Archive for April, 2008

I guess it’s official now. Imagining national identity may not be my next published book. But, it’s definitely going to be my next project.

I met Sage’s Senior Commissioning Editor yesterday over a cup of tea at Koshy’s. By some strange twist of fate, we ended up sitting at the same where I signed my contract with Jamuna for Ginger Soda Lemon Pop. Like with Jamuna, I felt like I was meeting a friend and a guide, not a publisher.

As things stand, I need to work on my manuscript a little more. I’ll be raising the word count from 15,000 words to 50,000 words, and return the manuscript to her by August. After this, there’ll be a peer review. Based on the outcome of the peer review (both the comments and my response), they will decide on whether they will publish the book. If all goes well, my book should be published a year after I submit my manuscript.

I know that this can’t be called a beginning as of yet. Still, I am excited. I can’t wait to shape Imagining national identity into my next completed book.

Almost five years ago, around about July 2003, I was in a bit of a quandary. After close to over nine months in the UK to do my Master’s at the LSE, I’d returned to India, where I was to complete my dissertation and mail it back to the LSE.

But the year in the UK had been really hard on me and I’d exhausted all my finances. I was returning to India with no savings, no family to back me up and the prospect of having to start in the job market from scratch. In retrospect, it should have seemed like a daunting task. But, it did not occur to me then.

Needless to say, I applied myself to finding a job, rather than completing my dissertation. The job happened soon after, and I found myself traveling to Ahmedabad on a short-lived assignment. Here, between adjusting to a new job and city, my dissertation was brought into shape as I worked into the early hours of the morning on my roommates’ computer. And in this way, “Imagining National Identity” was dispatched to the LSE.

But, I still had a problem. Thanks to all the turmoil in my personal life, “Imagining National Identity” was posted almost a month after the submission date. LSE wrote back to enquire on the reasons for this.

After a bit of a battle within myself and a phone call to confer with Anamika in Bangalore, I decided to tell them the truth (as flimsy as an excuse as it made) rather than blame the Indian postal system, even if it cost me my Master’s and the struggle that went with it.

As it turned out, the LSE accepted my explanation and I was awarded a Master’s. Of course, at 69% my thesis was awarded a Merit. It had missed a Distinction by 1%.

But now, the story might no longer end there. Today, Sage Publications expressed interest in publishing my dissertation. I am also to meet their Senior Commissioning Editor over the next week to discuss this further. And this could just become my next published book after Ginger Soda Lemon Pop.

So, keep your fingers crossed for me. The darkest hours of my life might just turn full circle 🙂

Khuda Ke liye

Posted: April 9, 2008 in Cinema
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Sometime ago, Shabana Azmi was speaking on the increasing radicalisation of Islam and she said… “The fight today cannot be between the Christian and the Muslim, the fight cannot be between the Hindu and the Muslim—the fight needs to be between ideologies—the ideologies of the liberal versus the ideologies of the extremist. The liberal Muslim, Christian, Hindu on the same side against the extremist Muslim, Christian, Hindu on the other”.

Watching Khuda ke Liye reaffirmed that for me.

The film, narrated against the landscape of Pakistan, Afghanistan, the UK and the USA, is story of three Pakistani Muslims caught in the crossfire between the extremism and fundamentalism, which has become a part of the twenty-first century existence. While doing this, it raises important questions on the real meaning of Islam. Many of these dialogues have been given to Maulana Wali (played by Naseeruddin Shah) – the voice of liberal Islamic scholarship in the film.

I searched for some of those dialogues on the Web… And here are two that I particularly liked… “Deen mein dadi hai, dadi mein deen nahin”… Religion mentions a beard, but religion is not in a beard… “Haraam ki kamai jeb me rakhkar, halal ghosht ki dukaan dhoondhte hain” (People look for Halal meat shops with inappropriate earnings in their pocket)… And so he continues…

It is true that the film has its cinematic flaws. But from a socio-economic perspective, it is probably the most relevant film made in recent times on the subcontinent. The mammoth sized Hindi film industry should probably feel suitably sheepish that the international film that poses the most relevant questions in a post 9/11 world comes from across the border.

Another interesting thing about the film was the ease with which the director moved between the sub-continent and international landscape. The west was not merely stamped with a ‘promiscuous’ or ‘gora’ identity as it is in so many Indian films. Instead, it was shown as being very human – with all the black, white and grey that goes with it.

There were also universal themes, which always succeeded in striking a chord.

As the two protagonists struggled against more traditional mindsets within their community to be musicians, I couldn’t help thinking that their battle is not dissimilar to that faced by moderates/liberals from other communities. As someone who grow up in a Christian home, it was common to have to resist voices that told you that music, dancing and films were corrupting influences that were brought to you by the devil (Yes…surprise, surprise… Contrary to the projection of Indian Christians in most Hindi films… Most churches have historically spoken against all three.) Yet, for some reason, when Islamic clerics mouth the same tune as their Christian counterparts, it is viewed to be very medieval. Can we not see that it is extremism that is medieval, not religious beliefs?

It is for all these reasons that I would recommend Khuda ke Liya. It makes you think about some of the most burning issues of our times, without ever boring you. That’s more than most of the brilliant films of our times can claim.