What an idiotic man. And what a foolish comment! Giriraj Singh, some would say, should be forgiven for advising all those Indians who have issues with Narendra Modi to pack their bags and move to Pakistan. The implication is dangerous even if the suggestion is absurd. I thought about Giriraj Singh’s provocative comment while listening to the most divine music. My eyes were shut, my mind open, and all my senses were concentrated on just one thing — the rousing words of a troupe of qawwals from Hyderabad singing their hearts out for a very special lady whose 80th birthday celebrations I was attending. This was at a particularly charming ‘manzil’ in a posh area of Mumbai. There used to be many more ‘manzils’ in the locality twenty years ago. Most were torn down to be replaced by impersonal, ugly high rises (surely, Mumbai has some of the worst, so-called ‘modern’ architecture in India?). This particular ‘manzil’ was also crumbling, but remains rather grand regardless. Our gracious host and his begum have always been known for their generous hospitality at the magical soirees they organize from time to time. Their neighbours in the ‘manzil’ are a mixed bunch — Hindus, Parsis and Muslims. They are obviously accustomed to these splendid ‘mehfils’ which attract all sorts of music lovers, including foreign visitors who crave to be included in these elegant gatherings. This evening was no different from earlier evenings — the kebabs and biryani were mouth watering, and the fragrance of mogra garlands decorating the old, wooden doors to the grand salon made the air appropriately heady. At one point, the troupe of impeccably attired qawwals was singing so lustily, I was sure their voices had reached heaven and beyond. And that was when Giriraj’s ugly words resonated inside my head. And Pravin Togadia’s equally hateful anti-Muslim comments sent a small chill down my spine. Here we were, around 30 music lovers, appreciating every moment of this fine evening in all its fullness. Were we perhaps attending one of the last such concerts? Wasn’t it entirely possible that a few months, maybe even weeks, down the line, there could be people out there ‘objecting’ to our innocent pleasure. I could so easily envisage a grim scenario featuring Togadia clones ordering the mellifluous ‘mehfil’ to either disband and go home or pack our bags and head to Pakistan!
If such a repulsive scenario seems implausible, think again. Refer to Togadia’s bully tactics and intimidation as he urged followers to chase out a Muslim house owner in Bhavnagar by spitting on him, and scaring his family before forcibly taking over his home. So, I don’t think my fears about what lies ahead are in the least exaggerated. When I say I may have attended one of the last concerts at my friend’s home, it is a distinct possibility. And to think, here was a place that welcomed people bound together by nothing more than their love for music, food, movies, and conversation. During these mellow evenings, nobody bothered or cared about the origin of that divine music. Nobody asked for the religious identity of those throats. I realized with a shock I was already using the past tense! As if I was writing a requiem for an era. As if I was gearing up to deal with something terrible…and inescapable!
I thought of the time I spent with other, equally wonderful friends and musicians at their sprawling
bungalow in Karachi a couple of years ago. It was 3 am on a cold and crisp winter night as ‘authentic’ Sufi singers (the hostess’s description) were just about warming up. Piping hot, over-sweet tea was welcomed by guests shivering on the lawns. I was the only ‘outsider’, the only Indian, and the sole Hindu present. And yet (this is a very important ‘and yet’), there wasn’t a single moment of ‘otherness’ as we relaxed on soft bolsters and surrendered to the music. Later, over hot, sticky jalebis and more tea, we chatted till the sun came up. We could have been in Mumbai, Delhi, Lahore…anywhere in the world. This is how it can and should be.
Standing in the longest queue I have ever been in at a polling station, I looked at the eager faces of young voters from my neighbourhood. Did they really give a damn about Hindu-Muslim hate politics? I am willing to bet they don’t. For the sake of this open-minded generation, India has to move on, and away from the Togadia brand of intimidation. India must demonstrate its contempt for the Giriraj Singhs who point unbiased citizens to Pakistan, as if damning them to purgatory. Hatred and prejudice can only corrode our country. So, yes, I am willing to go to Pakistan, if that’s what it takes to stand up for what is right and just. It might surprise Giriraj to discover how many Indians are ready to join me!