LIMERICS AND THE TROUBLED TIMES OF FASCISMby HUMRA QURAISHI July 9 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins, 55 secs
Humra Quraishi writes about Khushwant Singh, who was far sighted and told her, before he passed away in 2014, that he was worried about the rise in fascism in the country.
Khushwant Singh’s worries were several in terms of the political scenario in the country. He would talk and write of the communal poisoning spreading around, and the rise of the fascist forces, spreading fear. He brought to the fore this vital fact: ‘Don’t overlook the fact that before Jinnah had come up with the two-nation theory, it was persons like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Veer Savarkar, who had come up with the Hindu nation theory. In fact, Lala Lajpat Rai had even drawn a map of divided India along religious lines.’ Whilst focusing on the bygones, Khushwant would invariably stress on the communal strife hitting in the country, reaching absolutely dangerous levels. He would often comment, ‘No, nobody could have ever imagined that fascist forces would rise and spread out as it is today.’
In an interview given to me (published in The Indian Express in 2003, soon after his book ‘END OF INDIA', Penguin, was launched) I had asked him if he agreed with the Hindutva brigade's definition of nationalism? He had said, ‘A nationalist is one who is concerned about his country and also about equal treatment to all its citizens. The Hindutva government is not treating all its nationals as one, on the same footing. I know for a fact that there is discrimination against the Muslims and Christians of the country.’
On the Gujarat riots of 2002, Khushwant had told me that he saw similarities between those and the '84 anti-Sikh riots. ‘Yes, it was quite obvious in both cases that the police were not told to control the rioting. I am a witness to the Sikh riots in New Delhi and I saw police doing little to control the rioters. And journalists and activists who recounted the Gujarat carnage told me of similar happenings in the riots there…and what I find very disturbing and dangerous is that the communal parties have launched their own private armies. Any government which allows private armies affiliated to political parties is doing nothing short of making inroads for fascism. Yes, fascism is here! Whatever one is seeing around are all signs of fascism - appointments to important offices are not done on merit, key posts are given to their men, even Governor level appointments. There could be two or three showpieces from other communities, otherwise it’s 'their' men in all key positions. Hitler functioned in exactly the same manner. And whilst Hitler's main target was the Jews, for this Hindutva brigade it’s the Muslim population in the country. The saffron tide is rising and I have written this book with a deep sense of concern for the country. Unless we immediately react and reject the communal policies, there is going to be disaster. It is time the liberals rejected those communal moves…I think most Indians cannot really visualize the magnitude of the communal problem, although the signs are writ large all around.’
Khushwant was certain that the communal situation in the country wouldn’t improve. ‘No, I'm not optimistic but one should fight, one should make every single effort to save the country and openly challenge and take on these men who are destroying the country. We have to battle with them at any cost. If we love our country, we have to save it from the communal forces. And though the liberal class is shrinking. I do hope that the present generation totally rejects the communal and fascist polices…and realizes that these are tough times for India,’ he said.
To quote him from his writings: ‘Fascism well and truly crossed our threshold and dug its heels in our courtyard. We let the fanatics get away with every step they took without raising a howl of protest. They burned books they did not like; they beat up journalists who wrote against them, they openly butchered people for believing in a different God. The carnage in Gujarat, the Mahatma’s home state, in early 2002 and the subsequent landslide victory for Narendra Modi spelt disaster for our country. The fascist agenda of Hindu fanatics is unlike anything India has experienced in its modern history.’
On Hindutva’s destructive agenda he wrote: ‘Soon after the Babri masjid destruction I’d asked BJP’s KR Malkani how many more mosques will you destroy? What about the repercussions? Hasn’t the atmosphere been fouled? We don’t seem to be punishing the culprits who are fouling the atmosphere! Has anyone been punished for the Gujarat pogrom! For the last several years I have been seeing signs of fascism creeping in…private senas are used to unleash terror on minority segments. All along the motivating factor for the Hindutva parties has been Islamophobia.’
DIPANKAR GUPTA’s book of Lockdown Limericks and Rhymes
I’ve recently reviewed the well-known Delhi based sociologist Dipankar Gupta’s book of limericks. Titled ‘LOCKDOWN Limericks and Rhymes’ (LG Publishers Distributors), it goes to show how the lockdown days brought forth creativity in several who survived that disastrous phase. Many of the ‘survivors’ saw to it that each day was spent not in moaning and mourning, but in indulging in creativity to its fullest.
One such person is Dipankar Gupta. To quote him, “In those days of gloom, I found writing limericks and nonsense rhymes a great stress reliever. They also helped in shrugging off the frustration one feels when people lose all sense of civic obligations and flout Covid-19 appropriate behaviour wantonly. As all indulgences in imagination require no higher authority for approval, I gave free reign to my limited abilities in composition.”
He’d been earlier writing on castes, peasants, modernity and citizenship, but now brought forth an entire range of verse in his latest book. The characters he chooses range from Chengiz Khan to our everyday ordinary folk.
Leaving you with Gupta’s verse: Slumdog Limericks
Four of us live in a slum zone,/In a tiny room, never alone/But we keep, without fuss,/Social distance between us,/As we talk long distance on the phone.//Washing hands for 20 seconds is a joke./There’s no taps in homes of us folks./We have so little time/To soap off the grime,/That dirt sticks to us like a cloak.//Always cough or sneeze into tissues./Trash them after to stop misuse./Or else, we are also told/Use your elbows fold,/But you can’t cut that off like refuse.’
And, Chengiz Khan, the Wise
In his days, great Genghis Khan/Went to Poland via Isfahan/Bulgaria and Romania/And Transoxania/But he never set foot in Wuhan…’