This is one of those weeks in the Indian subcontinent when you remember the title of Anita Desai’s book, ‘Fasting, Feasting,’ if not the book itself. On August 13, India celebrated Raksha Bandhan, the Hindu festival of sibling affection, of a brother’s undying promise to protect his sister — for a second here, we’ll hit the pause button on so-called honour feuds as well as gender equality.
On August 14, Pakistan marked its 65th independence day, with India following a day later, on August 15. Like every year, the Indian prime minister read out his report card to the nation, from his perch atop Red Fort. It’s a version of the “tryst with destiny” speech that Jawaharlal Nehru made to India in 1947, three days after Jinnah did his own.
Meanwhile, the days are devoted to fasting to mark the month-long period of Ramazan, and equally, the nights given over to convivial camaraderie. As the sun sets over the Jama Masjid and families break their fast on the sandstone ramparts, the old city of Delhi comes alive. Karim’s, is of course, the best-known upscale dhaba in these parts, but ‘Jawahar’ next door — named in honour of India’s first prime minister — has some of the best naan the city can bake.
There’s Aslam Chicken Corner down the road in Matia Mahal, a tiny hole-in-the-wall outlet where the chicken tikka, melting in Amul butter, is, to borrow my daughter’s lingo, totally awesome.
The Metro to Chawri Bazaar and Chandni Chowk — evidently, the Delhi Metro holds the world record for building so low underground with such a concentration of population above — has been there for some years, but it never fails to boggle the mind. There’s an intensity to the passenger traffic in the old city you don’t see anywhere else in Delhi, and during Ramazan evenings, you can almost touch the joy.
And as for the burqa bling, well, I guess if you have rhinestones that size, you may as well flaunt them.
The ecstasy and agony of this week is underscored by the National Day of Mourning in Bangladesh, on August 15, in memory of the assassination of Bangabandhu Mujibur Rahman in 1975. Flags will fly at half-mast all across that country that day and the Awami League has requested that opposition leader Khaleda Zia refrain from celebrating her birthday, which, incidentally, falls on that day as well.
Clearly, Mujib’s killers had a sense of history, considering they assassinated him on India’s independence day. Five of the assassins were hanged in January 2010 by the government of Mujib’s daughter, Sheikh Hasina, but six are still hiding in different parts of the world. Meanwhile, Khaleda’s party has accused Hasina of beginning a ‘show trial’ last week of those accused of war crimes in 1971. (The first man in court was a leader of the Jamiat-i-Islami.)
Should Hasina carry on with the trials, demanded by thousands of Bangladeshis seeking closure for atrocities committed against them during their war for independence? Three million people died, say the Bangladeshis. Or should the Bangladesh prime minister put a firm lid on the past, and not allow old wounds to fester?
Perhaps it’s time for the subcontinent also to do some introspection this week. The markers are all there, in the celebration of national milestones. Question is, are we victims or victors of our own history?
Published in The Express Tribune, August 16th, 2011.
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