Monday, 14 August 2017

QK archives: A letter from Talha Sughlatwala

A Letter from Talha Sughlatwala
Zeejah
June 29, 2000


Submitted by Zeejah, as Talha joined his maker in 1997, may he rest in eternal peace



Prologue:

Having been in England for three months, I soon began to feel strangely disconnected. I used to say, half jokingly, that I felt like climbing the highest steeple and saying, "Allah ho Akbar" to reaffirm my identity.

That is when I asked an Indian IRC friend, 'choccy' (Talha Sughlatwala) how it felt like being a (permanent) minority in India. This is the email he wrote in reply.

It might prove to be something of an eye-opener to people who ascribe to the view that Indians and Pakistanis are basically similar.



Dear zeejah,

I never really talked with a Pakistani before.. about Pakistan. This time when I went to Ahmedabad, I did ask a Paki cousin, (Amena, the daughter of my uncle. She is married in India, but still a Pak citizen on an LT visa). She was very reserved, but given a little impetus, she started off on how everything in Pak was so beautiful and how everything in India was so ugly...:)) Then I asked her husband, who is also a cousin (I've already told you that I've got lots and lots of cousins), but he didn't take me seriously. I kept on at him until he finally said that he hated Pakistan. I asked him why, and he said "because Amena is from Pakistan" ....hahahaha that was funny..:) You know,whenever my my old chachi, (Amena's mom), comes to India, she insists that I should marry a Pakistani girl. She very seriously asks me whether I would prefer a Punjabi, Sindhi or Pathan girl. What can I say to that? So I jokingly tell her to get someone like herself. But hey! me and marry a pakistani?..nah! chance hi nahi hai! Given the pure urdu they speak, I would need an interpreter to communicate!While in Ahmedabad I, along with 4 cousins, had gone to see the movie "Border". In case you haven't heard about it, it's the first Indian war-film and is about the battle of Longewala which was won by the Indians, despite being only 120 soldiers against 2000 Pakis.. blah blah. Actually the battle was won by the Air Force, but that would make the movie too short, right? Anyway the movie was horrible, terrible.

There seemed to be no Muslims in the Indian army. They were all Hindus or Sikhs who kept shouting their religious war-cry, whatever that is. The only Muslims in the border villages were shown to be supplying information to the Pakistanis. The Pakistani soldiers were shown to be dumbos who couldn't fire a missile straight, and begged for mercy when caught. The director almost turned it into a Hindu-Muslim war. Half-way through the movie my cousins began to side with Pakistan. They snickered whenever an Indian soldier died or showed 'extra-heroism', and said "shit" when the Indian Air force planes finally arrived at the crack of dawn, blowing up the Paki tanks. When the Pakistani flag was shown fluttering in the wind, at least one of them would say "Wow"! Agreed that your flag is beautiful, but I didn't find any need to show such outright enthusiasm. Just before the movie they had told me that they were anti-Pakistan!

What troubled me was that, half-way through the movie I began to side with Pakistan as well! I remembered what you had said once, that when they hear the rallying cry of "Allahu Akbar" even loyal Indian Muslims would side with Pakistan. I have never really been anti-Pakistan. I have a strange love-hate relationship with it. When I was younger, say about 11-12 yrs old, I would tell Nasir that in case war broke out between India and Pakistan I could go to my relatives in Karachi, where did he have to go to? He would be very depressed because he didn't have anyone in Pakistan.

Ever since I can remember I have been supporting the Pak cricket team, even against India. I remember the Sharjah cup in which Javed Miandad had hit a sixer on the last ball. I was the only Pak supporter in my house that day, and i was the happiest to see "my" team win. I was once very happy that America had resumed military aid to Pakistan. Why did I behave in such a way? I have never even been to Pakistan! Maybe it is like the hate you people have for Hindus, even though most of you have never even spoke to one.

I think the only reason for my behaviour was the fact that Pakistanis were "Muslims". I wonder, would I have felt the same way had some other Muslim country, say, Iran or Iraq, been at odds with India? Maybe, maybe not. After all, I know that Pakistanis are no different from the Indian Muslims I see everyday. In fact, once upon a time, we were one. Pakis I felt were my "brothers". This was all about love, then where is the hate?

Actually I have always hated the existence of Pakistan. Pakistan, I feel, should never have been created. The idea was basically mooted by those who felt that Hindus and Muslims could not live together; not me, I don't feel that way at all. I have always loved the sight of a United India, before 1947. Look at the maps of India and Pakistan now. This was the land over which the Mughals, Muslims, ruled for centuries.

When it was finally divided what did Muslims get? Only one-fourth, while the Hindus got three-fourths. Why did Jinnah settle for this pittance? If there had to be a partition, at least it should have been done with some justice. So now we had a huge undivided India, with two small muslim states on either side.

As for Jinnah's two-nation theory, that fell flat on its face. It was the Bangladeshis who asked for independance. India only helped them gain it, especially since it served their purpose well! So now we have a totally weak Bangladesh (seems like God doesn't like it either), and a small Pakistan, all parts of which are accessible to Indian missiles and warplanes. A small Pakistan that has to live forever in mortal fear of its big neighbour. A small Pakistan that I doubt can ever win a war. Before partition there were other Muslim majority areas as well, such as Junagadh, Hyderabad and Kashmir. We, as Muslims, lost them all. Your "Quaid-E-Azam" divided Muslims between Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

The real time to settle the Kashmir issue once and for all was in 1947-48. It is useless to talk about freedom now. We are now 150 million Muslims living in India, the largest minority of Muslims anywhere in the world. Fifteen percent of the population. Had Pakistan and Bangladesh remained united this percentage would have been much much higher. Do you really think there could have been any danger of a "Hindu takeover"? Of course you do! But if I know Muslims, the Hindus would have had much more to be afraid of. A united India would have been a superpower by now; But that wasn't destined to be. So now we are left hanging, without any leadership, between the devil and the deep blue sea! A Muslim Pakistan that doesn't care a damn for us and a Hindu majority India, in which we are a minority. I feel like a bloody orphan!!

I had asked my parents about the war of 1971. They were in Bombay during that time, all that happened were a few blackouts, that was all! They weren't even affected by the war, and they lived in the most important city of India! If nothing could happen to Bombay, what could happen to Madras, Calcutta, Bangalore, etc?

When I read your accounts of the war I was really moved. You must have realised it then, and I have realised it now.... that war is useless, needless and destructive. As long as India and Pakistan are friendly, all is well. But when they go to war, everything changes. Indians Muslims are suddenly looked upon as Pakistanis. Some of them may even feel like that themselves, and who knows... maybe myself.. I do not even know myself! That is why I shudder to think about war. It should never happen. In case war does break out and Bombay is bombed, do u think the Pakistanis will be selective of their targets? Will they care whether they are killing Hindus or Muslims? I don't think so. They wouldn't give a damn, as long as those who die are Indians. So why should I support Pakistan anyway? Those who support Pakistan should go live in Pakistan!

You know zeej, the real loyalty towards one's motherland doesn't come from fighting and dying for it, rather it comes from within. If any foreigner speaks badly of India I immediately want to defend it; make excuses for its actions, even if they are right. I do this automatically. I don't force myself to do it. That is why I am always speaking well of India in front of Pakistanis. Somehow, with Pakistanis I feel more of an Indian than with anyone else; and it is not an external facade of loyalty that I put up in front of you all. The external facade is for the Hindus. With foreigners I really do feel like an Indian, and am even proud to be one! I dunno, but one thing I do know and that is, I would never like to be called a Pakistani, ever. Only India and Indian for me, I don't even like Hindustan, it is "Oh Darling yeh hai India!" for me.

When my brother had gone for Hajj last year, he met some Pathans who asked him the trangest questions. He came away feeling that Pathans and Sardarjis were very much alike! They asked: "Are you allowed to carry guns?", "Are you allowed to pray?", "Is there a 'huqumat' in India?" etc. etc. Let me tell you this, Muslims in India have no less freedom then Muslims in Pakistan. We are \\*not\\* oppressed like Muslims are in Israel. Provoked? Yes. Oppressed? No.

And then, who said minorities in Pakistan are the happiest people? We have all heard of what happened to Iqbal Masih, although I'm sure he'll be happier in Germany than he ever was in Pakistan! I have yet to meet an Indian christian with the name "Iqbal". Those who left everything they had and migrated to Pakistan 50 years ago are still referred to as "mohajirs" and treated as second-class citizens.

You know zeej, ever since I was a small child I have always liked to believe ... No.. I have always KNOWN that India is a secular country. That India is \\*not\\* a Hindu country. I always scoffed at those who called India a Hindu country. It always pleased me to know that when India was partitioned Pakistan became a Muslim country while India chose to be a secular country with no official religion. When I was in school and read in the text-books that "India is my country and all Indians, irrespective of their religion, are my brothers and sisters". I really believed in that, I still do. I have never been made to feel like a minority here. Of course, when a person is so used to sleeping on the hard floor he does not know what a soft bed feels like! Since I have always been a "minority" I don't know what it feels like to be in majority. I guess I won't find it too difficult to adjust in the US. Perhaps it was just as well that I was living in Bombay, Ahmedabad has been prone to riots as long as I can remember. I was always proud of the cosmopolitan structure of Bombay. Here it was not unusual for a Hindu to greet a Muslim with an "Assalam-u-alaykum".

The biggest and most powerful dons of India were from Bombay, and were Muslims. There was Karim Lala (his was the Pathan gang), Haji Mastan and of course the Big D, Dawood Ibrahim. Bombay, especially south Bombay (not far from where I live) has a huge population of Muslims. There are some areas like Bhendi Bazar, Dongri, Nagpada, Madanpura, which I am sure are not much different from any place in Pakistan. Only Muslims can be seen all around. I suppose a certain degree of ghettoism occurs among all minorities, but Muslims in Bombay are quite powerful and well-mixed with the majority. The area where I live has many Muslims, too. I went to a Jesuit school )St. Mary's High School) where half the students and teachers were Muslims. Due to all these reasons I have never felt like a minority and had no reason to hate the Hindus.

Then in 1989 riots broke out (once again) in Ahmedabad. It was a consequence of L.K. Advani's "Rath-yatra". These riots were different. For the first time we were affected; my family, I mean. You remember, I told you about my mom's eldest brother? The one whose son was murdered? He had two sons, Anees and Umar. Umar was not yet born, when his father died. He was the best guy I have ever known. If there is any definition for innocent, it was Umar. He was the most pious amongst all my cousins, and never did I hear a bad word from him about anyone. Well, on that fateful day in June 1989 his house was attacked by a mob. There were women in the house who needed to be protected. Anees and Umar saw that the people attacking their house were no other than the people whom they knew as their neighbours, friends with whom they had played cricket.

They decided that the only way to protect the women-folk was to go out and try to reason with them, and if that failed, to fight it out. They did go out. Anees was badly injured, but survived. And umar ..... he was burnt to death. His body thrown into a gutter. He was 18.

I guess I'll continue this letter later.

Well, from that day onwards, my whole family (including myself) became blatantly anti-Hindu. It was always "us" and "them". We hated them, and the police too, who had failed to gather any evidence. The killers got off scot-free. In any riots that followed it was always how many Hindus died? compared to how many Muslims died. More dead Hindus was always more satisfying. In my eyes they were all killers, deserving to die.

Then came 6th December 1992. The Muslims of India got the rudest shock. The Babri Masjid was demolished. It was the greatest betrayal. The congress government was in power. The congress that had always been a friend of the Muslims had failed to protect a structure. How would it protect the muslims? I cried that day. I heard everyone say the same thing, again and again, that India was no longer a secular country. India was a \\*Hindu\\* country, now.

The very next day the Muslims of Bombay revolted. It was the only outlet under the extreme provocation we had been subjected to. Dozens of policemen were killed and scores of Hindu shops in Muslim areas were burned and destroyed. The police reacted in the only way it can, shooting people as it willed. Those who fell to their bullets were not only rioters; there were pregnant women, women hanging clothes in the balcony, small chidren and imams of mosques. All innocent people. In a week the riots of Bombay had abated, but they started in Surat. The Muslims in Surat are not as strong as in Bombay. They couldn't even fight back. Hundreds were killed by murderous mobs, in the most horrible ways. Women were raped, and it was all videotaped. Reading about it in the newspapers, to me the Hindus represented a race worse than animals.

Exactly a month after December 6th., on January 7th. 1993, riots started in Bombay once again. The worst in its' history. Muslims were angry because of Surat. Hindus were angry because of the earlier riots. There was too much hatred on both sides. It lasted for a week. You have been through war zeej, but have you ever known what it is like to be in the middle of a battle-field?

That's exactly like how it was here. I used to go home (on the 18th floor) only once in a while. To show my face or see if there was anything to eat. The rest of the time was spent on the grounds with the other youths of the building. We were worried. What if we were attacked? Such a tall building would go up in flames in no time at all, a virtual death trap for everyone inside!

Though the much awaited, the attack never took place, we were totally prepared for anything. At night the sky over Bombay would seem to be glowing with light. From the terrace of the building it seemed as if the whole of Bombay was burning. There were huge fires here and there. Hindu places being burned in Muslim areas, and vice versa. The crack of bullets being fired would continue unabated throughout the night. Then after 7 days things seemed to quieten down a little. People started venturing out of their houses. My dad went out too. Why? I dunno. My mom tried to stop him, but he went. He was attacked by some Hindus. The police, standing a mere 50 meters away were mute observers. It was a Sikh soldier who finally took him to the hospital. He suffered fractures in the head and hands, but he was all-right. Anyway, that made me despise the police even more. They are disgusting people and I hate them.

Anyway, after the riots, the Hindus referred to them with pride; as if it was some kind of a "victory". Two months later Ramzan began. It was March 12th, the last friday of Ramzan, Alvida Jumma, I was in the mosque and soon after the prayers ended, I heard a loud noise. I casually walked out and asked what had happened. Someone said that a bomb had exploded in the stock-exchange. I walked a little further and came to Bombay hospital, one of the largest hospitals in Bombay. The flow of the dead and injured had just started. The injured were taken straight in. But there was no place for the dead, they were left at the gates for the time being. There was blood everywhere.. streams of blood.. and I saw it all with my own eyes. One body that was brought in was burnt black, and completely naked except for a leather belt around his waist. That was the only apparel that did not evaporate due to the heat of the blast. As I headed home I saw a little child in the arms of his father, blood streaming down their faces. Then there was another loud bang. That was the Air India building basement blowing up. I reached home and was in the middle of telling my story to my family, when there was another \\*really\\* loud explosion.

That was a crowded bus blowing up near Worli. In all there were more than 10 blasts within two hours, coinciding with the Jumma prayers. In all, 400 people died. Not a single Muslim died. It was the worst urban terrorist strike in history. It was like 'manaa' to our injured psyche. There was no more talk about the "victory of riots" and "teaching 'them' (us) a lesson". They knew now that Muslims couldn't be messed with!

Although the blasts were very satisfying, all the gory scenes I saw DID leave an impression on me. Those that died were probably as innocent as the Muslims who were killed earlier. If the Hindus decided to retaliate, it would go on and on forever. Having stared at death and violence in the face, my thirst for blood was quenched. I realised that mindless and senseless killing did not serve anybodys' purpose. A few weeks later a Hindu professor who had heard of the incident regarding my father, talked to me about it. He said that neither Hinduism nor Islam preached hatred, bigotry and killing. Those who did such deeds were neither Hindus nor Muslims. They were simply insane people who got a rush from seeing others die and see their properties destroyed. Such people he said, were used as puppets by politicians, to serve their own purpose. Politicians, whose only job is to change names of places, place wreaths on people long dead and consolidate their vote-banks. They are useless, worthless, corrupt people, with loose morals. I hate politicians! (Oh allright, for you zeej, just for You, I'll change that to \\*indian\\* politicians!) As for the Hindus, we must remember that the Taliban claim to follow Islam. So are ALL Muslims like the Taliban? I think NOT!

Anyway, all this did a lot to assuage my feelings; and time being the greatest healer, soon every thing was forgotten and forgiven; but the Congress was completely routed in the next elections. We could tolerate direct animosity, but stabbing in the back and all their pseudo talk about secularism we could not!

So you see, choccy wasn't always gentle and harmless. He has had his moments of insanity too! But you will have to agree that they were under extreme provocation and duress and he is normal now, and intends to stay that way. I wouldn't have been so graphic in my accounts, but then how else would you have been able to empathize? I'm sure this letter must sound very confusing. But then, I AM confused by the ambivalence of my feelings. I don't think I ever wrote such a long letter before in my whole life. Even that "longest letter" that I wrote is miniscule in comparison to this one, as is YOUR longest letter, for that matter. That letter I wrote in just one sitting within a couple of hours. This one took me 2 days. I would squeeze in an hour or two, now and then.

Well it's Sunday today, and I hope you are having a great time in whichever 'gali' you are in. It's Maghrib and I'm off to pray.

choccy.



Epilogue:

My gentle, good, kind 'choccy' died soon after, in a motor-cycle accident. He died at midnight 14th. August 1997, while the two countries he loved and hated rejoiced.


originally Published on June 29, 2000
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