victim of the great game
A class conscious society
Khwaja Masud belongs to that generation of men who grew up during the freedom struggle and then saw the shattering of that dream in front of their eyes. It must have been a very painful few decades as the idealism of the youth morphed into a monstrosity of obscurantism. Besides being an academic and an academic administrator, Masud continued to think and write about issues outside the walls of his academic institutions. He was, in modern parlance, an activist of sorts not afraid of airing his view about the state of Pakistani society all through his long life. A selection, apparently made by his son, Khwaja Sarmad, of his articles has been published under the title Lessons of my Life: Pakistan, Islam and the Spirit of Revolution
Khwaja Masud wrote with great deal of regularity for many years and his articles must be running into hundreds, if not into thousands, and these need to be collected and published to give a more wholesome idea about the catholicity of the man. Some of these articles have been selected with the view to supporting the more liberal views that he upheld. Included are articles on Islam, Jinnah and Iqbal — the triumvirate of formative forces in the years that he was growing up. It is clear from the writings that both Iqbal and Jinnah, with their idealism and a quest for realising that into political reality, exposed themselves to many levels of meanings. Many of the followers or admirers like Masud were of the considered view that a homeland for Muslims would mean a society not based on exploitation with sufficient modicum for liberal space, but there were many others who held a point of view or an interpretation that was very different from the one which Masud had espoused. But his interpretation of the struggle just proved that his heart was in the right place and that his education had taught him the supremacy of humanistic ideals and its proper nourishment under democratic conditions.
Similarly, Masud’s understanding of his religion too was based on the same premise and made him to see the world as an unfolding reality that needed to be explored with new tools and ideas rather than be understood in the paradigm of the ideas and thought structure of the past. The value of change and its continuity was important, rather crucial, for him in his application of the values of religion in the contemporary world.
There is one article on the contribution of the Muslims to mathematics. One reason why Muslims have lagged behind is their fear or aversion to creating new ideas and embracing new thought structures. The backwardness in their acquisition of knowledge has made them fall behind and this backwardness has often resulted in two attitudes. One that of bluster in wanting to prove that they are the most advanced being the chosen ones or being the actual founding fathers of this drive for knowledge. When quizzed they fall back on their glory of hundred of years ago and cannot really recount any real advances that were made during the golden period of Muslim rule in the world.
Khwaja Masud, from the hazy glory of a golden past, turned into concrete reality the contributions made to a subject like mathematics by the Muslims in that period. It may be the best article in the collection and it is hoped that articles on such subjects are reprinted more so that there is something more solid for the rudderless Muslims to hold on to in support of their rhetoric of being genuinely interested in the quest for knowledge.
Masud was himself a professor of mathematics and what more qualification a person needed to write on the subject like mathematics. He must have written about the various advances made in physical sciences during the same period and these be made part of the next selection.
In this volume, it appears that an effort has been made to collect articles on a number of disciplines so as to give a view about the vast subjects that he was interested in. He had written about the fund of inherited knowledge, the political crisis in the country which was based on the crisis of knowledge in society and various values which ought to have been followed to be part of the civilised world. Then his love lost with political changes through revolutions that empowered the individual and the poor as against the state or the government.
Well read in a number of disciplines the tone of the argument is that of a teacher making his students understand the complexity of the issue. The student is of course content with one dimensional approach but the teacher does not forgo his responsibility of giving a more wholesome view. Masud belonged solidly to the stream that was left of centre and this is what he wanted to read in the works of Iqbal. But the articles on Marx, Lenin, Gramsci, Che Guevara, Nelson Mandela, Ho Chi Minh, Rosa Luxemburg and Faiz do not leave any doubt about his leanings.
Though an academic at heart, Masud as a person wanted to bring together the thinker and the political activist. The theory and practice has to coalesce to be of any meaning and this he aspired to do throughout his life. At times he was hounded out of his office but he did not compromise insisting on valuing his views more than his job. He suffered and therefore the credibility of his views is greater than it would have been otherwise.
Lessons of my Life
Pakistan, Islam and the Spirit of
By Khwaja Masud
Publisher: ILQA Publications
Price: Rs 245
In His Majesty’s
eyes, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was a rebel, an agent of the fascist Germans
and a persona non-grata. But, in people’s memories, he is still alive as an
immortal leader who sacrificed his career and life for them.
Like the Ghadar party of
Punjab, it was Bose who successfully neutralised the biggest post-annexation
colonial project by winning the support of Punjabi army men in the mid 20th
century. A reasonable majority of Punjabi army men threw the medal “Sword
Arm of India” given to them by colonial masters and joined Bose’s INA
(Indian National Army).
Sugata Bose, the paternal
grandson of Sarat Chandar Bose and a professor of history at Tufts
University, US has now written the definitive biography of
Subhas Chandra Bose
His Majesty’s Opponent is
in fact the chronicle of resistance, political dissection and betrayal. The
decolonisation process of India started from August 14, 1941, under US
pressure after signing the Atlantic Charter while internally it was Bose’s
INA and its armed resistance which compelled the colonisers to follow the
road map of decolonisation and had to negotiate with the Congress and Muslim
Before writing about the
book I want to share a historic speech at the Punjabi Students’ Conference
in Lahore in 1929, which reminds us about Bose’s vision regarding Punjab.
Here is an extract from Jagat S Bright’s book, Important Speeches &
Writings of Subhas Chandar Bose “Little do you know how much Bengali
literature has drawn from the earlier history of the Punjab in order to
enrich itself and edify its readers. Tales of your heroes have been composed
and sung by our great poets including Rabindranath Tagore and some of them
are today familiar in every Bengali home. Aphorisms of our saints have been
translated into elegant Bengali and they afford solace and inspiration to
millions in Bengal. This cultural contact has its counterparts in the
political sphere and we find your political pilgrims meeting ours not only in
the jails in India but also in the jails of distant Burma and in the wilds of
the Andaman across the Seas.”
Hussein Shaheed Suhrawardy
and Subhas Chandra Bose were followers of Chittaranjan Das (C. R. Das), the
real Desh-bandhu. Like Iqbal, it was C.R. Das who not only criticised the
Lucknow Pact but also supported the Muslim majorities in Bengal and Punjab.
In 1924, Das became Mayor
of Calcutta, British India’s largest municipality, while Suhrawardy became
deputy mayor and Bose became C.E.O of municipal administration.
Das was determined to
rectify Hindu Muslim imbalance in services and jobs. It was Bose who
implemented his leader’s policy in Calcutta municipality yet conservative
Hindus criticised Das’s followers for appointing a disproportionate number
of Muslims to posts in Calcutta Corporation.
In December 21, 1938, as
president Congress, Bose wrote a letter to Gandhi and said “we should hold
an inquiry into the grievances of the Muslims against the Congress
Governments.” But Gandhi rejected it. In January 1939, the Congress had to
elect its new president. According to the author, famous poet Rabindranath
Tagore failed to get support from Gandhi for Bose.
Gandhi, Abul Kalam Azad,
G.D. Birla and Nailani Ranjan Sarkar were supporting Pattabhi Sitaramayya,
despite of their opposition Bose won the elections. According to the author,
“For the first time in two decades Gandhi’s authority had been
successfully challenged within Congress”.
On July 3, 1940, Bose
launched a campaign for removal of the Holwell monument in Calcutta which
turned out to be the last day that Bose spent as a free man in India. The
British Indian administration had to remove the offending monument, a symbol
of colonial pride yet it has never once forgotten Subhas.
On December 25, 1940, Bose
escaped to Kabul via Punjab and NWFP. Here Bose started meetings with German,
Russian and Italian officials. His next destination was Berlin where he
arrived on April 2, 1941. He wanted to get the joint support of Germans,
Italians, Russians and Japanese against the Indian Raj.
During his visit to Rome,
he was utterly dismayed when heard the news of German attack on Soviet Union
on June, 1941. Japan’s entry into the Second World War in December, 1941
provoked Bose to rethink his politics.
The most important part of
Bose’s life was the INA. It was first formed by a Sialkoti ex-army man
Mohan Singh in February, 1942. Bose came to Singapore on July, 1943 and took
After taking charge, Bose
visited South East Asia and invited South Asians either to join the INA or to
give funds. He also contacted the prisoners of war who were captured by the
Japanese. There were two main military divisions of INA, the first under the
command of Mohammad Zaman Kyani while the second under the command of Aziz
Bose formed a provisional
government of Azad Hind in Singapore during October 1943, collected tax,
enforced laws, recruited soldiers and acquired a personal motorcade, aircraft
and honour guards. He also designed the tricolour Indian national flag of
saffron, white and green horizontal stripes with a leaping tiger, reminiscent
of Tipu Sultan’s mechanical toy.
INA was in fact
instrumental in the fight for freedom. Reflecting on the factors that guided
the British decision to relinquish the Raj in India, Clement Attlee, the then
British prime minister, cited several reasons, the most important of which
were the INA activities of Subhas Chandra Bose, which weakened the Indian
Army — the foundation of the British Empire in India and the RIN Mutiny
that made the British realise that the Indian armed forces could no longer be
trusted to prop up the Raj.
The rise and fall of INA is
one of the forgotten stories which still need our attention. There are two
most important things in the Post-INA scenario. One is the mysterious murder
of Bose and the other is Red Fort Trial which was the joint court-martial of
Colonel Prem Sahgal Colonel Gurubaksh Singh Dhillon) and Major General Shah
Nawaz Khan of the INA.
Sugata Bose gives details
of unsuccessful commissions formed by successive post-Partition Indian
Governments along with their omissions and tactics.
His Majesty’s Opponent is
an essential study for those who want to revisit the history of subcontinent.
His Majesty’s Opponent
Chandra Bose and India’s Struggle against Empire
By Sugata Bose
Publisher: Allen Lane
debut novel, Blue Dust has added some extra points to Pakistani fiction for
the year 2012. It is not an easy one to read. It not only requires time, but
emotions, and an inclination towards poetic writings.
The novel is based in
Lahore and the Middle East. It narrates the dreams, fears, hopes, and
relationships of three generations whose lives share similarities and have
differences over rules defined by society, love, and individuality.
Zaib, the protagonist, is
the daughter of a Muslim man, with a flourishing legal career, and a
Christian woman who is a doctor. Zaib struggles with her insecurities in her
relationships with her father, husband and sister. She views and experiences
love in different, complex forms and this in turn affects her children, and
their outlook towards life. Zaib and her elder daughter Alya share affection
towards their “Daddy”, and have been neglected by their mothers when they
needed them most.
Devi, Zaib’s elder sister
is another central character in the story, and unlike Zaib she is emotionally
weak, and relies too much on her sister. She is unable to confront her
husband who is a womaniser, and is helpless about her perplexed son, who from
a Muslim fanatic turns into an atheist. Sonia, Zaib’s younger daughter is
the only emotionally stable character who is courageous enough to question
the actions of one’s around her.
Blue Dust is engrossing and
its characters stay with you for a while even when you put the book down, but
the world in which the characters live is magical, and unreal. The acceptance
of anti social behaviour of nearly all the characters by each other makes the
reader wonder, the author it seems has created a magical world to cast an eye
on the ignored abuses, exploitation, infidelity, and lack of acceptance in
At some instances, however,
the flowery language becomes a bit boring, and breaks the continuity of the
book. The story does not follow a sequence as Ayesha Salman intertwines the
lives of Zaib’s mother, herself, and her daughter. The poetic language
quite well explains the dreams of the characters, and the skill with which it
is written is commendable. The author brings issues such as drug abuse,
alcoholism, depression, male dominance, religious discrimination and many
hushed up issues to the forefront. She has raised issues that we as Muslim
majority country are not supposed to have, and our massive contradictions are
touched upon in detail.
Unlike a lot of writers,
Salman is upfront about harassment, criticises Asian family systems, and
describes them explicitly in simple direct language. Blue Dust shows the
author’s keen observation of life around her through lavish description of
characters and incidents. Similarly, the author is vocal about the taboos of
a class conscious society when she narrates the friendship of Zaib with
Ghazala, a servant, which is a central concern for Zaib’s mother.
The book has a
philosophical and psychological tinge to it as Ayesha Salman explores the
psyche of individuals, especially women and how opinions are formed and
altered by incidents. On the lines when psyche are being touched, the issue
of mental illness has been deeply explored. Majority of the characters in the
book are mentally ill, unable to face reality, and in a state of denial.
By Ayesha Salman
Publisher: Roli Books
Price: Rs 250