Mosaic of Indian Muslim Culture

The last two essays explored Guru Nanak in poetry of legendary Urdu Scholars along with the literary review of Gita in Urdu & Persian from days of Faizi up to recent publication from India & Pakistan.

A readers Review: But You Don’t Look Like A Muslim

Cover page of the book

Chaman me ikhtilat-e-rang-o-bu se baat banti nahi
Hum hi hum hain to kya hum hain tum hi tum ho to kya tum ho

It is the intermingling of the color & fragrances that makes a garden
If there is only us there can be no us & there can be no you if there is only you.(Author’s translation)

(Sarshar Sailani)

But you don’t look like a Muslim, authored by Dr. Rakhshanda Jalil & published by Harper Collins, India in May 2019. This book is a collection of forty essays divided in four contextual sections or themes. The essays covered author’s memoirs, anecdotes, critical reflections & reviews on Urdu literature. Before the text commence you will find a contextual verse of Sailani with dedication note of the work by author to her late father, Dr. Abdul Jalil Sahab. The section “the politics of identities” started with the journey of her late father from the mufassil town of Tarai plains of Himalayas to Delhi in the backdrop of partition politics & demographic shift.

Moving from the collective memoirs focused on the identities, the book moved to the cultural essays, exploring the lesser known facets of Urdu from the days of Khusru to the recent past of golden days when “Jay Siya Ram” was a common greetings in a practicing Muslims. The mosaics of literature concluded on the essay on the facets of unfortunate event i.e., partition in Urdu. Here the narratives of Batwara vs Azadi were explored. The last theme “Rubric of Religion” composed of essays starting from Chand Raat, Muharram, Shabe Qadr to Janmashtami, Holi, Bada Din, & Diwali. The last two essays explored Guru Nanak in poetry of legendary Urdu Scholars along with the literary review of Gita in Urdu & Persian from days of Faizi up to recent publication from India & Pakistan. Collecting a diverse essays in one manuscript with such a contextual title define the sociocultural history of Indian Muslims. The separate themes connected with each other by key word of “Identity” with blend of Urdu poetry & its translations is a reflection of authors long writing journey as a foremost literary historians. In the days when we find the hate mongering is used as a tool for the majoritarian regime to assert the power, the book explores in depth the rich flavors of Urdu poetry centered around Krishna & Ram as an Imame Hind.

Maslak-i-ishq hai parastish-i-husn
Hum nahin jaante aazab-o-sawaab

Hasrat Mohani

The identity of Indian Muslims that was evolved as an outcome of centuries old syncretic fusion & cultural exchanges has been central to the manuscript. On the other hand when neo-puritan ideologies finds the larger space in elite Indian Muslims in recent days, the authors memoirs on Muharram, & Eid Maulid gave a rich overview to readers with its cultural context in Indian Subcontinent. The starting essay described the preference of her late father. Dr. Jalil, a young medical graduate from an esteemed medical school who had chosen India over the so called promised land of Muslims. His home town located in lap of Himalayas in fertile plains of Tarai faced bloody riots with changing demographic shift due to influx of Hindu immigrants from Punjab & Sindh. He preferred to raise his children’s in land of Nanak & Chishti instead of availing opportunities that were easily accessible to educated middle class Urdu speakers in the newly created state on line of religions.

Biswin Sadi: Vivid narratives of lost time

Cover page of book

A readers review by Rehan Asad

Biswin Sadi Memoirs, growing up in Delhi during the 1960s & 70s, authored by Jamil Urfi & published by Cinnamon teal. A must-read account for all those who want to recollect the lost time of Indian capital along with a few small cities of Uttarpradesh. The author, Abdul Jamil Urfi was born in 1960 at Aligarh as the eldest child of Dr. Abdul Jalil & Mrs. Mehajabeen Jalil. When he reached the age of seven, his family was relocated to Delhi (1967) in the upper-middle-class township of East Nizamuddin. In those days the locality was widely inhabited by the immigrant Punjabi community who came from Pakistan following the partition.

From the founder of the famous Urdu magazine “Biswin Sadi” Khustar Girami up to Andrews family, he provides a detailed description of the sociocultural dynamics of his diverse neighborhood. The narratives give insights on communal harmony , tolerance & cultural vibrancy of Nizamuddin East. A full chapter recollects authors nostalgia of the festivities celebrations, nikah ceremony of his sisters toy dolls, bhole bisre geet & ever popular BBC Urdu broadcasting.

The Urdu speakers are still sensitive with the Sheen Qaaf of language. The author has explained the feelings of Sheen Qaaf with hilarious real-life examples. While working in middle eastern country, I observed antipathy among Pakistani Punjabi colleagues against Urdu speaking community. One of the reasons might be linguistic chauvinism asserted by elite Urdu speaking bureaucrats during founding years.

The part of the book discussed the ancestral accounts of his family focusing on fine biographical details of late Prof. Ale Ahmad Suroor, a literary Urdu legend of modern ages & his late father Dr. Abdul Jalil. The chapter convented education reflects an upper-middle-class educational stratification that still echoes in our North Indian social fabric. In the early nineties, I would recall, the Minto- Circle (AMU) was filled by students from diverse North Indian schools in a race for availing internal quota of University. The big cities Anglo-Indian students tried to assert superiority over the public school while the poor chaps like me coming from small towns & cities convents filled the bottom of strata. While in the west, a major transformation happened in educational models in the last half-century. The educated middle-class mindset still affiliates success with certain so-called esteemed professions measuring it with yards of ranks & quantification of marks. The author gave a clear articulation of this mindset connecting it with his real-life accounts, precisely the notion of imposing career selection by father.

One of my ex Canadian colleague who was born as the son of Canadian minister had chosen physiotherapy as a profession in the early seventies. His British wife who was working as a nurse in Riyadh from the last twenty years was the daughter of Medical Professor & consultant of Pathology. Even forty years later, no one from a family of privilege medical fraternity in our stratified society would able to accept their children in these roles. Such discriminative mindset has evolved with our robust colonial education system & layered social orders. From the last two years, I saw twitter handle with name “90s kid” catching nostalgia by sharing of past ads, popular desi comics, Ghulam Ali Ghazals, & Jaspal Bhatti shows. Sometimes it catches lost days of Doordarshan.

Born at the end of the seventies, I could say that not much has changed then in eighties & nineties except the vanishing landscape of Urdu world. In the early 90s, two of my friends were disqualified in mintocircle entrance exam at AMU, Aligarh as they were not able to pass in elementary Urdu. The small cities convent school in those days don’t have Urdu as the third language. In early childhood, I saw old Madhoramji (The owner of city’s oldest Kirana shop at Pilibhit ) attired in Nehru topi, kurta & dhoti writing his customer’s orders in perfect Urdu. It was the biggest surprise for me at that tender age when in school, it was considered a Quranic language. Madhoram Ji passed in 2001 at the age of ninety-four & now his grandson sits on the same mat writing memos in Devanagari script.

Like other places, the author’s description of Pilibhit as one of the Mufassil towns has also been changed with time. The beautiful gateways of Drummond Ganj became ruins in the last forty years. The ornamental beauty of Bareilly Darwaza that existed much closer to his ancestors home has lost long ago. The naked lakhori bricks of Darwaza devoid of plaster are waiting for their sad demise. The much-revered Shahji Miyan was pir of my mother’s grandfather, Sheikh Haji Nisar Ahmad. A boorish middle-class village zamindar who paid a humble visit on every Thursday to his pir in the late 19th century when carts & horses covered countryside distances. Almost 125 yrs later many of his fourth & fifth generation descendants are in Karachi, Toronto, & other South Asian hubs of USA & Canada. During childhood Ammi proudly told us, it was a blessing of saint who once said, Nisar Ahamd “teri naslen puri duniya me phailengi”. Then I used to asked her : “what about those descendants who were struggling with poverty in village life after the abolition of zamindari”.

Bareilly Darwaza that stood close to authors grandfather home at Pilibhit. Pic by Rehan Asad


So Aligarh was Alma mater of mine & my father both. I stayed their for seventeen year & also listened stories from Abbu during childhood days. Just yesterday Abbu told me that in those days Shibli road was also residence of Prof. Mukhtar Uddin Arzu (Arabic), Rashid Ahmad Siddiqui & his provost Prof. Aulad Ahamd Siddiqui in addition to Prof. Ale Ahmad Suroor.
The authors eloquently written passages of by gone days connecting it with global political changes, usage of verbatim Urdu words, sandwiching of Bollywood accounts & poetic verses added a rigor to manuscript. A nicely written memoir touching multiple dimensions of a upper middle class Muslim boy who was privileged to be a grandson of literary parents & grandparents. In many ways, the account will fill you with nostalgia of by gone days that most of my generation had heard from our parents. As an educator himself he gave a critical & valuable insights that can be seen in many sections such as convented education & rites of passage.

The passages of bygone days connected with global political changes, usage of verbatim Urdu words, sandwiching of Bollywood accounts & poetic verses added rigor to the memoir. A nicely written memoir of an upper-middle-class Muslim boy who was privileged to be a grandson of literary parents & grandparents. In many ways, the account will fill you with the nostalgia of bygone days that most of my generation had heard from our parents. As an educator himself, he gave a critical & valuable insight that can be seen in many sections such as convented education & rites of passage.