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The philosopher Thomas Nagel once wrote an essay called What Is It Like to Be About the SAT deals with the nature of consciousness. It's deep and nuanced and influential and controversial and might take away from it. When I first read it as a kid was that no matter how much knowledge we gather, we cannot really know what it is like to be about bats navigate the world through something called echolocation.


In other words, they use sound to see. Now we can understand this at an intellectual level using the laws of physics and so on, but we can't actually get inside the head of a bat. And why only look at other species? I would argue that despite being wired for empathy, it is hard for any one human to know what it is to be someone else. For example, I'm a man, and no matter how much knowledge or empathy I have, I can't truly know what it is like to be a woman to carry that extra layer of awareness.


Every time I enter a lift or walk on the street at night or just sense someone's intrusive gaze on me, those extra layers would shape everything else about me.


They wouldn't be me. And that's the whole point. And this is not just across gender. One of my favorite novelists, Short Semino, once said that the biggest tragedy in the world was that communication, complete communication, is impossible between any two people in this world. Maybe we can never truly know other people who remain characters in the ground play in our head. Maybe we can never even know our sense because we are wired to be self-delusion. But before I go too far down that road, let me come to the question that sparked my desire to record this episode for someone born a Hindu in India.


Is it possible to truly know what it is like to be born a Muslim?


Welcome to the Scene and The Unseen, our weekly podcast on economics, politics and behavioral science. Please welcome your host, Amit Varma. Welcome to the scene in The Unseen. My guest today is Kosala Wahhab, author of the book Born a Muslim Some Truths about Islam in India. I love this book. I learned a lot from it, and I recommend all of you read it as well. This book contains multitudes. It is both personal and memoir, as well as a scholarly history of Islam in India.


Through the centuries, it covers a different roots. Islam took through India from trade and travel to conquest. It covers a different influences within Islam, from the Arabic to the Persian. It looks at the humanizing influence of the Sufis, as well as a polarizing effect of the radical sects that later emerged inspired by Wahhabism. It shows us how a series of events drove Muslims in India away from the mainstream and how their politics was often so disconnected from their social reality.


Most of all, it shows us the insecurity that Muslims feel in India today and the vicious circle of mistrust and animosity that we seem to be trapped within. But there is also much in this book to take hope from. This conversation covers a lot of ground, and the first 90 minutes or so until the break are about Gonzalo's personal journey, in a sense mimicking the structure of the book. I always begin my episodes by chatting about my guests life so far, and I find it as fascinating as whatever subject we may be discussing.


I may never know what it is like to be a bat, but it's a lovely feeling to get a sense of how someone else has been shaped. If I could say to everyone I met, let me walk for a moment in your shoes, and if they let me do that, I would be so lucky. So I always love this first portion. But if you want to get to the part of the show where we talk about the history of Islam, well, then that begins after the first break at around the 90 minute mark.


But he just listened to the full thing. Before I do, let's take a quick commercial break. One of the great tragedies of my life is that I had such bad math teachers in school for that reason, I never got down on the math till I was an adult and fell in love with it while writing about economics and playing poker for a living. But oh my God, Matt is so much fun. That's why I have an online course to recommend to you head on over to the sponsors of this episode, the great courses plus at the great courses plus dot com and check out a course called The Joy of Mathematics by 830 Benjamin over twenty four lectures.


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Thank you so much. Such a pleasure to be here. I love reading your book, Born a Muslim. And, you know, one of the sort of things I really liked about it is how it's such an organic mix of the personal and the sociopolitical that, you know, through the story of your own life, in a sense, and your experiences, you are also tracing the history of Islam in India, how it's kind of evolved through the decades.


And you know what it's like to be Muslim in India today, all of which taught me a lot. But Will. Well, let's begin this. As you begin your book, you begin your book with this wonderful introduction, which to me was worth the price of the book alone, which is like this long personal essay which talks about your growing up years and all of that. But, you know, even before that. Tell me a little bit about the young Azhar as a kid.


You know, where did you grow up? What kind of person were you and what were your early influences? What would you read a film into some of that?


I grew up in a small Muslim dominated Manlove Agra. We were a large family living in a very small house. So there were always so many people and bookshelves. And so we had to share rooms. So it was understood that girls would be sharing bedrooms with their arms and boys would be sharing with their uncles. And there was never enough space for the kids to be. And it was a joint family, my grandfather had 11 kids, six sons and actually seven sons and four daughters, one of his sons died early.


So and I grew up with a lot of cousins at home and we were not allowed to step out of the house because both my grandfather and my father and his younger siblings felt that they wanted to give us a different kind of life as opposed to our neighborhood. Our neighborhood was so. A largely lower middle class and most of the people were employed in some sort of a family low level business. So a lot of people were underemployed because all of them were doing the same thing.


So the kids also didn't go to the best of schools. A lot of kids didn't go to school. So my family, an extended family, they wanted something different for their children. They all went to English medium school. I went to a convent school. So to prevent us from stepping out of the house unescorted, out to mingle with the other kids, we used to be told very fanciful stories about if you go out, somebody would be sitting there and he'll be kidnapped or somebody will do some sort of black magic.


And we turn into something else so that living outside the house was always full of dangerous possibilities. And I was not a very brave child, so I was happy staying inside. So for us, our play area used to be the rooftop where we would spend most of our time. But because I was not a very athletic child, I had I was prone to falling very often and hurting myself, especially my ankles. So I was not heavily into a lot of physical games that my other cousins would play.


And I got bored interested because we didn't have any technology, no television at all. So we I drifted into reading and I had this huge desire to just to read because it was so entertaining that I used to read anything I could lay my hands on. I would read the newspaper, whatever I could make of it. I would read textbooks of my younger aunts and my uncles. I would read that salacious magazines that my uncle was subscribing to and the magazine called One Over Gania.


So whatever I could figure out or make or face, I used to hide in some corner of the house. Most of the time it used to be below the staircase because nobody would be able to see me that. So I would just sit there and read or maybe go to the rooftop with everybody else. And while the other kids would be playing, I would sit with one of the books in the corner. Came to such a bastard. My mother was very worried about me, about what kind of stuff I was reading.


So if I was found with something in my hand, she would immediately confiscate and check what I was doing because I would just pick up anything randomly and stop reading. And along with that, I also developed sort of a desire that I also want to write what I was reading. I should be able to produce something like this. So writing happened concurrently. It was so earlier I couldn't write to prose or something, so I would be appealing to some poetry and.


So all this was going on. Finally, I started writing or thinking about writing a little more seriously when my father once asked me to write something to come to Delhi very frequently because my father was an exporter and a lot of business associates and he used to export to the State Trading Corporation. So the office was in Delhi. So he had to come to to meet the bureaucrats, the government officials that. So often we used to come with him because it was not a long journey to just take about four to five US ambassador.


So we used to come here, and that's when sometimes you would go to Balika Bazaar and pick up something from Hingley, a swift a little to English, you know, kids magazines like Dinkle or those very basic stuff like that. So one of on a journey back to Agra duty. After one such trip, there was a huge procession and we had to take a detour from the main road. And we went to the old city to come to our house in the mohalla.


And I saw a huge procession, the moving with the statue. And I asked my father what it was. So he explained to me that was the good doctor and the statue and the procession was being led by his followers and it taking it for what it did outside the agoraphobe. They were setting it up that they had built a small park they had with the statue was to be set up. And then obviously I was curious, who'd Opteron?


Because we dormi the entire story of his life, how he was allowed cos he had to sit outside the classroom and how despite all that, because he was so diligent, he worked so hard, he became such a huge personality that he actually wrote the Constitution. I mean he told me he wrote the Constitution much later that you realize what he did. So once he told me, asked me to write it down for him to see if I understand correctly.


And over the next three days, I wrote whatever I remember. Very haphazard sort of English, because English was not my first language and we also didn't speak English at home, so whatever language, I knew what I needed from the school. So I wrote it down in 15 sentences and showed it to my father. He was very happy. That encouraged me a lot. I thought I have some potential.


As I took a few days later, there was this incident of two gangsters, one guy and kidnapping these siblings of the sun and guitar. And this was all over the newspapers. We used to get a Motegi little man. And I read the headlines. I read a little bit of the news, and I asked my father what this incident was about. So he explained it to me. And again, he asked me, why don't you write it down?


So then I wrote it down and I tried to copy the newspaper style of writing. It got me interested, just summarizing what happened and then giving a little detail so that that's how I was writing concurrently as I was reading.


But my reading was not really literature. It was the reading of the papers which are coming home, reading of some three magazines and just whatever I could get my hands on. That was also the time our family was so, you know, moving up the ladder of economic prosperity, so things were gradually changing at home and I saw my access to a lot of things were also improving gradually. Subsequently, we moved from this house to another house that my father was building, and this was the beaver, a nuclear family.


Now, except that my younger uncle had come to stay with us. And here everybody, all of us had our own rooms attached bathrooms, which is a huge luxury. I never imagined something like this, only seen it in hotels. And my father had gone and set up a bad place, bathtubs in each bathroom. So it was, again, a huge luxury and very ambitiously he had to study in this house. I just take you back a little bit.


And my father himself was not a school educated person.


His learning of the languages was also self-taught. And my mother also just did glass and then she got married. So basically, my family was not a very educated family. We came from a working class background despite the fact that endocast is Muslim. Cast your class here. I'd give you a number two from the top. But in terms of education, because my grandfather, his family were quite poor and. Most of them were doctors, and so they it was more important for them to know trade.


So my grandfather knew the trade off of footwear, the upper of the shoe used to do that stitching of the uppers. So that is what he had learned. And my father also suffered like that. He started working in a factory as a person who would go to the airport and then subsequently became a supervisor. And eventually he started his own factory. But his desire to learn and he was very fascinated by English language. So we had approached a monkey in the factory who used to do the accounting of distributable weekly wages.


So he advised my father that one of the easy ways of learning the languages that my father could read or do. So he said, you subscribe to a newspaper and you subscribe to English newspaper. And if they are from the same organization, the news would be identical. So you could read it in Urdu and then you could try and read in English. So he helped my father with the alphabet and my father then started reading me, all of us and Mushroomhead, both of them came from the roof of papers.


So he has own learning. Was it was self tutored. So when we moved to the new house and my father built this study, he had no exposure to literature really, and he had no references as to what he should buy and what he should put in the study. So he used to come to Delhi and he used to make a special trip during the book fair and just pick up books which looked good on books, which had some nice blurb or if somebody recommended to him.


So it was a very eclectic kind of collection and very little fiction there because he obviously thought of his spending so much money on books. The books should give him something in return. I mean, you should be able to learn something.


So it was a lot of history, a lot of modern Indian history authors like Dominic Libet, Larry Collins, because he thought the language was very beautiful, very evocative. They used to buy books in bulk, so we had the full collection of Putin's biography by. I'm forgetting the name of the author now, then the entire collection of Neval Collection of Ghandhi. So that is what the study was. So when I started reading books, it was my introduction was through non-fiction.


So I was reading a lot of historical books. I was reading a lot of biographies. I drifted to fiction much, much later in life.


And I was already 13 or 14 years old when I started reading novels. And by this time. Girls my age had already gone past and and that's to do so, I never really grew up reading them. I probably read one or both of this and that, but I didn't move to other authors. And so and alongside this, I started fancying myself as a poet because I thought that I was introduced to poetry, to my parents. They were heavily into poetry so I couldn't read or do.


But I used to ask my mother if she could read all voices for me or I would ask my father to read all the passages from Mollenard that they hated fucking about his experience in the. So all this you need to do, and I somehow was very attracted to the style of puzzles, and even though I didn't understand a lot of it, I just loved the sound of it. And I used to memorize verses and recite them to myself. So my parents thought that maybe I can be a poet.


So although teacher was appointed and he was also a poet, so he started teaching me to do poetry and I started writing a few verses and although which I thought were very bad. And finally, I realized that I am terrible as a bird, and I was embarrassed of my own bosses, which I wrote. And around that time, I think I came back to English writing and I started writing some sort of a long form of writing, just putting together in a no nonsense ideas which would come to me or sitting in my study looking out of the window.


So I would just write a descriptive essay sort of thing, a short piece just describing that moment. Maybe what helped in this was I was a huge daydreamer. I had never been bored of my own company. I never, ever said this to anybody that I'm getting one. If I had nothing to do, I would just sit idle and daydream and just imagine things happening to me. Imagine things happening around me.


And I could spend hours doing just that and not be bothered at all. So when I started writing a lot of my writing for my trial and error, sort of writing used to be just describing a particular scene that I was either imagining or witnessing. So that is how I was when I was growing up. And I didn't have too many friends. I didn't make too many friends. So I don't want to say that I was lonely or I preferred being on my own.


But I didn't like to be on my own a lot of times. And even if I was with the friends, if I was as I was growing older, I often wanted to just come back and sit in my room and just be on my own. And probably that was one of the reasons because I had my own attached bathroom, likes to spend a lot of time in my bathroom because nobody would disturb me this I would just lock myself in there and sit there for a long time.


So that is what it was. And yet there is so much to unpack there.


And just from sort of what you said right now, there's so much that I want to talk about. Let's kind of, you know, before we get to the personal narrative of how events unfolded around you and your family and all of that, I'd like to start with reading a bit like, first of all, all this makes me very sort of nostalgic because, you know, younger people today don't realize what a joy it was to read anything that you could get your hand on back in those days when you didn't have the Internet and the world of information at your fingertips.


In fact, I think, you know, a defining image for all Indian kids growing up in the 80s would be the one that you described of yourself sitting under the stairs reading one of her, Khania, which is to me, you know, the story of so many people, just sort of in one image. What also kind of strikes me is the multilingual nature of how you were coming up. Like, one thing that I realized is that, you know, being from Ophélie, like I was from a fairly privileged background and doing one sense, it was a restriction in the sense that everything I read was essentially in English.


I read a little bit of Hindi here and there. I did well in school and all that in Hindi, but all my reading was English. Many of the people I later encountered in working life were also people who grew up reading English newspapers, English books, got everything from English and in a certain sense that limited their world view. This is a team of explored with all your guests in episodes. I think it came up when I was chatting with Michael Rahul Verma, both of whom also write in Hindi while growing up.


And no one. Did you feel that being multilingual like this, reading these multiple languages, Hindi or do English, that it kind of vision was broader than see maybe the people you would subsequently work with in journalism or whatever, that you had seen things that they would not have known or expected because many of us English speaking elites are kind of, you know, in a little bubbles and we don't really see the world outside. But you had, of course, through growing up, you had gotten a glimpse of that, but also through languages.


And I'll wait for you to answer this, because that is a related question, which also fascinates me, which has to do with language. But, you know, what's your take on this?


You know, this exposure to different languages? It was not just a question of language. It was a question of different word altogether. Hindi. Well, as I was used to go through the textbooks of my aunt, I became familiar with the writings of Jinto at a very young age, probably even at a time when I was not intelligent enough to grasp the depth of what he was writing. But I could read and I could see a completely different voice or writers like, you know, Hindi versions of Mentor.


Now, it was hugely shocking, his work for a child to be reading that it was really a completely different sort of idiom, a completely different sort of imagery that would conjure up in your head. So I felt that I was exposed to a variety of things, which when I came to Delhi and I was exposed to entirely the English speaking group of friends in my college. And subsequently when I started working, they were not exposed to this. So when I would talk to them, they would be talking about Chekhov and I would go, I had read Chekhov in life.


But to my understanding, I mean, I could relate to that poverty part of it, because I had some that I had seen in poverty. I didn't I was privileged in the sense that by the time I was growing up, my family had no resources. But having read this, I could understand. I could make the connection. Probably another thing I would want to advertise is it's not just the languages in the novels or in the books. It's also the languages of the newspapers.


And I would come back to the newspaper for the simple reason. As a journalist, my exposure to newspaper writing in India has been greater and I have seen how newspapers have evolved in India since the mid eighties onwards. Mid eighties was the time when I was in my teens and I was reading the newspapers on a very regular basis.


I give you a small example.


In the kindie in the 80s, though, probably there was a government directive that if there was a riot or a violent something, the communities would not be identified. So it was all the newspaper reports would say one community has rioted and the second community reacted. Then the police opened fire and four members of one community have. So they would be like that, very vague. I just was curious what these communities, who was the instigator, who started the riot, who were the people killed, but the English newspapers would not put this out, maybe out of the government, although not out of deference for sentiment or whatever.


But the Hindi newspapers were very clever. They were papers like they would say Bosanko, which is majority, and they would set up some kid. So you would know which community has done what. So they were cutting across the government directive in a very clever way, the older newspapers would identify, they would identify the victims by not by the community, but by names. So you knew that in the police fighting David's and that so-and-so have died. So they were actually short-circuiting the government.


So I realized that the English journalism, for the sake of being fair and not instigating more violence or whatever, the principle was only conveying half a story. So as a reference to a particular event, you would not get the correct picture. That is the vernacular would give you in some way, it would appear, managed to convey the actual story. The other thing was that in English journalism, it was said that the reporter should be invisible. You you should not show yourself because that invisibility ensures or if it was meant to ensure some kind of impartiality.


But in the vernacular, writing the reporter would be invisible, but reporters bias would be very, very obvious. So it was when I was growing up, even then in Agra, I was conscious of the fact that this particular reporter, if he's saying this, there is a lot of exaggeration in this report. So you don't have to show yourself, but your bias shows. So when I come to Delhi and I was studying in college and I used to interact with my classmates, I realized that our sensibilities and sensitivity to our environment were very, very different.


For example, another example, this Mondal agitation was at its peak when I joined college and I found that most of my classmates were actually just repeating what probably they had heard at home. And their anger, their rage against the recommendations was not really reflective of what the truth or the history of India has been. So I was amazed that. This sort of privileged overhang go over these people, how much it enables of prejudice, how much it is a factor in encouraging a biased view of your own society.


So I there's another thing because of this exposure to multilingual writing, both in books and newspapers. I also feel that now when everybody talks about Dunga, Germany and people doppelgänger, Germany, a culture of not India, especially you be Bihar and. But of the British people who have not seen this through literature, through writings of a certain period, they assume what the culture would be say. If you quote a few short stories by brinjal, you would realize that it was not just celebrating each of those festivals.


It was not just going to somebody's house on it or the money. It was there was so much of economic interdependence. The characters were organic. But irrespective of religion, characters used to be organic with the stories because that is how a small town of rural India lived. There was so much of social and economic engagement with each other. So now a lot of people when they talk about but we always greeted Muslim friends on it or our Hindu friends, we played with them.


That's just one and probably a superficial part of it. It doesn't really convey the kind of dependence you had on each other, the kind of trust you had on each other. I'm sorry if I'm giving too many examples. Can I give one more example, please?


Please go ahead. There's no such thing as too many examples.


You know, I had met one gentleman in Delhi while I was working on my book, but I had he was from Africa, but so he was narrating the incident of when he was growing up there. His family lived in a village with the majority in the village were not Muslims, and his family was among the two or three Muslim families in that village. But whenever anybody went out of the village to visit somewhere or go on a holiday, irrespective of religion, such was the nature of this person's father that he used to everybody.


Whoever was going would leave the house keys and leave the car. Everything but this family that you please take care of after you get out of our house while you were OK. So that was the level of trust and that was the lived heritage of those people, that community, irrespective of religion. So this is something which you will you know, if you are either from this area or you have the sensibility to see it, even if it's not very obvious.




Again, there's a lot to unpack here. You know, all of these answers of yours are likely to Chinese boxes. You open one layer and there's another layer below that, you know. So before we get to kind of the subject at hand and what you've written about in your book that, you know, I'll just stick one more digression with you. Apology to my listeners, because it's a subject that fascinates me and it, again, has to do with language.


So now I teach this online writing course. And a few months back, you know, one of the girls who was doing that, who had this very sharp way of absorbing things, but the language was a little not quite formed yet. And she kind of came to me with the problem and she said, you know, the thing is, English is not my first language, so I'm having trouble kind of expressing it and what can I do?


And at that point, I remembered, I thought I had discovered called Agatha Christoph like I watched an interview of Jhumpa Lahiri by I Coven. And I link all of these from the show notes. And what Larry had done was her languages are English and Bengali, but she learned Italian from scratch and then she wrote a book in Italian. So as an adult, you're learning a whole new language and you're writing a book.


And so when Tyler asked her about that, she pointed to the example of Agatha Christophe, who essentially, I think during the war shifted as an adult to France from somewhere, maybe Hungary or bit of I don't remember, which shifted to France, learned French at the age of twenty twenty one, and then wrote a series of incredible books in French, a completely new language to her. So I recommended to this the participant in my course said, why don't you try reading Agatha Christie often because her language is very sparse, very powerful and all of that.


And she recently told me a few months after I gave her the record that she won, she loved those books. And to what she started doing was that she started, you know, copying from the book in the sense, writing each sentence again by hand to get a closer sense of what the language was like. And that struck me as something beautiful and inspiring, because what it means is that you're looking at the language with, you know, sort of cigaret and Ozeki, which you otherwise don't, because we people like I take English for granted.


I have to remind myself to be mindful and, you know, good word by word, notice all the little intricacies of it. But because she was kind of knew what she was doing this and it struck me as such a beautiful thing to do. And therefore, I want to ask that, you know, you mentioned that you at one point you were drawn to poetry and it again struck me that, you know, anyone who is, for example.


Exposed to all the water, and partly because you're doing such a beautiful lyrical language, you know, English almost seems like a functional kind of dry language compared to that. So your experience in these different languages, do you think in some ways it shaped the book you write like, you know, everything that you've written is obviously very accomplished. No one can tell that English is sort of an audio for my mother tongue in that sense. So did you ever, during the course of your time, be that kind of attention to language growing up?


Maybe, you know, like everybody, of course, as I get into journalism and writing will pay attention to craft. They learn to edit, they learn to do all of that. But did you feel that there was some, you know, element of looking deeper at the language while you were writing in it? Oh, actually, no.


I think language or writing in English came very naturally to me. I have no idea how even when I was writing grammatically incorrect English, my tenses were beat up. While I was always able to put the imagery that I was thinking what I was looking at on paper when I was in first year college.


Some I think the general elections are announced, and I had gone to Agra and I saw this, so I'm forgetting the name of the candidate helping or somebody I saw and thought of this guy during the campaign. I was driving on the highway and just short of there was a Taliban. These guys were there. So I saw that entourage and I, I just like that image, the visual image it conjured up of people in Vytautas and Tobey's and all those jeopardies just outside that harbor.


And, you know, some guys coming, people coming, touching the feet of this candidate. And so I had stopped at the number 40 and I was watching these things happening there. And it was so fascinating for me that I wrote that scene. And when I came back to college, I was we were sitting with some friends and I was showing it to one of them, and then somehow it went to make US citizens. I don't know how that happened today.


And he was so fascinated. He asked me to come and read it. So I was made to read it out of the class. And I was embarrassed because while I was reading, I realized that there were a lot of mistakes in it. The articles about visiting in some places because I had just written it because it was fascinating. So he told me that, you know, you have a very descriptive way of writing and is think maybe you should pursue this a little more seriously.


And I realized that even though I was probably not as proficient with the grammar of the language, I was able to express myself and maybe use it in a way to describe things and maybe describe them in a manner which gives you a sense of what I had seen. So probably the poetry played a role in this because there is a form in Urdu poetry, which is a descriptive form beyond Urdu. Poetry has a lot of forms. I mean, the most popular Lasalle's Andrew Nussbaum's to some extent.


But then there are other forms. Also, there are forms where you are describing scenes, there are forms where you're exaggerating situations. So it has a variety of forms. So when I was learning the poetry from my teacher, he acquainted me with these forms and I was fascinated that actually poetry is not enough within the poetry. Also, you have this distinguished one from from another. And probably that has some sort of impact on me just describing a situation as it was by going on about describing the bodies, that maybe when I became a journalist, when I joined my first job, it was I mean, my seniors decided that I should get into feature writing because I was more suited for feature writing as opposed to daily news reporting, because news reporting doesn't give you the option of or the luxury of just going off agent and spending so much of a space on building up the situation or building up the story.


So I don't think I had I had a struggle as far as writing was concerned. The struggle part was always trying to cut short my flight of fancy and come to the point that's really fascinating.


And, you know, someday we should do an episode on the different forms of writing and Urdu and all of that. But I suspect if I although this is one of my sort of pet themes, if I continue talking with you about this, my listeners will be that, hey, that's not the subject of the book and get on with it. So, you know, and it's interesting, you just spoke about how when you were in college in the late 80s, when Maduka Mission happened and your classmates approached.


And in the book, you also said something very interesting, which is that none of them asked you anything about yourself, that even if they had their anti-Muslim prejudices and all of that as evident in the politics, you know, you almost wish that they would ask you, what are Muslims like? What is it like to be a Muslim? And they never asked you, which was in contrast to something which, you know, you describe from your schooldays when you write, quote, are their questions cover the entire gamut from genuine curiosity to inherited prejudice.


Why do you fostering Rumsen, do you put meat in all your food? Some questions stemmed from stereotyping. Why don't Muslims bathe every day? And some were downright Ladykillers. How many mothers do you have stopped? Good. And so my question to you is that, you know, on the one hand, you are growing up in a Muslim family, in a Muslim Mahola. At the same time, your family is kind of insulated itself from the street around it, like you describe how, you know, all the rooms would have a window open to the inner courtyard, but none to the outside, because, you know, like you mentioned earlier, you weren't supposed to venture out.


It wasn't safe. It wasn't great. So what was your personal view of Islam as a kid growing up? How big a role did it play in your life and how did you imbibe it? What did it mean to you and what did it mean to the other kids around you, like your cousins and so on? You know, when we were growing up, we were initiated into religion in a very simplistic battle as kids, we were taught the first mob, which is just too late, and that was enough.


Beyond that, there was no formal initiation in terms of learning how to see the animals or learning to read the Koran, which is what happens in most Muslim households. You start learning the alphabet from a very young age, and in a conservative Muslim family, a child is expected to finish the entire reading of the Koran by the time she is seven years old. But in my family, that never happened, not just my immediate siblings, but my cousins also.


We never did that, though. We had a mosque right next to our house. And I grew up listening to the Muslims called from childhood. So, so much so because I had to hear it five times a day and sometimes more than that, because on special occasions they used to be late night prayers as well. And because of it, I knew it by heart. And sometimes as part of our play, we used to do a little bit of play acting.


So one of my cousins would pretend to be the Hafez who would give the call to prayer so he would recite the prayer and we would join in, or so it was all in good fun while he were not initiated into religion, probably because my grandfather himself had a very laid back attitude to Islam. So he was very diligent parties, prayers, and used to go to the mosque whenever he could. He never forced any of his children to do that so his children didn't force.


That gets to do anything. He was left in a very laid back, easy manner. And you decide that whenever you're worried or scared or before going to bed, just recite the coal mine, go to bed. That is a habit I have even today. I recite that before I go to it. But that is how we were introduced to religion. It was only years later when we had moved to a new house and.


We were moving in a different direction from my cousins that my uncles who were in the Mahola, maybe because there was no adult supervision, I mean, they themselves were adults with kids, but maybe because there was no umbrella of moderation, which my grandfather had provided to the family. And then my father, they kind of drifted first into the neighborhood. They made friends in the neighborhood, then the children, the kids, my younger cousins decided playing with the neighborhood kids and then the ultrareligious religious teacher, Hafiz was asked to teach my cousins.


The reason he was asked was also because of the harvest that started to come to our house, because my grandfather's illness and it was thought that his presence would come my grandfather and make us a little less boring.


But despite the presence of a religious teacher in my house, my parents did not encourage us to learn or anything from him, but my cousins started doing that.


So then different in this approach to religion, I think also had a little to do with the time that we were living in. By the late 80s, a lot of social situations had started to become a little vitiated. There was a little consciousness about who you were. The Romney campaign had started a default on Muslims as Bobby had suddenly become a big issue in the newspapers. Used to be full of that in the newspapers would be full of stuff like appeasement of minorities, as they would some kick out.


Got to stick around. So people were becoming a little conscious of their identities.


And maybe this initiation into religion was also a kind of defiance that this is who we are. So I think that is why my OK, there's another thing which I feel because like my father, my uncles were also semiliterate to my father worked on himself and he studied the languages and his aspirations were different from his brothers. My uncles didn't do that. So they remained in their semiliterate in the dominated, Indian dominated world. And as I mentioned earlier, the exposure to our world at that time was to the Hindi newspaper and the old newspapers, and they both had nuance to what's identity.


So while the Hindi newspapers were conscious of its readership, which is a Hindi readership, and imagine that this readership would probably like a story or a bent which favored the Hindu sentiment that all the newspapers, but at the same time working on the Muslim sentiment. So their exposure was getting increasingly sharpened to this sort of writing. Probably that was another reason why they and then subsequently my younger cousins were drifting more and more into Muslimeen, the friends they chose also were traditionally Muslims, so they went to the same schools as I went.


I never had a Muslim friends in one of the reasons why there was hardly any other Muslim child in my class, at least as long as I was in the convent. I was always the only Muslim girl in my class. Subsequently, I moved to educational institution again, a church run institution. There was another Muslim in my class, but somehow I never got along with a Muslim and there was no desire that I should befriend a Muslim person. Similarly, that person also never felt that she should have a Muslim friends.


I had a different group of friends, but my younger cousins, I realized gradually that they used to veer towards Muslims more than any other community for the simple reason that they felt comfortable, but probably voicing their political positions. They felt secure in a Muslim environment. That was also one of the reasons that for a very long time, my uncles didn't shift out of the mall. So they had to shift out that they were not doing well in their businesses, but they had grown comfortable in that.


When I was growing up, we were not comfortable in that, which is why we had kept our house isolated. It was almost like an island in that Paulla. But they had become comfortable. They had become comfortable going and visiting the neighbor's houses and they were happy the neighbors were coming through their houses.


So that was a different. So before I go on to my next question, a quick aside, you know, my favorite sentence in your book is actually, you know, a great example of show don't tell. And it's a lovely sentence about your grandfather, where you wrote, quote, during winter. He used to sell pine nuts during the day so he could reward us with fistfuls of shelled notes in the evening. Stop cold. And it's such a lovely sentence because it tells you so much about the person and his love for his grandkids and all of that.


And I love that. Now, you know, it's interesting that when I was sort of reading about the arc of your family almost through the generations, you talk about how initially, you know, your ancestors were, you know, in a settlement outside our grasp. And then your grandfather married a sailor, as you said, and, you know, wanted to be upwardly mobile, moved to Agra for that reason. But even moving to Agra wasn't the mobility alone.


The mobility had to continue. So even though they had to move into a Mahola, they've kind of kept themselves apart from everything outside. In fact, you know, you describe how that line outside was described to you, escort riddled with poverty, illiteracy, backwardness and unthinkable danger. Stop quote what strikes me, how many Hindus would describe Muslim areas even today? And then for the mobility happens with your nuclear family and a young uncle, you move to a separate place.


And here, what is sort of interesting to me is that you've gotten away from the sort of milieu you've become mobile. Your dad has become very successful and rich and you've moved to, you know, almost out of the ghetto, as it were. And, you know, you're living your individual lives. And at the same time, you described how your other uncles with their families remained back and they kind of got drawn more and more into fundamentalism, in a sense, who opened the doors and the windows and let the lean inside in a metaphorical sense, I suppose.


And that sort of journey is happening. And they also then become more into the religion in terms of those other sort of aspects of it. Like you describe how for you what Islam meant. As you've said, you mentioned how it came to you about riblets, which I found a wonderful phrase in this regard. And you've mentioned how those sort of values, combined with the values of charity that, you know, during the holy month, you do charity, you feed the poor, all of those things.


But your cousins are taking in a sort of more fundamental version in order sort of stockists about this distinction was that when you are 16, your father is giving you prospectuses of universities abroad because he wants you to go outside. And you describe how when you were writing an admissions essay for one of them, one of your cousins in the Maldives, being felicitated for memorizing the entire Koran. And the reason this all of this seemed fascinating to me is that the document that this comes through is an incident where your father realizes that all this still doesn't insulate him from being a Muslim, that in India there is you know, there are still things which can sort of go wrong and all the riches in the world can't save you.


You know, and this, of course, you've described so eloquently in your book about how your house was attacked during the riot. And you dial all the numbers and, you know, your father told you will give you all the numbers said, dial all these numbers. People go outside with stones. And all of your father's, you know, friends did not pick up the phone at that time, did not help. Tell me a little bit about that and sort of the realization that comes out of that, because this is like a deeply poignant story.


This is about, you know, different arcs. You know, you have the people who stayed back in the Mahola, you have the person who has escaped and who thinks that he's beyond all of this. And yet all of you are, in a sense, equally in danger in this indirect way in. So tell me a little bit, which was just what was happening and all of that.


You know, I never thought of myself as a Muslim while I was growing up. Even then, we lived in the Monda. So when I described the need or what I have described Amala, it was not something that I was condemning my own. Even at that time when you were growing up, my family always thought that why do they live like this? What is wrong with them? Why is that? Why are the landscape so dirty? So they wanted to insulate us from what they viewed was the people of a certain kind, not ness, not necessarily Muslim, whatever, Muslims.


All right. But we did not see ourselves as Muslims and we did not see them as Muslims. We just always thought that these people are less civil than we are and they have less ambitions and less of a desire to go beyond what they have inherited from their forefathers. So when we moved to this new era, which in India, it was like these are called colonies. So you move to this Hindu colony. We didn't think at that point that we were the only Muslim in a Hindu colony.


We were not conscious of our Muslim ness and to our neighbor's credit, they also never made us conscious of our Muslim as we got along fabulously with them and my parents were socializing with them. They were used to come to our house and there was a lot of intermingling. In addition to special occasions, it's not that we met each other only on special occasions, it was a daily sort of outing. My brother used to go out to play because now it was not a holiday.


So we were allowed to go up and play and all the playmates for the neighborhood boys. So we were never conscious of the fact that we were different from the rest of them. A small example, so much so that a lot of neighborhood youngsters were older, much older than me. But my younger uncle's age, they used to socialize with them also because my uncle had a card so they could hitch a ride and go for a night out. So that was it was never considered the people not part of this new society that we had embraced.


Then the 80s progressed and the atmospherics had changed so drastically. Oh, it was the first time that I actually became conscious that people were talking of Hindu and Muslim and such a. In such a. Harsh terms, my mother was into a lot of social work, my father was a big philanthropist, so she used to go to a lot of public functions and events.


I remember sometimes in eighty eight or eighty nine probably don't know. Not exactly. There was a big police function in Agra and my mother was invited to that function as one of the delegates, some attendees that my mother used to work with, the Agra District Jail people, and she was doing some work, adult literacy with the women, the families of the jail inmates, because at district jail, people, most people who were the prisoners, they were they were serving life sentences.


So the jail had built a small enclosure there for the families and kids to live. So my mother used to but a group of people, she was working in that area. So she was invited to this event, this event. And I tagged along with her because I had nothing better to do and be single. Who was the brother of a single he retired as a DG police yuppy.


He was one of the speakers at the function and the kind of language he used at that event. And the way he spoke, it was beyond shocking. I could not believe that in a public event, all kinds of people are present. Somebody could speak like this and not feel embarrassed, not feel concerned that some people may get hurt or they may feel bad the way you talking about them and the fact that it didn't occur to him that he should not be talking like this.


And then there was a straight student shouting. So every time somebody would say, you're going to say something, I would turn back and see who saying this. But obviously you can see it's a huge crowd. So that was very disturbing. I did not imagine something like this could happen in a public space. I thought probably even people feel like that they would talk about this inside their homes and to be mindful that nobody else is even in my own family, extended family, I used to hear things like that.


All of us are prejudiced. We kind of inherited prejudices. So people talk. I mean, my family members would often talk about Hindus or Christians or Sikhs in a particular manner, but it would always be inside the house and it was always among the close family members. It was not meant for public consumption. But here this was being said loud and clear in our event that all kinds of people were present. So I realized that things weren't really.


Not right things for going bad and then this audiocassettes game of money and suddenly the damper on all the speeches they were been distributed. One of my father's closest friends, all my father's friends, were also Hindus. So he started distributing the cassette and then he would have discussions with my father, which again, is a measure of how comfortable he was with my father and how comfortable my father was with him. And you would discuss the content of the speeches.


He would talk about Barberi to talk about the destruction of temples. My father would say, no, no, it's all nonsense. And they both would have this argument, but they would have this argument that so much was destroyed so many times. And so my father would reason out that it was political and maybe how would he know every time the book was flush with funds if he was coming at the time when the temple was flooded and somebody was informing him that his home, he was coming all the way from Afghanistan, but.


Oh. The good part was that their parts for divulging a little politically, they were getting distant, they still had this history of friendship between them so they could talk. But when I had when I came to Delhi, nobody spoke to me about this. Nobody asked me any question, which is what disturbed me the most, that if you have any questions about Muslims, if you think that Muslims are of particular Muslims as people are different in a particular way because this is what they've done wrong.


And if you ask me, maybe I can find out the answer for you if I don't know. But that did not happen.


So going back to the attack of the nineteen ninety, I was already in college and I had I had already seen what was happening in Delhi and my classmates and this all of them are voting BJP. All of us were First-Time Voters. And they said, how can we vote for anybody else. We would go for the BJP and whatever people may say or justify. The truth is, the history of the BJP or Jinsong is it stems from other ization of certain group of people in India.


They've always done politics, which pits community against community so that nobody can whitewash this part about the BJP. So despite this, if some people are convinced that they only want to vote for that party, it means that you will at some level agree with them or you at some level believe that what they are saying is correct. So it was this sort of a background that I was called back home and our neighbors were coming and wanting my opinion that something is going to happen.


You go back to your house in the monola, violence had broken out in certain areas. One of my uncle's friends is the shop. He had a shoe shop that was bombed. So we all were quite anxious. Finally, my father said, OK, well, we didn't want to go back to the mall because once you leave, in any case, it was a small house. And once we left, the rooms that we had was not occupied by my cousins and my other family.


So then my father booked us in the Sheraton and my mother drove us to the hotel. Then sometime in the late afternoon, she got very anxious. And this was the day when the neighbors had persistently pushed my father that, you know, we have information and there's nothing we can do. And and my father saw that point. It's you can't argue with the mob and you don't know what the mob will do or what size of what the size of the mob would be.


And it doesn't really make sense that you expect your neighbors to stick their necks out. They could probably Bato Vitka. And so my father. They sent us off, but we came back in the afternoon because my mother was very, very anxious and sure enough in the evening, go do a lot of shopping, shopping. So my father gave me the telephone book and he said, don't just call up these people, keep calling them up and tell them that our house is likely to be under attack.


And these are the people my father had been socializing with for many years in a small town. Whenever there is a new dam or a new. It's customary. I mean, they also come and they ask their office staff that who are the people that we should know? And the business families, they also feel that it's a matter of prestige that your friends with the district authorities are so apart from the prestige, but it's also some sort of insurance cover that if you need, you can ask these guys to help you.


So we knew most of the district authorities very, very well. But that evening, nobody answered any gold, so even though I called up the residents also but nobody answered in and around dusk. When it had just about to get a baduk, a mob started walking towards our house and our house is so. We have a very narrow a short boat and then there's a gate and the inside door has a glass panel on one side. So from the glass panel, you can see the port and the gate and the road beyond.


So my brother, younger brother and I, we ran to the gospel and then we started looking out and we saw a big group of people carrying fire torches walking towards our house. And my mother was screaming. She said, come back and come back and we may get home. And they came and stopped in front of the gate and they were shouting slogans. And then we identified this neighborhood boy. And we came back right inside into this boys that.


My father was very sanguine. He said, well, so obviously they won't do anything because he knows I saw it, but then they started throwing stones. And that is when everybody panicked because of the distance between the gate and the house is not much. And my father had a licensed revolver, so my uncle knew where it was kept. You went in my father's room and took it out and he tried to go to the rooftop and said, I just fired a few shots in the.


And my father had better sense, he shouted and screamed after him, and my mother also kind of ran after him to pull him back physically, that father said that if you fire one shot, they'll burn the house. Don't. Finally, mantels gone down and he came back and after a bit of stone pelting and they destroyed the car which was parked outside the windscreen, everything was shattered. Glass windows were even the first floor windows. The study used to face the main road and which what used to be my favorite place to sit and look at that and the traffic, it was very badly damaged.


The windows were the stones that landed inside the study, the seating area. We had a huge glass windows, so they had kind of broken everything. So Britney, finally, after a bit of stone throwing, I think it must have lasted about 10, 15 minutes. The crowd dispersed and then at that point, Michael got through and somebody answered from the house and they said, OK, this is we didn't come on the line. Probably he was busy because there was flight going on all over the city.


So somebody answered the call and they said, we'll send a patrol back to your house, which came very late in the night to help us find 30 or so. My uncle and my father went to speak with the policemen and they said, we'll include your house and our like, you don't know, nothing will happen. Don't worry. Obviously, we couldn't have slept with so much of fear all along. And then the next morning there was a police cordon and search operation was carried out in that way, my uncle and all men.


And they didn't distinguish between men and boys. They vomited up and. Take it away. So my cousin, who's six years younger than me, he was also picked up and must have been 13 or something, and fortunately that there wasn't an elderly constable who took pity on him or he probably recognized him from belonging to this family. So he allowed him to jump from the jeep and it was turning on the main road. And from there, he walked to our house and informed us that this is what has happened.


So my uncle and my mother and I, we because by this time I was studying to be a journalist and I had assumed the role of a reporter already. So I tagged along and we went to the house and it was simply quiet. There was no noise at all. And this was a house which was always so noisy. People were screaming the voices. There was no privacy for anything. And it was absolutely E.T. There was no noise, no sound.


So we open the door, pushed my mother, pushed the door and it opened into the central courtyard and there were things strewn all over. There was a television set of a cricket bat. There was a lot of things lined up. And my mother, obviously, in total panic, she screamed my judge's name and they were all cuddling in one of the rooms in the control room.


So they came running out and everybody's crying. And then they inherited how the police had come early in the morning and taken everybody off. My father and my uncle, they went round to various places, my father went to the office. But my uncle went to the local police station and they kept denying that anything like this had happened. But finally, my father managed to speak with the dog and he said nothing will happen. I assure you that your brothers will come back.


They came back late in the afternoon and they were quite badly bruised. Of the neighborhood, all the men from the neighborhood, they came back in the course of the night and the next morning they were even badly hurt, a few hobbling and they were. Probably some had broken bones. Fortunately, my uncle didn't have any broken bones, but they were bruised, they were hit on the calves and on their backs by Beeton's or something. So they had all those blue and black quilts on their backs.


And my younger uncle had a cut on his forehead very close to the eyelid. So that that was a very harrowing thing because. All of us kind of got together and was wondering that you think that if you're living in a mixed community, you would be secure because it's an upper middle class society or a colony where people of a certain class live. So it will be insulated from petty roadside violence. But that doesn't happen. And then you think that in a Muslim holiday or everybody's a Muslim, so you have security in numbers.


But then if the police gets after you, then even that is no longer secure, probably more secure from a riot because a mob or Hindu mob plot in Durham or nothing because of a preponderance of Muslim population. But what do you do if the police and so basically you if you have to be targeted, if there is a political directive that a particular lesson has to be taught or a few hours notice, it's a window of a few hours that you give.


OK, just do whatever you want and then the law enforcement will take its course. So if that kind of a thing happens in a situation, then. It doesn't matter what distance you have traveled, your education, your financial situation, your your thinking, your worldview. Even your modality of progressiveness, none of none of that matters at all. Yeah, I mean, I was struck by this trade off, which would not exist in the first place.


It should not be a trade off, but it's a trade off that comes up when your dad is thinking of shifting your family from them. And you were right at that point. We didn't know where we would be more secure in an upscale Hindu majority neighborhood where the privilege of the residents would throw a security blanket around us or in a Muslim majority, lower middle class, much lower the numbers would insulate us stop quote, which sort of reminds me of something that, you know, when I was chatting with any said in my last episode, you know, there's this poignant quote from a book about whom is not just a place where you see if it is a place where you can be visible.


And that sort of strikes me in this context. And later on, after, uh, you know, the riot happened and all of this happened, you wrote a quote In the family comprising six brothers and sisters. These two men had most visibly shed their ghettoized Muslim identities, never at home in the social, cultural and economic life of Ogura, hobnobbing with the who's who of the city.


And yet when it came to community division, they were nothing but Muslims forever, suspects forever, scapegoats, stop quote. And then you talk about how as this period progresses and obviously Hindu nationalism is on the rise of Hindu nationalism, rather. And and you talk about you write, quote, demonstrative religion was all around us as a benign Ramadan was replaced by the military Jewish freedom. People started huddling with their own kind. A lot of business class Muslims who were stripped out of the mullahs and built swanky houses in mixed localities returned to the smoldering comforts of narrow lanes and close mines stop quote, which is, of course, not just literal, but metaphorical.


Tell me about this kind of shift that now happens, because it strikes me that this is going to be the natural tendency that if I am attacked, if I am seen as another, I will obviously look for comfort from, you know, those of my own kind. So it almost makes this ghettoization completely natural. And obviously, you know, my sort of reading of, you know, the history of the last couple of hundred years, and we'll discuss that and much more detail, because you've written about that in your book as well.


But my reading is that these fissures have always kind of existed. But it's only now that, in a sense, politics has caught up with culture. So is that what is happening? Is it a vicious circle? Is there this increase in ghettoisation? You know, what was your own response to this and what was the response of others around you?


You know, there is the I would like to make a distinction between a Muslim majority area and a ghetto. I know a lot of Indians don't. They have community specific areas which have grown organically, which have developed organically in a city like in Delhi, you have Dujayl members of the area or you have Nizamuddin West area, which are always part of the city, or in Bombay you have the Muhammad Ali Road or you have a windy bazaar. Some Muslims have traditionally lived here.


They don't go there because they were scared of living anywhere else. They have lived there for generations and even prosperous Muslims live there. The facilities, which are other areas in the neighborhood, have are probably available to these areas. Also, as an example, a ghetto would be a place like Mumbai outside Bombay, which emerges after the incident of communal violence because people move there for security reasons, a Muslim majority area people live there not so much for security reasons, but because they have lived there, they're comfortable.


They're the kind of people they've grown up that live on around them. They come from the island to find themselves more as Muslims. So they want they're comfortable with Muslims around their eating habits. Similarly, the mosque is there so they can go there. There's a madrassa there for the children. So it's a comfort factor. So most small town India, small towns in India have these Muslim areas. So Mahola, which I grew up, was dirty and all of that.


But it was not a ghetto in the real sense of a ghetto, as you find in Delhi now in the region. Uh.


Because orkla area is OK. Do you find this huge presence of police there and a policeman in plain clothes, they are basically spies. They are basically from the intelligence agencies are keeping tabs. This is the area of it, if you will. If you have an address of Ogola or Batla House in Delhi, you are less likely to get a bank loan. You are not 100 percent not going to get a credit card. The delivery service and even a pizza delivery is not possible.


The pizza delivery boy would say, OK, you come at some point and I'll leave the pizza there. So these are the places which are not organic to a city. These are the places that have developed because the law enforcement agencies have not acted on time and the government has not done anything to prevent this sort of pervasive fear from taking grip over the people. What happened in Agra after this incident of the 1990s?


That was the only Hindu Muslim right in Agra has no history of communal violence. Even during partition, there was no communal violence. And it has always been very insulated from communal prejudice. I mean, people may have been prejudiced, but it was never vocalised. But all this happened in the 80s when it was being localized, early 90s, when people started talking in this very communally charged and harsh, impolite, uncivil language. So this even today, has a lot of places where Muslims live predominantly.


And after the 1990 violence, a lot of Muslims who had moved to fancy swanky places like our family, they went back, a few of them I have heard from my brothers that have returned to the houses because they didn't sell the houses. They just went back to the family homes.


They have in the by the 2000, 2004, 2005, when they thought that things are getting a little better, they came back. And probably there is a political point here because you see the government, which were in part in this period, both in the yuppy and at the center. So maybe that gave them some sort of a confidence that we will not be subjected to violence. But all that changed again 2014 onwards, when the fear of the 90s has been not just reinforced, but it has multiplied many fold.


It because even in the 90s when there was violence, you feared for your life and you feared for your property for the duration of the violence. It would be the right which went on for two days or three days. You feared for that duration and then you rebuild your life, whichever way it was, and you moved on. What is happening now? Is that a. The fear is not limited to the duration of a riot because now there is no right now it is something which you are subject to subjected to on a daily basis.


So you hear people saying public transport, we don't get a lot of talmudical because we don't want to draw attention to ourselves or people not getting food from home. A very senior surgeon told me in the book that he's scared of bringing in food from his hometown when he comes to Delhi after its celebrations because he worries for his family. So this this fear that even privilege is no insurance was not the earlier one of the reasons that my family, my father thought that we will be safe because he felt confident that we are too privileged.


I mean, if we can afford to go to a five star hotel to stay, then you can imagine in our mind, we believe that it's poor, unaffected. It's not. People like us will not be affected, but.


That doesn't happen any longer. So this divisive violence is not indiscriminate. So when we talk about Muslims being caught between this lack of choice about where to live, it's partly because of this normalization of a prejudice. We are not embarrassed by our prejudice anymore. We believe that what what our prejudice tells us is actually the fact we don't even. Paused to consider that maybe it's it's nonsense. Maybe it's just just something which we've heard or it's because because because of this, you have instances of Muslims not finding accommodation.


But again, it's a big city phenomenon. I don't think in a small city like other Muslims live every day, it's unthinkable. I've never come across anybody telling me that they were not able to find accommodation in a place which was predominantly non-Muslim. So this is a big city, a place where probably the size of the city, the insecurity which a big city instills in you, the economic challenges which it imposes upon you.


Maybe it is all driven by the fact that know for want of anything else, you or your generate your dislike for a certain group of people. So you deny them equal opportunities. You denied them accommodation. You deny them civility. So what is the choice then, then they have to go and look for a place in Kaito which even if they don't get along with that sort of Muslim population, even if they're forward looking, educated people, I give you an example.


When I first came to Delhi as a student, I lived as a paying guest with a Muslim family for a year, and then I moved into my own flat. My father rented a flat and salt extension. North South Extension was in Delhi is Delhi, India. I don't know how familiar your with the Delhi social hierarchy of places. So it's a reasonably fancy place and with hardly any Muslims there, I have no problem finding accommodation there. And then I moved to another place.


I lived in rented accommodation for nearly 11 years before we finally got an apartment here. I never had any problem finding a rented accommodation and all my landlords were non-Muslims and nobody ever asked me to vacate the flat. I mean, I moved for all of my jobs. I moved from one place to another and I changed three apartment. And in each I lived for nearly three to four years and I had never had any problems. Nobody told me, don't cook one vegetarian food, nobody said anything.


But when my cousins came in two thousand to seven and they came and they came from even smaller down, then they came from them and they couldn't find accommodation. Every time they would approach a broker, they were told what laws to apply. They did manage to live in Eastleigh, but with great difficulty. Finding accommodation for them was always a huge struggle. And even if they did find accommodation within a year or so, the landlord or the landlord used to pester them to vacate the place because things have changed so much.


That's a very subtle distinction that you drew between, you know, a ghetto in a Muslim majority area. I mean, I was just using it in a general kind of sense. But I find that that's a distinction that you made is important because it also tells you a little bit about why it is it has kind of formed. And, you know, for what I've seen happening in India over the last couple of decades and what you alluded to, where people are more open with their prejudices, where they're expressing their prejudices, while earlier they would hide it.


The sociologist DeMott Koran wrote a book in 1999 called I Think Public Life and Private Roots, where he coined the phrase called Preference Falsification. And one of the illustrations you gave was the Soviet Union, where what happened was that everybody hated the state, but nobody could say it because a neighbor could tell on them so they would keep it to themselves. And that was a reference falsification. And then one day, suddenly the floodgates opened and everybody found that, hey, everybody thinks like me.


And what took place was what the Koran calls up, a preference cascade, where suddenly everybody was free to express what they felt about the state. And almost overnight, the Soviet Union kind of collapsed. And there seems to be to be like one of the reasons I think, you know, Modi came to power and so strongly and took such a strong hold is that there has been a preference cascade now is that many people were what I call closet bigots, that many people had these prejudices.


They would not express it in polite society because here, you know, you thought that it won't go down well and all of that. But then you reach the starting point where you realize that, you know, the majority thinks like you, it's OK. In fact, not only can you say these horrible things, but they will win you brownie points like you described listening to that speech of BP's single, that that's probably an early manifestation of that.


But today, you know, if you look at our politics, you don't need dog whistles anymore. You know, people will openly say things which they could only have alluded to in the past. And as for what is happening in our cities and of course, in Mumbai, this is well documented. Various journalists over the years have done stories on how it's hard for Muslims or single people or women or whatever to kind of flatten Mumbai. So I have a sort of larger question that I've thought about in the past.


I don't even know if it's a question or a lament.


And it's really for all my listeners to comment on as much as for you is that, you know, if you look at the level of an individual flat on her right, she has a right to give a flat to whoever she wants. So she can say that I want people of my community only or I want people who want nonwage because it's my flat, I don't like it, and so on and so forth. And at an individual level, these individual decisions get made.


But when we are a society with such prejudices, then the overall outcome can be really bad. The overall outcome can be this sort of cloistering of different communities in different areas, which actually exacerbates these prejudices. Because then if you're a, you know, a good vegetarian Hindu growing up in a middle class household, you're never encountering another Muslim because they don't live anywhere around you. And the prejudices deepen and they become worse. No, you know, but this is not possible to police for and I don't think, you know, the state should use caution to sort of decide what people do with their individual flag.


So it's a bunch of individuals making rational decisions, which leads to an absolutely horrible social outcome. And the only way out, therefore, to me, it would seem, is that you have to change it at the level of society where people feel differently about this. But right now, we are stuck in this very bad equilibrium where there is where we are in a vicious circle. There is distrust and hate on all sides. So I don't know the way out.


So it's not a question. It's probably a lemon if you have any thoughts on this.


You know, I had heard Gaffey Asby at one of the Machado's this was in the mid nineties. And he said that if every Muslim has four or five Hindu friends and every Hindu has at least one or two Muslim friends, this whole community problem will end because then you get to see one another, you get to grow up with one another and understand each other. This is why I earlier when I was referring to my exposure to Hindi literature on Urdu literature, because I realized that this Ganga Jondi that now has become a very bad word for a certain group of people.


This was a living reality. It was not just limited to going to a festival or somebody else. It was something which was very organic to you. You did not look at people by their religion. You saw them by as your neighbor or you saw them as your business colleague or as a. Business partner or a shop that you trust, a shop owner and you always buy your groceries from him or a vegetable vendor, so it was very natural kind of intermingling of communities without any thought about a person's religion.


Religion was in a private space, even the numbers, the Azan, which now has started bothering people. Nobody ever thought it was bothering them five times a day, a call to a loudspeaker. It was very organic bogosity. Nobody minded it. And nobody ever thought that it was impinging in their private or personal space or the Jaguar, and nobody thought anything about it. But now all of these have become irritant and all of them have become irritants to them to a degree that people relate to, all grievances linked to this, that all we've been suffering is for you.


But you did they did not suffer this. They did not even notice it. It was so much part of your life. So this is what is happening now. What you just said, that if you don't give your house, you don't get to see another Muslim. This is also true of Muslims. See, if you're forcing Muslims who live in a ghetto, then these Muslim would see people from another community. So you are driven by your own prejudice, but you want inturn also helping another community develop their own prejudices.


There are people in the orkla or area of Barrelhouse area that Jumia area would never encounter a non Muslim at all in their lives. They they are born in that area and they go to the local hospital there with the child. What happens? They go to the local school there, then they go to the college or the institute or whatever. Then if they don't, if they can afford to go to the university, they go to the Jamia University. Or if they can't afford that, then they just get into the workforce in that area.


So their exposure to anybody outside the community is minimal. So value of trying to insulate yourself from the outsiders, you think they are dirty or they are oppressors, or if you have suffered for thousands of years because of them, but you are actually imperilling yourself even further because instead of you trying to understand them and then trying to understand you, you are actually furthering this distance even more. So your prejudice is getting reinforced for the other person's prejudices is also getting reinforced.


And add to that other person's prejudice is also a genuine grievance for not getting a fair chance, a genuine complaint that the law enforcement agencies are biased towards that, towards them. So these are bad or this should be a matter of concern for any country that you are dispossessing a huge chunk of your population. How can you even imagine that despite this dispossession, you can still develop, you can still grow, you can your GDP will grow with such a huge chunk of your population is disaffected.


It is not part of your mainstream. It is not contributing to your mainstream. This human resources being is underemployed. It is not being harnessed for nation building. How do you even imagine that you can still manage to do well with this? In fact, if you're talking of human resources, not just the minority community, it's all women, basically the way women are like second class citizens in India and can't, you know, reach their true potential.


And, you know, I had done in sort of an episode with Angela Malhotra, a very moving episode on Partition. And, you know, one of the thoughts that came to us while we were in conversation there was this difference between the abstract and the concrete that when we speak of all this hatred that is evident, people all this animosity towards the other, as it were, all of it is in an abstract green in the concrete room that can be perfectly good people.


They can be friendly, that can be assimilated and all of that. But in an abstract room, that's where all these concepts like nationalism and, you know, Hindu purity in that sense of historical victimhood, that they have never been victims themselves. All of that comes into play. And therefore, it strikes me that what you need really do bring people together is more of the concrete and less of the abstract. And like you pointed out, that if you are not exposed to the other at all, if a Hindu will have no Muslim friends or a Muslim will have no Hindu friends, then there is none of that concrete where, you know, you can just look across the table and you see someone just like you.


And therefore the abstract concept doesn't matter so much. And that's kind of a little tragic. And if anything, it's, you know, outsider, elite bubbles. I think it's only increased, you know, over the years.


See, there's another thing here. Oh, sometimes we are so happy and we know that our abstract is actually a bubble. It's it's so vulnerable to a hard case that we do not even question what we have in it, the prejudice that we are living with, because we know if we look at it or if we question it, it'll all come crashing down because there's no basis to it. It's just probably an insecurity that has been fine for so long that it has become some sort of concretized storm on your heart or in your mind or it's.


It's probably just economic vulnerability, you just feel so insecure in your own self that you feel that if I share this space with somebody else, probably this opportunity will be taken away from me. That could be one of the reasons. Yet it's a fascinating point, I mean, you know, poor country, but, you know, people tend to think more in Zero-Sum ways because there is scarcity, you know, other ways. Of course, all human interaction is positive.


Some you know, I buy something from you. Both of us benefit. That's why we are having the transaction. But where there is scarcity, where there are limited opportunities and resources there, people tend to think of it as a Zero-Sum game. If somebody else wins something, that means you have lost, which, you know, goes into many other contexts apart from just money. And I guess that is, again, one factor that could be fueling this in a country like India.


We'll take a quick commercial break now and when we come back, you know, we've spoken so far about sort of your personal impressions and your life and all of that over this period of time. But your book is also a fabulous book of scholarship. You know, there's so much I learned about the history of Islam in India are doing fairly well in history. But there were a lot of things which I hadn't known earlier, which I'd really love to get into.


But let's take a quick commercial break, and after that, we shall continue this conversation.


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You don't need to go anywhere. So subscribe now for free. The Indian card newsletter at India and Gardot substract dotcom. Thank you. Welcome back to the scene in The Unseen, I'm chatting with the son of a hub about a wonderful and at least for me, Eye-Opening book Born a Muslim, which has so much of both personal experience and history and sociology about Islam in India and does so much to explain where we are today and why. And now I want to kind of talk a little bit about history, because, you know, a lot of I mean, history these days has learned a lot on WhatsApp and a lot of people have this view of history that or you don't know that to think of how Islam came to India and the only thing or conquest was a temple to all of that nonsense.


But it's actually a very multilayered and heartening story almost of how Islam actually did come to India. It wasn't all conquest and destroying temple. So tell me a little bit about, you know, the origins of Islam. I mean, some versions, all that, you know, Islam was in India at the time during the prophet's lifetime itself. So tell me a bit about that.


There was a communication, C communication between the Arabs and something in the area, the gorilla region of India. So even before Arabia became Muslims, these people were coming. And the trade was really a very prosperous trade where Islam came during the prophet's lifetime. Also, the traders were coming, but the religion didn't come in real earnest at that time because it had not started to expand beyond its territory during the Prophet's lifetime. That happened after his death and with the first annica, which was Aboubacar.


So that is when the Muslim armies or soldiers were moving out. But in India, because the trade route was already there and these traders were non-Muslims. So when when you're coming by sea, you are actually out of your home for months and sometimes years and sometimes you don't even know if you're coming back. So there obviously would be accompanied by some religious people who would give them support or succor or somebody who could lead the prayer, because in Islam, a prayer for men is led by prayer leader.


I mean, women can pray on their own, but for men, which is why the concept of going to a mosque and praying together, which is why mosques have to be huge spaces, even if they're not constructed spaces, they have to be huge spaces because men are required to pray together in a congregation led by a prayer leader. So the religious preachers started accompanying these trading caravans. A lot of people settle down there in the preachers was preaching to the local people.


Some converted, some didn't convert. But even if you didn't convert, if you just felt some sort of peace, some sort of happiness talking to a person, you automatically start veering towards that person. So the early Islam which came to India, it came through this mendicant who would set up a small cottage or a place outside the citizens or village or on the outskirts, and people would start coming to them because they found peace there or some sort of comfort.


Gradually, the population in a very organic manner started growing in this entire country, both the Malabar belt, what it was along the coastline, because probably they were also worried of going too much in the hinterland. That happened over the next few centuries. I think by the ninth century, they had moved much further inside because there was a lot of intermarriage was happening.


Then the king developable, the things that they converted to Islam and what the ruler converted to Islam, then obviously there was this huge umbrella of royal patronage which was given to the Muslim preachers. So they've moved further inland.


And that is when this was a first cycle of Islam coming into India. At the same time, there was another route, sea route, which was coming to catch, and this was also traders, businessmen were coming there, working there, some settled on the some married local women. The first invader was Muhammad bin Kassem, who came. But if you read threatened the history of India. He says that he came, but also there was. And by this time, Islam had spread to Sri Lanka also.


So there was some often Muslims who were there in Sri Lanka. The parents had died and a group of orphans.


And so they wanted to go back to Arabia. So this ship was hijacked by the Gujarat based pirates and these kids were taken away. So the caliphate, then the governor of Basra, then he sent the advice to the king of this region and he said, you return the gate.


And so there was a face off.


And then Mohammed bin Kassem was tasked to go and rescue the kids. So that's how he became a leading army. And that was the first invasion. But he came here. He defeated the local king, died, he plundered it, whatever. And plundering was a natural part of you're going some of it you have to pay for your journey to end back. I mean, if it doesn't make economic sense for you, why would you go there? So they did some plundering and he returned to Arabia.


That was the first. Invasion that happened, but that invasion didn't create an empire or a dynasty or any such thing. He came, he went away and the street continued the entire perception of Muslim invaders. We actually do not look at all this, but so much of emphasis. We look at the invaders from Afghanistan. We look at what goes on in Gaza, because these are the people who left a lasting impact on the Indian population, the Indian society.


But the lasting impact or even greater impact was left left by the business community, the traders. But because that doesn't give us much room for vilification, so that part of the coming of Sufi's and the how the awesome spectacle Sufi's, that part we kind of whitewash. We only focus on the invaders. But invaders was only one part of the coming of Islam to India and actually invaders for individuals who are pursuing their political ambitions. They were not really ambassadors of Islam.


They were not coming here to spread Islam to subsequently even God was trying to become Muslim Mujahideen. He made the petition to the abutted califate and said, I'm spreading Islam. But he was far too debauched for the Khalifeh to consider him as actually a Mujahideen. I mean, he was not really an Islamic warrior. So a lot of four years or so or a lot of invader's subsequently belatedly realized the importance of claiming the title of being crusaders for Islam or Mujahideen people who are waging jihad because they felt that it would include them some religious benefit, though they were amassing wealth and they were completely against the principles of the key founding principles of Islam.


But they thought it would accrue them some benefits, but they can carry some papers with the caliphate. So that is how Islam came to India. The first empire which was set up here was a Slave Dynasty, which had two prongs. One was in Bengal, which was Bingol Sultan, and the other was established in Delhi and not India, which was really something. So while the Bingol sultanate went further east, went up Assam and other parts of the northeastern states, in addition to the whole of Bengal, the Delhi sultanate, apart from not India, the during the reign of allowed in, they started moving for the South.


It's the first campaigns in the DICKON were carried out by allowing Kenji's the commander in chief to. I'm forgetting the name of. Whatever his name is, mollycoddled. So interestingly, these are the Afghan people of Afghan origin, but with a lot of Persian influences, so these were not Arabs, the Islam which people in Kerala and parts of the mudguard, Tamil Nadu, even, that the northern Konkan belt, though, the kind of Islam that they were familiar with or they were practicing was Arabized Islam, which came through the Arab traders.


But when Malenkov campaign succeeded and conquered these territories. So there was this amalgamation of both ionised of gun Central Asian sort of culture, language, food. And there was this arabized sort of outing, so if you see this, but there was a confluence of both these influences, which is why the Islam practiced in the southern part of India is very distinct from what we do in north India. These are very clear. I mean, not only language and culture, but even to some extent in what they believe to be religious practices.


So there's a difference because they came from so many different ways. All very fascinating.


And your book is a really good account of the multiple ways in which, you know, Islam came into India, like you pointed out, that it was the predominant way to begin with, that, you know, the Muslims who came to Malabar, Gujarat, were really the Arabs. And whatever happened in the north to the north was perhaps trade plus some conquest, even the conquest there was not. So for the purposes of religious domination, it was a lot of it was political.


You just want to plunder. And in fact, the reason that so many temples were destroyed was not because you are Hindu temples or whatever, but because they are a symbol of whichever the local ruler is his dignity, your prestige, and you want to wipe that out. And one of the sort of interesting points you you go to the historian returned from his book Influence of Islam on Indian Culture. So I'll just quote you quoting him where he writes, quote, Henceforth, Muslim influence grew rapidly.


They were welcomed as traitors. And apparently facilities were given to them to settle in acquired lands and openly practice their religion. They must have entered upon missionary efforts soon after. Settling down for Islam is essentially a missionary religion, and every Muslim man is a missionary of his faith. Many were undoubtedly held in respectful esteem before the ninth century was fired once they had spread over the whole of the western coast of India. And it created a stir among the Hindu populace as much by their peculiar beliefs and worship as by the zeal with which they professed and educated them.


Stop God. And a little later you wrote something which leads me to my next question, where you write, quote, The pace of growth was more rapid in the South as compared to the west and central regions, primarily because there was great religious, social and political turmoil in southern India. During the eight to nine centuries, there was a tussle for supremacy between Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. In addition to all kingdoms were in disarray in the face of new claimants to pour into this situation, Islam appeared upon the scene with a simple formula of fate, well-defined dogmas and rights, and democratic theories of social reorganisation.


It produced a tremendous effect. Stop stopcock. And my question arises that, you know, when I read this, I was sort of thinking about the power of narratives in cultural dominance. And one of the things that struck me here is that people are drawn to simple narratives. Complex narratives are too complex, as it were. They want simple explanations of the world. And it strikes me that Islam, what it would have provided with its certainties, with this linear strand of what happens where and you don't have 100 gods and you don't have all of that would have provided a simple narrative which you can immediately understand and internalize as opposed to its competitors.


And I see its competitors because, you know, there is a school of thought that Hinduism is not so monolithic thing as we know it today. That was partly a construct of, you know, when the British came there early interlocutors were the class Brahmins and the upper class Brahmin sold India's version of Hinduism. As you know, there no system. And the minority Hinduism basically. And they extrapolated that to the whole subcontinent. But actually, there were many, many, many different traditions within Hinduism and they would all have been very complicated and all of that.


And Islam comes along. And one, you are supposed to be zealous about spreading the faith. And two, you've got a really simple narrative like one of my and I'm not making a value judgment on simple narratives one way or the other that they're necessary. Sometimes they're good, sometimes they're misleading. Like I once speculated that one of the reasons Trump won in 2016 was he had a simple narrative. It was wrong, but it was simple. And sometimes that's an important thing.


And perhaps you could argue the dispensation in power in India has a simple narrative as well. It's wrong, but simple. You know, it doesn't embrace the complexities. Do you think there's something today?


I agree. Islam had a very simple narrative added to that simple narrative was a very laid down, structured form of practicing of religion.


So there were five pillars very easy to remember. One was Kalima, which of just two lines that you memorized it and the Talmud Sylfest proclamation of your religion that I almost did not. So even today, if I wasn't asked to convert to Islam only to recite the girl one, you are concluded. There is no ritual happening. There is no process of becoming a Muslim. It's as simple as reciting a then you have prayers five times a day. Again, very simple in the prayer times are fixed.


What the first. And before dawn, then this job just before the noon hour period, then you will have a pre dusk, then you have dusk and you have night, very simply don't time. Then similarly, Rumsen, you have a month in your bed. You fast from dawn to dusk. Very simple, no complication. And if you are able bodied, if you're financially solvent, you can do it. You go for forward. And the most important is the God is such a noble thing to do that anybody would be would really believe, and rightly so, that a good part of your faith is helping others.


So now does it integral to faith that you have to help others? It's not a choice. You not it's not left individual judgment. So these were the five pillars. Now, over the years, what has happened? You have Islamic jurisprudence, you have this law, that law, all the tradition. But when you are appealing to a non-Muslim, these are the five pillars, very simple, systematic way of becoming. Oh, Muslim, and if you see this, it's not even very complicated to practice, I mean, not hardline Muslim elements would insist that you do a prayer in a particular way.


You have to bend in a particular way. But traditionally, nobody interrupted in the way you practice your religion. The biggest factor in favor of Islam at that point, which would have appealed to people who were converting then, was lack of clarity, absence of clarity. There was no religious leader that you had to go to. There was nobody who would tell you with authority or impose upon you, his or her treat that this is how you have to do with Islam.


Sunni Islam said it is between you and your love. So you do whatever you want to do, as long as your conscience is clear. Nobody has any business to interrupt or tell you that you are doing something wrong. So in a society where you had such rigid clergy, it's not just India. I mean, even in the entire Christian world where you had such rigid clergy. And when people were expected to be reverential towards the clergy, to their rooms and their orders spend so much money in keeping their clergy happy.


So this looked like a very simple and. Humane sort of religion, but you're also factoring in looking after a fellow Muslim omic saying, which is not part of the Koran, but it is part of the Islamic thing, that every Muslim is responsible for 40 households in his neighborhood, so 10 in each direction. So if even one person in this neighborhood of 40 households add up, every person is responsible to dies of starvation, that sin is upon you.


How was it that you didn't come to know that somebody was hungry? So if each is responsible for 40, so it's a cycle, a circle which kind of grows. So with this sort of approach and then the Sufis very selfless for people who want nothing for themselves, they live in all circumstances. They hold these open kitchens for people to feed people every day. All this is very appealing. As a person, you would just get drawn to something which appears so selfless.


So the politics of the religion itself is much later. I mean, there was a lot of politics of religion even in Arabia at that time. But when you are reaching out to people, this politics doesn't show it. If you show yourself with your best foot forward and this is what it how it appealed to people. Yeah, and, you know, in the popular imagination these days, people will look upon those sort of years of, you know, Slave Dynasty, followed by the Mughal dynasty and all of that as muggles are coming into subjugated the local people.


But that was far from the case. Whoever might politically have been in charge, the, you know, Muslims and Hindus work together at all times. Like Shivaji had Muslims who worked for him and the Mongols had Hindus and Rajputs and all of that and all the, you know, armies were mixed at a very memorable episode with Monopoly on this, which are leading from the show notes. And, you know, you sort of talk about how this mingling of Islam and Hinduism, which led to what you call, quote, a distinctively regionalising criticism, Stockwood was almost inevitable.


And again, quote from your book, Good Muslim authority had also to impose itself, impose upon itself other restraints. Employment of the Hindus was a necessity of the rule. Mammadov, Kuseni, had numerous body of Hindu troops who fought for him in Central Asia and his Hindu commander Taluk suppressed the rebellion of his Muslim general Neogen. When the neighbor decided to bring in the son, he had no other choice but to retain the Hindu style, which was familiar with the civil administration.


For without it, all government, including the collection of revenue, would have fallen into utter chaos. The Muslims who came into India, unmetered to whom they lived, surrounded by the Hindu people and a state of perineal hostility with them was impossible. Mutual intercourse led to mutual understanding, stop God. And and obviously, you know, I've had episodes on Akbar as well and the Moghuls in general. And you see this in criticism everyday in our culture, in our food, where we have influences from everywhere in the clothes that we were I mean, Prime Minister Modi's elegantly darkstar that, of course, you know, without democracy, they wouldn't have been there.


So all of this is very fascinating. And at this time, there's another stand that is emerging that is particularly appealing to even non-religious atheists like me, which is Sufism, which is so fascinating and and also becomes extremely popular in the subcontinent, almost sort of a default way of many people to think about other religions. So tell me a little bit about that strand and how it came up.


See, Sufi, the emergence of this strand of Sufis or this group of Sufis was as old as the religion itself. A lot of people tend to think of Sufism as a sect or Islamic sect, but actually it was not Sufis were just a group of people who believed in following their religion in a particular manner. I've drawn up a comparison between the Sufi and the Olema. Oliver was a more dogmatic sort of a person which emerged much later with the rise of the kind of faith in the earliest califate.


But Sufis were there during the Prophet's life time itself, and they used to be the people who would be constantly lost in prayer and meditation and with no desire of worldly pleasures. So this has evolved concurrently to Islam. In fact, in early years there was no distinction between our particular Muslim or Sufi, Mullavey or Sufi because everybody. Was finding the religion for themselves and everything was acceptable. The early Muslim scholars have actually said that you cannot judge who is following the correct path to Islam as long as your principal of your basics are in order, as long as you are devoted to the first scholar, which is there is no God but Allah and Muhammad Aziz, no prophet.


So if you are if you adhere to this basic principle, you can find various ways of reaching the almighty. So Sufism basically is part of this tradition. When this in Saudi Arabia, after the preponderance of Sufis and they had established their cause and they were challenging the ulema, these hard or so-called Islamic elite of Lunik people who were who had memorized the Koran by heart or were working on Islamic laws or defying Islamic laws. That was the time when they realized that more and more people were.


Drifting to the surface because they found the Sufi's more approachable as opposed to the Olimar, Olema would be just learned person. And obviously, if you think your learned and you know better, a certain degree of arrogance comes and this expectation of subservience comes into you. So as opposed to these, the Sufi's were the simple people. So a lot of people would still veer towards the Sufis instead of coming to the Olimar for the problems. So that was a time when they started vilifying the Sufis, started calling them names, saying that I'm Islamic.


They are actually outside the pain of Islam and the vilification started happening. So once they were pushed out of Saudi Arabia, not Saudi, I keep saying Saudi Arabia, Arabia, there was no Saudi.


Then they were pushed out. So then they moved into these like Persia, they moved into Turkey and subsid Central Asia and India. That is how it came in India. And at one point am forgetting I've mentioned it in the book, there was something like 10 to 12 various Sufi orders in various parts of the country. In fact, one very interesting Sufi order was in Kashmir, which was a mix of the shavitz and the Muslims. So and they worked with both and both the Hindus and the Muslims were devoted to the Sufi order.


But the most popular Sufi order in India has been the justice order, which was started by interested in a.


And despite the fact that Muslims, a lot of Muslims, hardliners, the conservative ulema. Vilified them, they call them names and said they're not Islamic at all, and the whole practice of Sufism is against Islam because it encourages idle worship, because when you're going to a Sufism matzah, your act, it is considered that you are worshipping the matzah, which is not correct. It's a it's a it's a wrong interpretation of what people do there. Despite that, their popularity has not reached even today, despite the growth of hardliners within Islam, despite this whole of Wahhabism, the influence of the Sufis has not diminished, not just in India, but you see, even in a country like Pakistan where there has been a fairly concerted violence against Sufis, that their cars are so popular, which is why they are places of targeted violence, because people still congregate there during wars and they still believe that this is where they find peace.


This is where their problems will be mitigated. So Sufi and one of the biggest factors of the spread of Islam in India has been the Sufis.


Even today, if you visit Durga now, it's the very few dragons where you actually get a sense of peace and calm because there's so much of chaos and so many people there and a lot of non-religious activities happened there in terms of forcing you to contribute money to disclose that cause to the extent of being extortionist.


But despite that, a lot of non-Muslims, still the Sufis and a lot of non-Muslims have such faith in the president, Sufis at various Dakar's or people who profess Sufism that they treat them like a family adviser. They canceled them for family matters. So it's not just Muslims. So I think Sufism has been the biggest driver of Islam in this region, siltation region.


So there's, you know, one of my favorite bits in this book is this legend, which you cite and I'll quote that in that paragraph and come to a question that I have associated with it, where you write, quote, There is a famous legend associated with the greatest woman Sufi ever, Hazrat Rabiya of Basra, who died in '88 once. He once she was found running in the desert with the torch in one hand and a pitcher of water and another.


When somebody stopped her to ask what she was doing, she replied that she intended to burn paradise with a torch and douse the flames of hell with water so that people would love God for the sake of God and not for want of paradise or fear of hell. Stop quote. And this is so beautiful. And what it also sort of seems to be almost a self-portrait against, as it would by Corinto terminology of what it seems to also argue against is the transactional nature of religion, how conditional the love of God can be for people, you know, like at the basic level.


It's, of course, do this, otherwise you will go to heaven or otherwise you go to hell and do this and you'll go to heaven and blah, blah, blah. But you know, Christopher Hitchens and one of his screeds against organized religion, I think this was in the context of Christianity, which can hold true for so many others.


Robert wrote about how, you know, it's basically bribery. You are you have a God who is threatening you that if you don't do all of this shit, if you don't believe in me and me only you're in deep trouble. And Sufism seems to strike away from this. And, you know, like I did an episode on non-Equity with Amardeep Singh last year at some point in time. And it strikes me that Guru Nanak was also in his original things and the following he built around him like a Sufi.


In a sense, it's the same kind of thing where you don't need to give it a name, but it's like you love God and therefore humanity for the sake of it. But there is there are no rituals involved. There's no bribery. There's nothing transactional. And the thought that strikes me here is that I see the appeal of something like this, like even to someone who doesn't believe in God like me, there's a lot of appeal of Sufism and none of Bunty.


And, you know, Strand's like this subarctic movement. Strand's like this, which are not dogmatic and we don't have rituals and all that associated with it. But yet at the same time, we see that there is, you know, growing extremism in all the religions where more and more people seem to be drawn towards those extreme ends, towards all these rules. Don't do this, don't do that and all of that. And that, in fact, you know, seems dominant today, though that could just be the availability heuristic.


And maybe it's just this period in time and we'll be living in a Sufi 100 years from now. But right now, that's what it seems to me that people get drawn to. These harsh, dogmatic ordering aspects of religion, rather than to those sort of impulses that Sufism seems to attract, what are what are your thoughts on this?


There are two ways of approaching religion. Any religion. One is fear and another is love. So what the Sufis were doing, they said your religion should be premised on your love for God, what the ulamas or what the dogmatics were doing, that it should be based or it should be premised on fear, which is why are you here? Even among Muslims, you dug a hole and you got up to become Kareem Abdul. And the reason why it appears to us and that Sufism kind of lost out to this more extremist form of Islam was basically that Koff is always greater than love.


I mean, love is such a simple and harmless emotion that it it can never stand up to fear if the fear of extreme consequences is so huge that you cannot reason out. Now, what has happened in.


Amongst the Muslims, apart from the fear of God, once the codification of Islamic laws was happening, once the the sayings or habits of the prophet were being written down as Hudis or treaty, so the document of his life was being written down in black and white people started to read all of this as far apart with religion itself, that these are the things which are ordained by God and we have to believe in this. Because eventually, as I said, politics also gets into religion, basically religion, in my opinion, is an amalgamation of a number of things, its faith, its culture, its history, its your family traditions, its fear, its superstition and its politics.


So a faith alone cannot make a religion. So Islam was probably faith or what Prophet Muhammad was saying was a very simple, simplistic faith, which I had mentioned earlier, and which is what appealed to a lot of people. But when the religion of Islam was being formed, then they took into account all these things. And then political power or political control over people was very, very essential, which is why you see the rules.


The regulations like blasphemy came about, not Islam or Iran has absolutely nothing to say about blasphemy. I mean, you can say whatever you want. Ideally, you should not. I mean, it's bad behavior that you are calling somebody names, but it was not punishable. There was there was no offence in this, but when the the politics became part of religion, because when the Muslim empire was being built, the first was the first caliphate, I'm forgetting the name and the second Basotho.


So when these benefits came and they realized that they are not an empire, they have the armies marching all over the world right there at the doorstep of Spain on one side and they here in Central Asia on the other.


So the political power had to come from only fear. I mean, you have to control the people to feel that the love cannot work. You cannot ask a huge mass of people to follow you because they should love you. So that is how the ulema, the dogmatic Olimar, cultivated and encouraged because they help the political party to help the rulers to.


Enforce their writ, and the more rigid you become, the more you feel, because then you're you're restricting individuals agency or what his or her life, you keep telling him that this is wrong and you will rot in hell. This is wrong. You'll be burned in hell. So when you are playing on a person's insecurities, to this extent, you tend to then look for ways which will guarantee you at least some place in some corner of paradise. So this whole idea of your own agency, your whole own individual approach to religion was unacceptable, because even one person saying that I do not agree with you and I will do what I wish to do is disruptive.


It just disrupt your whole setup that you have built of power, of religious political power, all enmeshed together. So this is something which was absolutely unacceptable. And progressively, as more and more Muslim rulers came, they took away the agency of individuals further from them, which is why there was a time when even secular education was frowned upon, because they realized that if you are exposed to education, if you are exposed to different ideas, you may start thinking for your own.


And which is why Vandersloot Dynasty came and they said, we've established this group of madrassas. That whole idea was that religious education is enough. When the Koran says that education learning is important, it means that only Islamic learning, religious learning is important. You need not learn anything else. So the cascading effect of this has been that a lot of Muslims felt that for them, learning about Islam is enough to see through this life and they need not learn anything else.


If you are not exposing your mind to new ideas, if you're not challenging yourself, then obviously it leads to some sort of intellectual atrophy, your capacity to think generation on generation reducers because you are not using your brain, you're not using your intellect. And this is once you have these pygmy people, intellectual pygmies, then it is easier to hold them, you know, like a flock of cattle. You can just tell them, go here, go there, do this.


And that is where your whole idea of Islamic exclusivism, Islamic extremism. I'm not talking of violence. I'm just talking to extremism in the sense that you feel that you are superior, you're different from others. You feel that you have to be even more dogmatic. I mean, it is not enough your praying five times a day now. You also need to do extra bread. You also need to do penance. Prayer is not enough that you are doing your fasting 30 days in a month.


You have to do additional fasting. And a lot of Muslims actually fast through the year, every week or every fortnight to some fasting because the five basic principles are no longer enough. They need more and more rigidity in their faith to feel that they are better and closer to heaven than others.


It's all very fascinating. And you've described this beautifully in your book where you first talk about Islam becoming more and more extreme in kind of a global sense and then how that comes to India, like you've written about, you know, the pushback to this coming from Ibn Artemia and then from Ombud in Abdulwahab, the whole Wahhabi movement. And you quoted from this book called The Two Faces of Islam. Both Steven Schwartz and you write quote, Abdulwahab said, Schwartz made no secret of his opinion that all Muslims had fallen into unbelief and that if they did not follow him, they should all be killed.


Their wives and daughters violated and the possessions confiscated. Shias, Sufis and other Muslims he judged unorthodox were to be exterminated. Above all, Wahab and his followers despised music, which they viewed as an incitement to forgetfulness of God and to sin. Many Sufis, by contrast, used music as a means to heighten consciousness of God, stop God and little. You know, you have this section on Indian Muslim sects like Deobandi, but Ylvis, Allah, Hadith and so on.


And you talk about how they all got ordered logical development to the vast repertoire of Shovelful and Wahhab stopcock. And it seems to me to be like two sort of parallel strands which are happening here. One is that all of these sects, which you describe, of course, come from Wahhabism and they have this exclusionary view. And therefore, you know, you will have the mullahs around having these. Extreme views, which kind of feeds into the vicious circle on the other side.


It strikes me like the question is often asked, why are Indian Muslims not as extreme as Muslims in certain other parts of the world was who are more radicalized, though I would, you know, continue to stress that Muslims are the biggest victims of terrorism worldwide, including what is called Islamic terrorism. So we should kind of keep that in mind, not paint with too much of a broad brush. But yet Indian Muslims haven't been radicalized to that extreme.


And it seems to me that one reason for that would be that a lot of Indian Islam has sort of, you know, imbibed the Sufi kind of traditions and not, uh, you know, the radical kind of Islam that comes from these sects that you describe. So tell me a little bit about this, how through the centuries this tension has played out between the Islam of many people, which takes more from Sufism and is like chilled out and musical and all of that, and with the more radical kind of political kind.


See, as I mentioned, radical Islam basically was a pushback against this growth of Sufis and the influence of Sufis were building over the Muslim might go a little back in the history when after the death of Prophet Muhammad, the first lady was appointed.


He came from a very powerful tribe, not disgraced tribe, was opposed to the prophet when he was propagating Islam, and these early battles of Islam were between the Koresh and the Prophet Muhammad and his followers. But when the Koresh embraced Islam, then they feel they retained the political power which they had earlier also. So the first three of us, both from the Koresh and this only reinforced their part. And this is when the codification of laws that started the fourth most certainly was a prophet, nephew and son in law.


So he was from his tribe, which was not so political. But when it was vested in this tribe and they were trying to kill and after and his assassination, it went back to the Koresh because so much of who assumed Califate after Ali's assassination was also from the same tribe. So this they were conscious of the fact that they are not regarded as noble as the earlier lives were, or at least Ali had a huge reputation, I mean, given all the Dakar's and everything.


So it's a name which is involved with that order. And you have Sufi music. It's his name is invoked because he had such a he had captured the Muslim mind in such a huge way that the subsequent Khalifa's they are kind of they realize that they do not have that. A spiritual legitimacy, so the office of the palace was then bifurcated the political power vested in the person who assumed the caliphate and it became hereditary and the spiritual power was vested in the ulema.


This is something which happened when Saudi Arabia came about, when it involved the south and they said, OK, let's divide this country. I'll control the religious part of this and control the Islamic part of it. You control the political party, political compact. So the only evidence of this compact was during the reign of the hereditary felons. Not Gannes originally was supposed to be elected by the people. But once it became a nonselective, it became my heritage and became an empire.


Then the fact that there was a need to have a religious a powerful religious person who could kind of ensure that the people remained devoted to the ruler, the religion is I mean, as we see in India today, also religion is a huge motivator. I mean, nothing binds people together more strongly than a religious directive from some kind of religious head. So that is how these elements were being cultivated. They became a conduit between the people and the ruler.


And because they were not on the payroll of the ruler, so they were not representing the people to the ruler, they were representing the ruler of the people. So their job was to tell the people that what this guy is doing, what the ruler of any files doing is correct. This is Islamic and Islamic sanction for this. Various fatwas were being issued and the moderates of people who were deemed as somebody who could question them were increasingly put outside the pale of Islam.


How does Mendis targeted pushing them out of the society or ostracizing them? All this started happening around this time. So all this started within two centuries of profits that I mean, it was not so bad as it became in the 15th century after 8:00 a.m. onward, but this division had started to come then. This was also the time that not Koran is a book of reference. It has verses, it has some prayers. It has a lot of things.


It has some some guidance or some direction to oppose and should be leading the honorable life. But it doesn't have law. So what we call Islamic law is actually not part of the Koranic law practice gives you direction. The only issues which it really addresses with a lot of force is divorce, marriage and divorce. And it and all that, so there are a few things which it addresses very forcefully, the other things, the crime, punishment, all the suggestions.


So this was left to I mean, to say that rules should be made. But when the rules came in, the umpires were being built and they felt that they needed a uniform Islamic community. So the rules were being codified based on what they understood of the Koran. So these ulamas who were sitting down and writing Islamic laws, they started interpreting the verses and they started laying down the law, writing down the law in great detail. So this is actually because these were from Arabia.


These are Arabs. So a lot of their interpretation. Stemmed from their own historical background, what they how they all lived and experienced, their own tribal culture, the practices, so that kind of crafted the laws. So what we see in Islam, they say that if someone if a person steals, you cut off his hand or you stone a person. So this is not there. This is not really a divine law. This is a law that has been codified subsequently because this is the tribal practices.


So this these practices obviously have to evolve with the times. But unfortunately, most countries have their own laws. But I'm just using this as an illustration to say, so when you're trying to dominate or rule or govern a huge, massive population, you needed it. Very tragic law so that the fear of law and fear of God could be instilled in the people. So for that, Sufis were a liability because they were saying that there's nothing to fear.


If you've done no harm, no harm will come to you. So that is how this whole tradition of Sufism veering away from the classical or dogmatic Islam started happening. This cleavage kind of violent, invited. By this, they don't happen so much in India until recently, until the late 80s and until recently.


It is a process that started was because, unlike the popular narrative, some did not come to India through the clergy or through the rulers. It came to largely traders whose interest was very small-Time businessmen just wanted to live their life and earn a living and be happy. Also Sufi's, so our slump that we imbibed here and Sufis also ensured that a lot of local traditions were married into the Islamic practices, which is why in India you find a very not just individual to Indonesia.


Also, it's a very rooted, geographically rooted kind of religion. You have not completely alienated yourself from your geography, from the customs traditions of your ancestors. So it's a very nice, balanced amalgamation of history, faith, culture. And what do you think today is? Pragmatism. So that is probably one of the reasons why Indian Muslims have no reason to get radicalized to the extent, as you see, in certain parts of the Middle East and North Africa.


Unfortunately, in the 80s, when. A lot of Muslims have started going to the Gulf for a job, and this is again coming back to my earlier point, that if you are pushing a group of people, a large mass of people out of the mainstream because of your own prejudice, then they have to find some ways of surviving. So because of this, prejudice was not so vocal then, but discrimination was still there. So a lot of Muslims who are not getting jobs in the mainstream, who are not finding employment at par with their educational levels, they start looking for opportunities abroad.


And the big opportunities opened with the discovery of oil in the Middle East. And a lot of Muslims started going there. So these people, when they were exposed to that sort of religious practices and in a sharp contrast to their very laid back, amorphous sort of a belief that you do whatever you do, they realize that. Very clear core principles of Islam, very clear that formula that you must do this, you must do that, and anything which is made harder, it looks more real.


I mean, unless your religion is hard to follow. What is the point of following? So these people, when they came back, they brought that sort of rigidity with them. So that is how you find a lot of. Muslims now not being content with the Islam they have been following and they want to follow a more arabized form of Islam and but thankfully, even this has not led to radicalization for the simple reason the roots of the local element is too strong for them to really veer off track completely.


So let's again now go back to history before we come to the Carindale, the one sort of the title, the thing I had absolutely no idea of, the one thing I learned from your book was the importance of 1857. Like, of course, we know the importance of the 1857 rebellion in terms of what it did for the freedom movement and colonialism in India and all of that. But it was also a big factor, sort of the later Hindu Muslim divides that happened.


The British played a role in that 1857 and so much of a wider resonance that I had not knowing anything about that. So tell me about that. Why was 1857 so important, even in sort of this particular context, the 1857 o'doul?


A lot of people had risen against the British, but they did it under the Mughal emperor. Now, the Muslims felt that this will restore the Muslim power back in India. If you recall, this was the period where Muslims, part of the Mughal empire was actually only notional. I mean, you had no right outside his own fort. The Moroccans were controlling large tracts, I mean, even before the British. It was already empire on its last leg.


So a lot of Muslims thought that this would restore the Muslims. But nobody is associated with glory, associated with the influence and a lot of things. So they they were fighting the British for that. They were fighting the British to reclaim their lost power, lost glory, the non-Muslims, the Hindus were fighting to throw the British out or their own grievances against them because of various policies of European countries like France and other places. So they had different motives.


But once this war was given a culture of jihad and which is understandable because religion, as I said, is a huge motivator. So a clarion call for war, usually if you have a religious call, the more people get motivated to go to. So when this happened, a lot of Hindus, especially the business community of Delhi, the rich moneylender community, the traders of Delhi, but for all Hindus, they were Jarry of what was happening.


And a lot of them had started thinking, OK, that just let this bloodletting have happened between the Muslims and the British and we'll see which side wins and then we'll take as a result. God, then so once this was happening and there was a mass killing of Muslims, the reports came out. People I mean, it's not difficult to hide that. Who was telling on them? Who was the informer who was behind their backs or who was supplying equipment or money to the British?


So this Deepend official got the other thing was the British themselves, because of the history of rebellion in various colonies from North Africa to other parts and the long history of crusades, which have been really, really harrowing bloodletting between the Muslims and the Christians. So in any case, had a very deep prejudice against Islam, if you recall. Even today, much, much before the vilification of Islam started in India. It used to happen in the West.


And even today, this whole characterization of Islam as a primitive religion caricaturing of the prophet, it happens in the West more than it happens in India, because probably there is some sort of rebellion now that defines that. Why should we listen to them if they're offended, let them be offended. But it also stems from the fact of their history. So a lot of this desire to offend is also a desire to humiliate. It comes from that. So that was the time when they started cultivating this notion of Muslims as.


Uncivilized, barbaric people, this whole idea of this whole narrative of victimhood was cultivated by them and imbibed by the Hindus who suddenly found themselves that Muslims are no longer the rulers. So the British, they kind of became allies with them against the Muslims, and they felt that this we can regain uppa. In any case, they were better educated. Muslims traditionally did not imbibe secular education, so their influence on the society was largely through music, poetry, culture.


It was not to education. So when the British came and modern society was being shaped, so Muslims were outside the pale and Hindus were employed in high positions across the board. So that further created the fissures and facilitated this narrative, a Hindu narrative of victimhood, of centuries of victimhood to grow and develop. And there was no counter to this narrative because the intellectual capacity of the Muslims was so weak, despite the fact that the moral codes had historians, they had writers.


But all that was in the past, by the middle, by the early 19th century, they were actually very badly off intellectually or financially. The only thing they had was culture. But how far could go?


You know, it's like just to kind of sum it up and you can tell me if I'm processing it correctly. The 1857 revolt was interesting because no one, radical Muslims saw it as a chance to appropriate the struggle and sort of go at the forefront. You know, it was fought under the banner of the MOGOLLON, but so to see so, you know, Muslims came along and and the British see this, you know, this was a great opportunity to divide and rule.


You've spoken about how they fanned the narrative of Hindu victimhood, which again, has a colonial beginning in a sense, as far as narratives go, or at least a colonial propulsion at this point. And are you right as far as the ordinary Muslims are concerned, you write, quote, The Muslims felt let down by their leaders, cheated by the Hindu neighbors and disillusioned by their faith. They had believed the ulema who told them that, as in the historic battle of brother, Allah would intervene to ensure the victory.


And so as a defeated people tend to do, they became dependent and inward looking. And then you write about how could the Ulema were quick to turn this to their advantage? They claim that while the Muslim scholars were just their it was weak, hence the faith needed to be strengthened. Stop quote. And you write about how all these sort of sects inspired these Sunni Muslim sects inspired by Wahhabism, like the Deobandi involves with a consequence of, you know, growing power at this point.


And you write, as a result, ordinary Muslims started shrinking away from the national mainstream, increasingly identifying with the idea of the global ummah. Besides as devlopment, one of the effects of the 1857 revolt was the erosion of the economic and educational foundations of the Muslims stop growth. And this, of course, has a cascading effect. You know, one of the prominent Muslim leaders we remember in our history from that period is, of course, Imad Khan, who started the really good Muslim university leader and all of that.


But you point out that he was almost a minority figure within his community in the sense that, you know, people just turned away from that kind of secular education, they turned away from modernity. And that is sort of a trend that has continued ever since in India.


Tell me a little bit more about that. And also my other sort of related question is that what then seems to happen at this point or what at least comes into stark relief at this point is the dual notion of the human one hand in the nation, on the one hand where you can ask, you know, where does a Muslim belong? If I am a Muslim, am I an Indian or do I belong to the larger Muslim woman? Am I looking to sort of the caliphate for my source of identity?


So this is also a tension that sort of playing out in all of these years and has a consequence on our politics as well. So tell me a little bit about these different kinds of tensions. One, Muslims turning away from the mainstream, almost sort of in an intellectual sense, categorising themselves, as it were, and then these growing conflicts between my nation.


I'll answer the second one first. This is a concept and again, a part of the vilification which started with the British in and around the 1857 revolt that Muslims there is out on what they are not subservient to the regime. They're not they don't consider themselves citizens of a particular nation where they live. There they are. Always lies with the central figurehead. Now, the thing is that if you see in India, even to the various Muslim dynasties, starting with the Delhi sultanate, there was no connection with that Califf.


So much so that during the reign of. But he actually challenged the Gulf in the sense that he said he was deserving of being a kind of so. And India was never an Islamic country, despite this long history of a Muslim ruler preceding the Mongols. Also, it was never declared an Islamic country. That was one of the factors that it was always out of the pain of the larger Muslim because it was considered a country. The majority is still not Muslim, so it didn't qualify as an Islamic country.


So the Muslims in India have always been rooted in in this country, which is another reason that Muslims go out for employment. You do not see Muslims settling down in a lot of foreign countries. The majority of guys who go to the Middle East for employment, they work there, they earn their living, they send remittances back home. And once the job is over, they come back here. You don't see that Muslims are going in containers and somehow getting into Canada will get to some place because they feel that they can have a better life.


That even when partition happened and they were promised a Muslim country, Islamic country majority did not go, the rich went in because they thought they will part of that, as opposed to India or as opposed to Hindu India. But in the middle the lower middle class support, they did not go because they have been so rooted to the land. And give you the example of my own family, we have been the most immobile family in my family. Nobody has moved anywhere in life.


Physically, we I grew up in Agra. The maximum I went out was come to Delhi and live in this area. My entire family, we are all in and around Agra. For generations we have lived here. So this fondness of staying in a place and identifying that with that place, identifying with that of the culture of that place, the food of that place, I mean, I still to go for street food and other people say the best street food as and when.


I know, but I keep saying no, no. I this and I know the chocolate since the best stuff. So this rootedness as in India has ensured that there is no concept of a non-Muslim looks up to anybody. In any case, there is no global Muslim leadership anyway. So what is that Muslim looking at or looking for? You don't find any Indian Muslim. Forget going to Palestine or forget going to Afghanistan to fight. Nobody even raises a voice for Kashmiris.


I mean, this is a part of India and history has been suffering this roiling insurgency since nineteen eighty nine and so many atrocities, so much violence has happened against the Muslims in the street. But you don't find mainstream Muslims in any other part of India empathizing with them or raising their voice in their favor. So this Muslim Brotherhood is actually. A concept which has been found by. Vested interests from time to time to just question their loyalty to the country of residence or the country that nation, because it also helps you build a narrative of that they cannot be trusted that their fifth columnists, their loyalty doesn't Lighthill, as Goldmacher had said, Kabani.


So it it finds that it fuels this narrative, which is by everybody from time to time talks of the Muslim Ummah, that there is no Muslim Omar in each Muslim from different countries are very distinct from another Muslim Japanese, not just Japanese. Extreme example, but a European Muslim who's not a migrant, who's not come from North Africa, who's a European because he was converted while being in Europe, is very different from a Sri Lankan Muslim or a Bengali Muslim.


A similarly, a Bengali is very, very different from a dominant Muslim. So they very well they are they are extremely rooted in their geography, in their history and in the traditions of that particular place. Even in terms of costume, Muslims from Bengal would be wearing a sari in a particular fashion and Muslims in Tamil Nadu would be wearing in a particular fashion. But a Punjabi Muslim will not be wearing us. How do you make up another Hindu Barazani?


So this is a second part.


I'll come to the I responded this quickly, but I completely agree with you as far as you know about the Muslims here or in fact anywhere else, for that matter, being rooted in their local circumstances and all that. I completely buy that, which is why it you know, so what good was playing such a devious game? It is a toxic book. The already he spoke about how the only Indians are those whose motherland, whose place of origin and place of worship is India.


And he said Muslims aren't because they owe their allegiance to Mecca, which was not true at all at a social level. But nevertheless, there was a political strand and, you know, specifying political as opposed to social or cultural. There was a political strand which did look to the caliphate, for example, and it's very consequential to our history. Turned out and I'm referring, of course, to the caliphate, the movement of the early brothers, where after World War One was over, they demanded the caliphate movement, demanded the sort of reinstatement of the caliphate, as it were.


And that became consequential for us because Mahatma Gandhi, who at that time hadn't really become the leader of the Congress or to say tied up with them, as, you know, as a tactical means and became the leader of the Congress, which caused Jinnah, who until that point was a great moderate leader in the Congress, to walk out in disgust and say, what the hell is this? Because it was, of course, incoherent, because Gandhi is talking about the nation and the librettos are talking about the humor.


And and eventually, of course, that alliance fell apart, but proved to be really consequential. And I totally agree with you from my limited experience and readings, of course, that, you know, most Muslims are just rooted in the circumstances. But nevertheless, what is happening in modern times, and this is something that you describe later, is that you have these Saudi petrodollars coming into India where, you know, they are setting up these organizations all over the place and they are doing what they like.


At one point in the context of Isomura Accord today, the traditional Makler chador of Assam is being replaced by so-called Islamic dresses like salwar suits or Sharada, complete with the hijab stopcock. So at a political level, there is an effort to sort of go beyond the local specific sort of, you know, leave the McClatchey aside and put on the hijab. So, you know, does this what do you is this increasing or is it part of the vicious circle of extremism that's kind of going on?


There are two things here. Actually, you have asked two questions. The first is now to see this whole Kallaugher movement. This is exactly why I have a Muslim politician is absolutely irrelevant because he doesn't represent his own people. So at the during the freedom struggle, when everybody was veering towards fighting the British, there was a group of people which a Jahar Muhammad Ali, Jihad and his brother, their priority was amorphous concept. I mean, even the dogs didn't want the caliphate to survive.


I mean, they were tired of it. But because these elements I mean, they were not almost but they came from a strand of religion which was driven by ulamas. I don't know if you read that endowment freedom. He describes this meeting with Gandhi. And look at this Maulana, obviously, and all these people. There and a librettos are there and they said our priorities should be restored and people like him and Assad and all that and goodbye and livable places.


But that is not our agenda. Our agenda is something else. So even at that point, these people, this group of people that that worldview or their concept of what Muslims should stand for or what Muslim politics should stand for was very different from what people wanted, which is why in the early years, Muslim League had no support, they had no ground support. It was only a party of leaders and party of Britishness. And they didn't have grown because the ground focused game only when DeMott Islami aligned itself with the Muslim League that has been called that street pot, and they could carry out the violence and other things.


But as long as it was shown of Jemaah Islamiah, they had nothing to hide, nothing to stand on, which is why even Jinnah, when he came in, he drifted into the Muslim League. Muslim League had no base in India. The base was only once Jemaah Islamiah got an amendment. Islamic order was any case hugely dogmatic because of these philosophies. In fact, the influence went well beyond India, even Muslim Brotherhood. They view inspiration from these writings and is supposedly the first person who has given some kind of a concrete shape to the concept of political Islam.


So all this happened later. Not coming to the second part of your question, which is that in Islam, what is happening? The petrodollars, this is what I refer to as Arabization of Indian Islam. This is a game. It's a radicalization. It is actually, in real sense, Arabization, because the earliest Islamists also they felt that because Islam came to Arabia, so Arabs were the chosen people to profit in his last. Someone has said that the Arab is not superior to anybody else and all people are equal.


But the Arabs have always maintained their superiority.


Even in the present day politics, their biggest rivalry has been with Iran. Only not because if you are Sunni, Shia, Sunnis, one part of it, the other part is this traditional rivalry, that historical cultural rivalry, because Persia was a very evolved nation. Well, even before Islam came, well before Islam in Arabia was a primitive group of tribes. So they really did not have a society as sophisticated as learned as Bush had, Iran had.


So this rivalry comes from there. So when they realize that the Indian subcontinent or a lot of the Central Asia, the Persian version of Islam, despite being Sunnis, that mannerism, the language, their literature, this is becoming popular. In fact, that Persian language was part of Indian language, of the code language bill after freedom until independence also. So they do this obviously was a huge inferiority for the Arab society or Arab politicians because they were fooling themselves, thinking we are the chosen ones, we should be predominant.


But because they had nothing to speak of, no economy until the oil was found, they couldn't do much about it. So once they had the resources, they started the export of their version of Islam in great earnest and it spread rapidly. But in India, despite this, it did not come in a very violent fashion as it happened in parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Fortunately, because, again, there is no Omar. It's just a very rooted, geographically limited, educated religion that people are imbibing at practices.


They are trying to find a arabized version of their practice of Islam, whether it's a language and dress and sing a Lahore face or in saying Ramadan and Celotto instead of Ruza and Lamas. And so they're doing all this, but it is limited as of now. It is limited to only that it is not really translating into extremism or radicalism. And I'm just leading you on. That is also the reason that despite this whole idea of terrorism, Islamic terrorism and India and our government keeps saying that terrorism is the biggest threat to humanity, I do not believe that we have terrorism is a problem in India.


I do not believe that threat is terrorism. I think it's complete propaganda. Yeah, I mean, I agree with you just a no brainer that, you know, we don't have that kind of terrorism here. If it's if anything, it is it comes in from outside. Let me take you back to the other question, though, which, you know, in on the show, there are a lot of digressions because we discussed so many things that we just jumped from one to the other.


But the other are those two questions. And the other one was this then tendency to look inward, to become, you know, after 1857, the limos get more extreme and they get more of a hold. And you speak about how Muslim society then turned inwards. It is distrustful of secular education. It buys the rhetoric that all you need to know to, you know, prosper in the afterlife or whatever is knowledge of Islam and the Koran and all of that.


And that becomes and in a sense, a modern sort of illustration of that. Is that incident you describe from your own life at the age of 16, while you are writing essays to get into universities abroad, one of your cousins is being felicitated for memorizing the Koran. So tell me a little bit about this sort of drift and how it kind of harmed the Muslim community here. And I suppose it is possibly related in some way and maybe you can expand on that.


But what you said earlier also about the Muslim political leaders not really representing the people at large bussy. So tell me a little bit about, you know, these two strands and the kind of marginalization that has resulted in.


See the elements in. India have always been very conservative, very dogmatic, so it's not that they suddenly became extreme because the source of their Islamic learning came from largely from Shovelful, who was exposed to the sort of Islam and even for how to Arabia. And he was, though there's no evidence that he met up with Abdul-Wahab, but he was familiar with his books, his writings. So when he came to India, he thought he sought to reform Indian Islam, which he thought was had fallen on bad days because people had adopted so many customs and cultures of the local people so ill.


Then the Indian ulema class developed. It grew out of hatred and a very successful and very prestigious mother in Delhi, but also Ramia. So when this learned class of Indian ulema mostly emerged from my mother, sort of premio. So they were always like that. What happened after eighteen fifty seven when your financial power was taken away? Eventually you were economically degraded, but so much of loss of life and hope of future was look very bleak. So like all this illusion all week, all disheartened people did try and turn to religion and they try to turn more and more to dogmatic and religion because it's not only comforting, it kind of takes away your attention away from your present misery because it just promises you great things which will happen to you in the future.


So this is what was happening to the Muslims because they were so much in disarray. I mean, the fight and bloodshed that happened in fifty seven. If you read all the counties in the north and the villages which were wiped out, so people at that point, they had no way of finding some kind of support group. They don't do. The emperor was no longer there. They were rudderless, they were leaderless.


So at that point, the ulema smoothly move into the space. And Muslims in any case, had a historic tradition of looking up to a religious figurehead as as a ruler because you have a history of califate. But the only three, four candidates were also they were both spiritual as well as leaders. So for them to accord the leadership status to Olema or to a group of animals was not very difficult. They just thought maybe this is how we'll reclaim our lost glory or whatever.


So that that is when the ulema started wielding a disproportionate influence over the population.


So youth anytime was part of this daily elite and his family had witnessed the wholesale massacre. But because his family was aligned with the British, they were in the service of the British. So they didn't suffer the repercussions. And he used his association, his family's association to get concessions from them to start up the school for Muslims, that is Anglo Arabic school and metamorphose into the university and Muslim University of British also facilitated his visit to Oxford and Cambridge so you could see what our modern university is designed and how it operates.


But because a large number of Muslims were all closely aligned with the Ulema because first mover advantage ulamas had moved Fuso, they managed to get bigger support. They did not want to join the university because of the constant tussle between the Ulema and associates. There were a lot of fatwas issued against Sesotho saying that he's promoting an Islamic practices, he's promoting Kufra or even sin amongst the Muslims. So he was trying to convince Rich landed Muslim gentry, the landlords, the that that you send your kids to the sons or daughters to buy institution.


He was trying to convince the ulema that I will ensure that they get Islamic education, which is why the whole curriculum of good university was modern but Islamic. At Corzo Debrett, they did ensure that there were prayers happening. They did ensure that some sort of Islamic dress became a uniform there, that sheibani and all that. So he maintained he ensured that the cultural ethos of not Indian upper caste and class Muslims is in place and a modern education is also there, which is why this very modern elite Muslim elite emerged from the early years of any great university which eventually moved to Pakistan.


So that was his contribution. But one, any good university is not enough. I mean, even today. And they cater to some 4000 students. I mean, it's it's a drop in the ocean. And at that time it was much smaller.


But it was not only that, even so, you can't focus in those days was on educating the elite. He was not in the favor of expanding this dose of learning or opening these doors of learning to lower class or lower costs for Muslims as well as women. He felt that women cannot be better or more educated than men because it will disrupt the family harmony. So as long as they are currently trading their. Good enough to teach the kids the Koran, so it's fine.


So this conflict between so-called modernity and conservatism continued for many years leading up to the partition, because if you see the only Muslim leaders were all from the illegal stock, which is why Muslim leave earlier was called a legal party because it produced these early class of sophisticated Muslims, articulate, learned of people with fancy libraries and studies at home who would be would be so rich that they a book they would just dwell on poetry and literature and classical music. So there was another reason why the influence of Olimar did not be even after independence, because when the pushback from the lower classes and the lower costs of the Muslims, it started.


I mean, this upward mobility started after the partition. These were the people who, again, the ulema stockage and these are the people because of poverty, are the first ones to go to a madrassa because at least show some amount of education to the child. So the influence of the ulema has remained strong over the community until and unless people who have really been disruptors who have moved away for their own paths and their own education, whether in a Muslim institution or a non-Muslim institution.


And they have been bold enough to question the ulamas. And there has been a substantial number of Muslims who have done this. Since the independence movement Molana, that was one of them, he was completely removed from the traditional Olimar leader or legal community of Muslims. So there have been people like that. And probably even today there is kind of a balance, an equal number on both sides. Unfortunately, the. The moderate is usually silent because for various fields, I mean, he is viewed as a renegade Muslim by the conservative ones, like an apologist, and if you only as a Muslim, even by a non-Muslim, by a non-Muslim, they don't really see that.


OK, so this person, this Muslim, is not a conservative, fundamentalist, dogmatic Muslim. They don't see when they are targeting you or when they want to vilify you. You're only a Muslim. So this this class, by and large, remains invisible and silent because they don't want to draw attention to themselves, which is why when we're talking of a Muslim society, you keep thinking about very rigid conservative people who are driven largely by the ulema, which is true.


A group, a substantive part of the society is like that. But there's also the other group, which is not like that, which is individualistic, which is which has aspirations or dreams or desires like anybody else, do not really identify themselves with the community policy, but with their own socio economic milieu. Middle class Muslim, they see themselves as upper middle class and like any other middle class, they are struggling to go on and on holiday. They are struggling for the next promotion and job.


They're trying to get a scholarship. So this class is also there and they are convinced. And more and more in the last few years since probably the last decade, they're getting it more and more convinced that the more they hide themselves. But they will be able to go ahead in life. I mean, it's not just a question of survival, it's also a question of leading a decent existence. That's really tragic and resonant, and you mentioned that it's become worse during the last 10 years and and there are multiple reasons for that.


One, of course, is the rise of the BJP, which we'll talk about and you know, how virulent everything has become. But as far as moderation is concerned, like when you were telling me about the moderate Muslim, you of course, the radicals will think he's not Muslim enough. But then for the others, there is, you know, a moderate Muslim can never do enough to convince them that he is not like the radicals. And that is, in fact, a tendency that I see in other domains.


Also, it's not just about Islam. It's seen the domains of politics where, for example, the word centrist has become a pejorative on Twitter, where people will call Chicago a centrist, as if, you know, it is a pejorative and something really bad. Because what you have is you have these echo ideological echo chambers on social media and they have that purity test. And it's a of to extremism. As you know, within those echo chambers, people will keep signaling their vote to get higher and higher.


And one way of doing that is by castigating those who are not pure enough. So if you don't belong to those echo chambers, like, I suspect, a vast silent majority, then you might as well just stay silent. You know, why invite that mob upon yourself? And I guess that's true in the context of anything that, you know, I think social media also has exacerbated this drift towards the extremes.


Now, one of the sort of parts of your book, which I was struck by and also saddened by, is when you talk about this, you know, person who does odd jobs and his name is a Geodon and which is an odd name. But one day you discover that his actual name is Mohammed Zia-Ul-Haq, which he tells you. And, you know, two other people are Sunni and Babloo. And one of them wanted to tell you, you know, in confidence, let him be Muslim him.


And this is really sad because it's almost as if they have to hide their identity from the others around them so that there are no consequences, just as a matter of precaution. Again, going back to any sort about, you know, home is not just where you are safe, but where you are visible. And these are not people who feel comfortable enough to be visible and they go to the extent of, you know, hiding the names and calling themselves Sunni and Babloo.


Now, you've referred to sort of five historical reasons why there is this sort of distrust still has grown between Hindus and Muslims and why, you know, they are in the street. I'll quickly skip through them and then ask you to elaborate. You wonderous partition where nearly eight million Muslims cross over to Pakistan. And a sizable proportion of these are the elites. It's almost as if all the elites who can afford to go to school and what you have left behind is the slightly lower classes.


And so that there it has a devastating impact than the bloodletting that happened during partition leads to distrust. So, you know, starting with Sardar Patel, who doesn't want any Muslims in the, um, uh, you know, in the levers of government. So Muslims are filtered out of the army and the bureaucracies. And you caught Najib Joung at one point saying even about the modern times that, quote, Muslims on a selection panel may be hesitant to push for a Muslim candidate for fear of appearing parochial or communal stop quote.


And then this leads to the other factor that a lot of Muslims feel, hey, we won't even get a fair deal. So you call it the reluctance to even try and they don't even sort of make the effort. You, again, could caught out Habibullah saying, quote, There are two issues here, actual exclusion of the Muslims and the feeling of exclusion from the national mainstream stopcock. And and, of course, they haven't then got no you know, because of the strange secular education, they're not even educated enough to you.


But, you know, and so they have less opportunities of getting ahead. Of course, some of them go to the Gulf and all that. But you speak about the consequences of that, the exposure to Wahhabi Islam. You know, the remittances which disturb the social balance, as you put it. And finally, you talk about how we are now in an equilibrium where there is tremendous insecurity among Muslims in India. So, uh, and of course, there's also the sort of, uh, the political influence of what happened when the BJP kind of came to power and all of that, which, you know, pushed the Muslims to further extremes.


So tell me a little bit about all of this, that, you know, the way these factors kind of pile up, it almost seems like, you know, it was always going to be this way.


I mean, it was just very kind of.


So what's what's your sense of where Muslims are today? Like, where is this going? Is it or is it a direction in which this is going that makes you despair? I hear affluent people of all religions, actually, but also Muslims saying that we want to leave the country. I know people have already left because of the way things are going. So what is your sense of where? Things stand today like we are in twenty, twenty one, for God's sake, you would have thought we you know, we been globalizing through this period.


We've been exposed to the whole world, all of that. Are we going backwards? What's going on?


I think let's look at it from a different me today.


I have quoted the figures in another chapter, I think marginalization of Indian Muslims, the Odyssey's outreach through educational institutions and professional coaching institutions is phenomenal. They are churning out twenty, nearly twenty black students from the various parties, schools all over the country every year. Now, if this has been going on since the 50s, these schools, you can imagine the mosques that they have created and then see the other side in the same way they have are bureaucracy and civil services.


The kind of people who are joining the bureaucracy are mostly from small towns, mostly from quasi villages or villages on the verge of being downed. A lot of these people, they have school at some point of their life in Odyssey's run school or when they do this is Kuching or preambular, the SC coaching. When they try and do that, they do it in Odysseys run school institution, a coaching center. So this outreach is so huge and this kind of deliberately misleading version of your history, which is being taught to them.


It becomes truth. I mean, Vivan, you question it. Why would you think that you have been taught something which is completely false or which is not correct or which is exaggerated? Because if you've learned this part of your mental make up, not a lot of people think that history is nonsense. It's of no use. I mean, you do sciences, you do math, you do computer sciences. But the truth is, at some point in your life, you have studied a faulty history.


And that never leaves you that impression never leaves you. Take, for instance, partition. We hear stories about atrocities that Hindus and you have suffered in partition. We have this collection of stories from people, the people who have suffered, they have and they have passed it on to the next generation, to the children, to the grandchildren. They talk about it. But the similar stories are also being collected in Pakistan. I mean, it's not that there was no massacre of Muslims.


I mean, the massacre of Muslims also. But when we recall partition or when we talk of partition and how badly will we have suffered, we do not take into account that they have suffered equally. So it is a collective suffering on both sides. But in addition, it's one sided. Then this addition goes further on. Then you talk about you bring in the Omar, you bring in the Islamic terrorism, you bring in appeasement of Muslims. You bring in so many various factors to create an image of a community that has wronged us, wronged the Hindus they have.


The loyalty to India has always been suspect. They have been fifth columnists. They are the ones who get the best of the government policies. I mean, you you see, even today, people actually genuinely believe that Muslims get the best of government policies and the policies favor the Muslims, which is not correct. So when you have these kind of narratives coming from so many different sources, why won't you believe that is correct? It's very difficult to sift through them and to tell people that, look, this is not true.


This is the other side. You listen to the other side. So when we talk of Muslims becoming, you know, getting pushed out, the Muslims not trying enough of Muslims getting disillusioned or Muslims being marginalized or Muslims getting some kind of radical Islam on all of this is a consequence of. The realisation this is academic information for a lot of people, but for Muslims, this is something which they have grown up with in a small towns, maybe it was much less when I was growing up.


I didn't see this in my face. But in Delhi when I came, a big city, which is supposed to be more modern, which is supposed to be more liberal than Agra, which is beyond I mean, not really, but in a manner of speaking. So when in a big town where people with greater exposure have this sort of perception of Muslims, where there is no curiosity of finding out about them, it would automatically put you in some kind of a reductive.


Should you feel that maybe I'm not welcome, but if I'm welcome, then I'm being suspected all the time. Or you start doubting your own relationships with these people that whether they really are my friend or they're not or whether they're talking about me behind my back, whether they gossip about me or whether they make fun of me, the way I behave, the way I dress or whatever, or my my educational background. So there are so many things which not then become part of this mindset which we are, which we have kind of seen happening not just in the last 10 years, but for many, many years.


But now it is in our face because it has been growing so. When we talk about what is our future, I, I feel that it is so difficult to actually penetrate this disinformation. It's not even a campaign now. It's like a wall of disinformation which has which has been built all around us. So it is so difficult to penetrate that. But unless you penetrate this, how do you tell them to see the right from wrong? So the fate of Muslims is not for it alone.


I mean, their faith is so intrinsically linked to the fate of how we go forward as a nation, we go forward. Are we going to be a modern, progressive, forward looking country or are we going to be a country which is always thinking of historic wrongs which need to be righted now? So which is why even when I was writing this book, I was not thinking in terms of addressing only Muslims. My idea was that I need to make some kind of effort, that I'm reaching out to people and telling them that if you just have an open mind and give me a little time to read through a few things, check for yourself, check the historical evidence is available everywhere.


So you just check for yourself. What I am saying, what I am writing is correct or not correct. The real thing. I mean, if you just see around, you don't even have to make an effort. If you just try and look around and with an open mind, you'll see what kind of people are all around you, what kind of Muslim people are. And you you look at the Muslims who are working in your offices. Do they do they fit in the version you have of them in your mind?


You see the Muslim in your college, is that the person you think a Muslim is supposed to be? Then you realize that actually. It is not difficult to break through your perception's, break through your prejudice, which you have inherited from your probably your parents or your readers or what you learned in some school you went to. And that is the only way we can actually collectively. Move forward. Muslims cannot move forward on their own. They have to move forward with everybody else.


No man is an island.


I urge my listeners to read your book because this is really only a small sampling of everything that we've discussed today. And to really discuss your book properly would take 30 hours and not three. And I don't want to inflict that on you. So I'll move away from the book for a moment and end with some larger questions. Your thoughts on some larger issues. And one is something that I don't have an answer to, which is how liberal are we as a society?


For example, at one point I did an episode with Gypping around the politician and I mentioned to him that India is a deeply illiberal society and I hardly need to elaborate on that. The way women are treated, the way minorities are treated, the court system, blah, blah, blah. And he said that if you look at it another way, we're deeply liberal society in terms of our lived life, the way that there is a tolerance. We assimilate so much from so many cultures and all of that.


And I get it that there is a strand of that also. Now, when I look back on Indian history in the last sort of hundred years, what what kind of strikes me is that what is happening today, while it has come to our politics, this sort of othering of Muslims in this very toxic, polarizing politics while it's come to our politics today? Well, it's gained dominance in our politics today, rather. It's always been in our culture something that I got a slightly deeper realisation of when I did an episode with Academical, who's written a brilliant book on the press.


And one sees that, you know, when you look at the pub with, you know, was version of the pub with Geeta selling 70 million copies and the kind of things that they sell, not just a book would get, which anyway, everyone should read. It's a great book regardless of whatever. But the other kind of stuff that they sell, including, you know, much of like, you know, what I learned from reading his book was how all these campaigns like Love Jihad and the campaign against cow slaughter and all of those actually are it's not something new.


It's a big gain dominance in politics recently. But they've been around in culture for a long time. And my sort of sense and the sense that kind of gives me some hope is that we all contain multitudes. So therefore, somebody who might, on the one hand, be drawn by abstract notions of nationalism or Indio's for the Hindus or whatever, might also have other aspects to her personality, which are much more tolerant and assimilative. And therefore, you know, one hopeful hypothesis is that what currently the people in power have managed to appeal to and what has currently become the dominant narrative strand is this particular strand.


But there are other strands which are possible because there are you know, we do contain multitudes.


We are illiberal, but at the same time we are liberal. What is your take on that? You know, is there, you know, like someone once said, whatever you say of India, the opposite is also true. So is that something that you would agree with? Is that something that you know? I know that we can look all around us and there is a lot to give us the spirit, other also things that give you hope and feel that at a cultural level, because it has to change at a cultural level first before anything else changes at a cultural level.


Is there hope that, say, the better angels of our nature, so to say, can express themselves? What is your sense of this? I agree.


I completely agree. We are actually, there's a huge dichotomy being in our country. We have always been very tolerant of outsiders at one level, but we have also been xenophobic. I mean, we have been very liberal in our approach to a lot of issues, acceptance of others, being one of them tolerant of everybody, whether it's even gay. I mean, now there has been a bit of homophobia. I mean, there has been a strand of homophobia, but there has been.


And then it's part of our culture. We have been of a very, very reverential about women in certain matters. And I'm not talking about worship, but we have been accepting of women leadership also and not just in politics, but in other parts of our lives also, whether it's a business in business houses or within the family. And then we have cases of complete horror, horrific violence against women. So we kind of inhabit both worlds. But coming to your question, specific question about what gives you hope?


I think the recent example of this CNRT protest which broke out, which started in Scheinberg and it kind of sprouted in all parts of India, and it was essentially driven by Muslims insecurity about their place in India. But they'll be declared as non Indians and shoved into some camp. But the kind of support that it garnered from all sorts of people, even people who want more or not known to be activists, came out on the streets to support this assault on what they call the Constitution.


But assault on constitution, again, is an abstract, vague concept. Essentially on the ground. What was happening was assault on a community based on their religion. And you see people who had no familiarity with or do poetry or singing for them first. And they were people who had memorized it. And actually, it's not easy to learn and it's not easy to understand. Also, it has a very strong Islamic imagery. I mean, it's not a religious poem, I'm taking it, but it has a strong Islamic imagery which goes back to the time of the prophet.


So despite that, people were saying that. So I think all of this shows that there is a sustained push back in what not, if you're faced with police and police, is completely compromised and they're hitting out at you. It's very difficult. And it's not fair also to expect that people will continuously be standing against the sort of violence. But this push back, this even emotional agitation which happened among a lot of people and non-Muslims, it's very it's encouraging is a very condescending word.


It is something which tells you that this Orissa's outreach, it's not been completely successful project that despite there trying to kind of build a narrative in their own way, it has not percolated down to the last citizen of the country. There are people who are still thinking and resisting because they feel that this is not what it is or this is not what it stands for. I think this is this has been a huge moment. I am also not an activist by temperament.


I'm already quite the sort of a person I like to be on my own. I like being on my own, quietly sitting in one corner and just thinking about things and daydreaming or I'm not a very social person. But when all this was happening and I was reading up stuff and I was watching videos, it was something which was filling me up with this huge desire to go out there and maybe I should want to stand with them and do something.


Maybe I'm wasting my life just sitting in my study and doing nothing. So that sort of momentum, which it created, I think. And it has been unparalleled in recent times, and this is what is happening now with the farmers protests also, so probably things will not change in a hurry, but as long as this resistance is there, as long as the people who believe that they need to stand up and be counted, whatever the consequences, shouldn't despair.


Not very wise words, and as an aside, you mentioned daydreaming, knowing a little earlier, and it struck me when you mentioned it earlier, that I'm also a huge daydreamer to the point that, you know, when I first read James Sobel's famous short story, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, I thought that what is a big deal about this? And we all like this, you know, am I the only unusual person who's exactly like this?


And again, I've done episodes in the CIA and also radical radically network societies. I like those from the Señores, which that was a great example of society industry that also gave me a lot of hope. So many young people, not just singing fans, but, you know, waving the preamble of the Constitution on the streets. Like who would have thunk of something like that? A generation back, though, I wish they had with the Ambedkar version and not the Indira Gandhi version with the word socialism in it.


But regardless, some preamble is better than no preamble. My other question is about politics. Now, at one point in your book, and I'll go back to your book just to sort of get into the subject where you write about Indira Gandhi role in this and you say, quote, The deterioration was due to a large degree to Indira Gandhi style of politics. The minorities had begun to move away from the CongressI. Indira Gandhi made a bid for the Hindu vote to the BJP discomfit to stop God.


And I did an episode with when I about the recently on, you know, the BJP before Modi and show, so to say. And one of the things that emerges there is that the Congress turned to the Hindu vote in a big way in the early eighties, and the BJP had then, you know, when they were formed by you saying all these flowery things about Gandhi and socialism and all that. But they had to respond because a Hindu vote was going away and therefore they responded by getting more and more radical and, you know, and it became a race to the bottom.


And of course, the BJP won because, you know, the bottom was not a new place for them. So and when I look at current times, one of the things that disheartens me is that that soft Hindu tour of the Congress remains in a lot of what they do. They did make him a lot himself among the British, despite all the posturing on Twitter that they'll do, that's often the two things will change that would you know, when the temple judgment came, they actually said that, you know, it was Rajiv Gandhi who first opened the gates and all of that.


You see the Aam Admi Party cheesing that also with the, you know, the chanting of the honeymoon chalice after the last election and all of that. And I think one realisation or at least one perception because it may not be true. So I wouldn't call it realisation, but one perception which all these parties seem to have come to, is that you cannot mess with the Hindu world. So does that put a limit on the politics that can happen on behalf of the marginalised people in this country?


The fact that, you know, that there is a realisation among the parties or there is a perception among the parties, because I don't believe it's entirely true, but there is a perception among the parties that you cannot be part of the Hindu vote, which is why even when this year was happening right there in Delhi, you did not seek well, besides making a few token noises, really going out there and doing something about it. So now, obviously, it is true, as I keep saying on the show, that politics is long stream of culture.


The culture has to change first, then the politics will respond. But, you know, the culture is complicated. It's got multitudes, all of that. But in a political sense, is there something that gives you hope, someone who will actually fight against this? Because, you know, despite the random Twitter posturing, no, but I will continue to do on the ground. The Congress doesn't give a shit. They are playing the in the game.


So what is your perception of our politics the way it is and what it means for Muslims?


I think under the circumstances, the softened that what would be acceptable to a large number of people? Because if this doesn't result in everyday violence, I mean, Congress has been doing soft in the bar for decades, but it didn't result in a lynching of people. And at least there was some token lip service after every riot and the government or the law enforcement agencies didn't really go after the victims in the way they do now. I mean, they actually framed the victims.


If a person is getting lynched as though dashikis filed against his family also. So at least this sort of everyday terrorism of civilians was not there. So probably we'll return to this happy coexistence of increasing Hindu ization of Indian society, which I think is very difficult to resist for the simple reason the majority is Hindu and there is increased religiosity of all public spaces. It's not just Hindu religiosity, but even Muslims are becoming overtly I mean, in that way about that, about American strength.


They are becoming overtly demonstrative about their identity or any other religion. So that is something which is. Happening in our society, probably some kind of zoning is required and at some level, at some point in time, we realize that it is all stupidity and we'll go back to being normal human beings.


But if this field, if this field of the street goes away, then probably more Muslims can come out and claim part of this. It's free right now. One of the reasons why they are comfortable in moving to a ghetto, they don't get accommodation in a lot of places. But even when the accommodation option is available, a lot of them prefer to go to work. It is because they think it's safe for them and the children. So once your streets are safe for your public transportation is safer, you'll see more people accessing it.


More people try making an effort here, more people asserting their rights here. So that can probably over a period of time have a cascading effect on our society and our culture as we know it. And going back to what if we had said that if every Hindu has one or two Muslim friends, then if there are more Muslims in public spaces and probably more Hindus can find Muslim friends and they'll learn to.


Distinguish between what they perceived and what they find. Very wise words, I've taken up a lot of your time, so I'll end with a final question, which has nothing to do either with the book or the subject at hand, but instead about you. I'm always sort of awed when an author writes a book like this, because I think about just that process, how it must have changed that person, because I think writing a serious book is always also a process of self discovery about learning things about yourself and all of that.


How did this book change you like? What are the big things, you know, now that you did not know before the book, perhaps? Or, you know, I mean, what gave you the impetus to do a book like this? And having done a book like this, you know, what was the process like? Was it difficult? Was it hard? At one point he wrote about, you know, how your dad wasn't so comfortable about the personal bits of, you know, your childhood and all of that.


But I think yesterday on Twitter, you wrote that he said to you that he's very proud of the way that you've written about the whole subject and indeed he should be, because what a wonderful book. So tell me a little bit about this process and what it's meant to you.


Actually, I think I was veering towards writing this book since I started this magazine called Force in 2003, though it was a magazine on national security and defense. And our focus was on the Indian military and external defense at that time.


But that was also the time when the global war on terrorism was underway and be used to meet.


I mean, when I used to go and meet people, especially from the armed forces, I used to hear constantly about terrorism. I used to travel a lot, especially in my early reporting. I was always from Kashmir.


And and I as I became more and more familiar with the insurgency and the antecedents of the insurgency, the problems that the people are facing there, the again, the vilification which we see now in the main stream of mainland India, I started with Kashmir. I mean that the people have been living with that for years.


So I used to write when I used to come back and write my article in the magazine, I used to bring in these elements about how rumors are spread, how perceptions are deliberately built to actually dehumanize some people. I mean, my early earliest experience in Kashmir was so traumatizing for me. I mean, I was not at the receiving end, but I was being driven to a separatist leaders house by a local boy who wanted to become a journalist. I had gone to the press committee to meet some people and one of the journalists said that my younger brother also wanted to be a journalist and he wants to go to Delhi and to study journalism.


Very young, nice, enthusiastic boy. And he offered to drive me to this leader's house. And while we were going there, the car was stopped by a CRB of guy who used his and to be very violently bound to the Indian.


And he stopped the car and he spoke to this boy very harshly. And this boy immediately, a minute before, was very enthusiastically telling me his plans and how he was going to finish school now. And if I could help him when he was stopped by this guy, he was going in film and he was shaken up so badly he got out of the car and this constable was so insulting. I also got out and I said, why are you talking to him like this?


And he said, But I'm up to a year of cinema. So I felt this everyday humiliation and this boy, from that point to the rest of my journey, he kept quiet. He didn't say anything because obviously he felt so humiliated in front of somebody he was bragging about. He was talking about how great he is and how well he's doing in school. And so that was my first experience. And then subsequently, I used to be a traveling someplace.


And I'm one fancy journalist from Delhi, so nobody would trouble me. But the driver of the car would be the taxi would be harassed at every checkpoint and every hundred meters.


It would be a checkpoint so that I became more engaged with their everyday struggle instead of the big picture of Pakistan instigating violence or terrorism into India. And while I was engaging with them more and more, I came across Islamic sect and I had my first encounter with the Islamic schools and defeat because in Delhi I have not been so exposed to the Muslims or. Various strands of Islam, because I was not exposed to them when I was growing up in my work, my career did not expose me to this kind of religious conservatism, but it was in me.


So that is how I got drawn into writing, you know, kind of a clarification about the religion and trying to address both the Muslims as well as the non-Muslims.


That doesn't understand what I'm talking about. So Jihad was one of the only subjects that I started writing about.


So as in gradually, I became more and more involved in writing on terrorism.


I realized that even my understanding was so limited. So I had to do a lot of reading to actually make sense of my argument. So with this background, when I started to write the book, when I started to conceptualize, I my first audience I thought was going to be the Muslims and I was going to tell them that don't use to put people by doing these things to yourself. I mean, this is not what religion tells you, but in the course of researching for it, I.


Came across these examples, which I have just inherited from Kashmir, and I realized that this sort of marginalization of the everyday marginalization in your cities, in your workplaces, is actually a reality which I have been blind to because maybe my privileged background and the fact that. In media, in any case, there is a preponderance of Muslims, so that kind of insulates you from the larger society because you only see what you see around you. I mean, you don't really see beyond what is evident to you.


It's only when you sit down and sometimes reflect and then you realize that probably there is another side to the story or there's a truth behind what is visible to you at that point. So that is how the process started. And my biggest learning, and actually it has been a massive learning, is about my own religion because I did not have a great background in religious history or practices because it was never inculcated in me when I was growing up. This has been a revelation.


I had never regarded Islam as a reasonable and, you know, a balanced sort of faith. I was not aware that even today it's like this peaceful conversion to Islam as a worldwide phenomenon.


I mean, when I was looking at these statistics, I realized there must be something about it which people still find gives them hope. So they want to embrace it. So this has been a learning for me. And I feel if I can learn this, if I can find this out without making so much of an effort, I mean, it just takes a little bit of reading, a little bit of observation like others do that, you know, I think you're understating it when you say a little bit of reading and a little bit of observation, because you've clearly done a lot of both.


And you know, what I'm also impressed by is that all we spoke about here is really your book. In this subject. You are actually a deep expert in another subject. You know, you found it false. You've written this wonderful book, Dragon on Our Doorstep, with the provin so completely different subject that's about managing China and India's defense and all of that. And so you don't like your book. You contain multitudes as well. And perhaps one day you can show up again on this show and we can discuss some other things.


But meanwhile, you know, I have to thank you first for writing your wonderful book, which I think everyone who is listening to this should read. And secondly, for being so incredibly patient with me and, you know, sharing your time and your thoughts with me. Thank you.


Thank you so much. It was absolute delight being here. Thank you.


If you enjoyed listening to this episode, hop on over to your nearest bookstore, online or offline and buy Gozal over Hobbs wonderful book, Born a Muslim Some Truths about Islam in India. You can follow Ghazala on Twitter at Ghazala Wahhab. You can follow me at Amitava Amity Artemy. You can browse past episodes of the scene in The Unseen Itzin Unseen. Again, thank you for listening.


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