scientific inquiry in Nehru’s India. That proclamation would deserve a para or two, definitely.

Similarly, had the author of the proposal to turn off the water on Pakistan not been SK Singh, former high commissioner and former foreign secretary, why would one have bothered with the story? Luckily for Mubashir Sahib and his platoon of peace activists, the flare-up subsided without much ado.

It is not clear whether it was ill health or the ­drying up of visas for Pakistanis under Modi — literary functions involving even the daughters of Faiz Ahmed Faiz had to be cancelled perhaps for the first time — that Mubashir Sahib curtailed the frequency of his visits to Delhi.

He would talk at length with his eyes lowered if they were not darting around to study the plumage of the birds swarming his cousin Syeda Hamid’s colourful garden. The meandering discourse on the crisis in capitalism could be interrupted by a short drive to a rendezvous with the prime minister of the day, or a background briefing from the foreign secretary on Kashmir, LoC, visas etc. He would then return to capitalism on the next visit. Too much automation would weaken the purchasing of the working classes altogether, besides creating a glut with overproduction. A working class in penury was equally bad for capitalism since it would damage the demand side.

Two of his observations from Pakistan were rather relevant for India. One was the communalisation of the military going hand in hand with the militarisation of communalism. How does that bear out on contemporary events in India? The other sharp observation followed his visit to communist-ruled West Bengal where his insights into shared administrative structures of postcolonial India and Pakistan came handy.

He saw that a combination of police and party cadre was an invincible force in Bengal, but equally so in Gujarat. There are all sorts of ideas about the police getting communalised. But give the same police to Mayawati or Mulayam and the result would be starkly different. That is how Yogi Adityanath was crying bitterly in parliament about the way he was hounded by one or both of the foes.

It was Mubashir Sahib’s dream to disrupt this bonding between the coercive arm of the state and bourgeois apparatus. One day, he asked to meet Arundhati Roy and told her only she could shoulder the responsibility of freeing the country from its tragic bind. She smiled with the helpless look she summons when misquoted in the press.

Mubashir Sahib passed away at 98 last week, weighed down by the awareness that his mission of bringing about some civility (if not dramatic rapprochement) in India-Pakistan ties had become an even more distant dream under Modi. As I write, another partisan of peace — Gautam Navlakha — would be spending his last night in freedom after the Supreme Court rejected his appeal on Monday against arrest on Tuesday in a cooked-up case of fomenting caste violence. Several others of his comrades are already in prison.

Fidel Castro was asked why he had decided to move even more stridently to the left in the post-Soviet world. Fidel said he had always stood where he was while the world around him had shifted that much to the right. ‘It is an optical illusion that I appear more leftist than I am.’ Fidel may have been describing Mubashir Sahib’s stubborn idealism in a society that looks unhinged from the moral anchor he strove to fortify.


Dawn.com, March 17. Jawed Naqvi is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

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