[Reader-list] Watch that bun-maska!
Anand Vivek Taneja
radiofreealtair at gmail.com
Fri Apr 21 17:16:56 IST 2006
to quote from your mail -
Non-Muslims," wrote the accomplished
nuclear physicist, "rarely venture into areas of India where Muslims
are in large numbers, fearing unpredictable, irrational behaviour or
violence directed at them."
Maybe this does not qualify as analysis, but it certainly confirms to a
stereotype of the "Muslim ghetto" widely perpetrated in Hindi films. Like
to quote from the beginning of the paper I wrote -
Dhoom was one of the biggest hits of Hindi Cinema last year (the paper was
written in 2005). The villains were a gang of very hep thieves who rode
turbocharged super-bikes as their getaway vehicles. The two 'heroes' are
Abhishek Bachchan, playing a really rather too stylish to be true cop
wearing designer clothes; and Uday Chopra, who plays Ali, a motorbike
mechanic and champion bike racer, who leads an excitingly performative life
on the racetrack, and a faintly illegal garage and superbike shop off it.
He's also a 'dil-fenk' throwing his heart at every pretty girl he meets, and
a bit of a buffoon, who gets slapped and bullied a lot in the course of the
film by Abhishek Bachchan, as a globalised representative of the Indian
state, and a Hindu. Bachchan suspects him of involvement with the superbike
powered heists, and accompanies him to the 'Muslim ghetto' on the pretext of
buying an illegally procured bike.
How do we know it is a 'Muslim ghetto'? The camera moves down on a crane so
that Bachchan and Chopra's entry into the space is framed through rows of
flags, bearing crescent and stars, strung across the narrow street. The
space itself is constructed as 'different' from the globalized Bombay we see
in the rest of the film – a Bombay of lakeside garages, of high rise steel
and glass office towers, and expressways where the high speed getaways of
the superbikes are possible. This is a claustrophobic space, dominated by
external markers of 'Muslimness', skull caps, burqas, qawwali music and the
ubiquitous crescent and star. This Muslim space is also shown as inhabited
by a bunch of rather too touchy, and wild eyed individuals, who pick a fight
with Abhishek Bachchan, which leads to Bachchan and Chopra being chased out
of the locality by a bunch of long haired, wild eyed (and skull capped)
individuals wielding rather wicked looking swords. All of which is a mere
aside with nothing much to contribute to the film, but somehow fits
comfortably into the narrative logic of this very slick, very 'globalised'
film, in which the theme song has been sung by the Thai pop sensation Tata
There is undeniably a media fuelled image of the 'Muslim' urban space as
being a space of danger. I have heard many conversations from outsiders to
such spaces speaking of being terrified of the preponderance of beards; and
others who refer to spaces like Jamia in Delhi as Mini -Pakistan. There is
an undeniable construction of suspicion and hostiltiy around these places,
which is of course, as you say, dispelled by going in -
But how do you get those people who otherwise won't to go into Dongri to
On 4/21/06, Dilip D'Souza -- Sarai <dilip.sarai at gmail.com> wrote:
> Dear all,
> In case anyone noticed, I missed my March (2nd) posting. Various
> reasons that I won't get into here. But I intend to make up in good
> measure (I hope). Here's something I just finished for this list (that
> I'm also trying to get published) as part of my project. Comments
> welcome. And more soon.
> dilip d'souza
> Watch that bun-maska!
> Strolling through the crowded streets of this city one morning last
> week, a man tapped me on the shoulder. "Are you from the
> Municipality?" he asked, perhaps because I had my little pad out and
> was writing down the words on an odd sign I had just seen. (A minor
> hobby). No, I said, I'm not from the Municipality. It's just that I've
> always wanted to walk around in this city's neighbourhoods, and this
> is one such walk.
> He smiled, then chatted for several minutes about the sign I had
> noticed ("Chicken Shop: Be Carefull With Wrong Weight"), the empty
> plot behind us where clearly some structure had once stood and been
> demolished, the heat of the April sun ... Then he smiled some more
> still, said "Good luck!", shook my hand, and walked off.
> Why do I mention this fairly routine encounter? Only because it got me
> thinking about an article I read a couple of years ago, published by a
> very impressive-sounding think tank. Its introductory blurb described
> the article as an "analysis" of the threat that Islamic fundamentalism
> posed to India. Its US-based author had written to me, urging me to
> read it and "educate" myself about this threat. Introducing himself,
> he claimed he was an "accomplished nuclear physicist", and also an
> "expert on Islamic fundamentalism."
> Now guys that refer to themselves as "accomplished" and "expert"
> invariably set alarm bells ringing in my mind. As in this case. Sure
> enough, this man's article was -- how do I put this nicely? -- an
> almost comical mish-mash of paranoia, twisted figures and lies that
> any self-respecting think tank editor should have flung in the trash.
> No wonder the man had to apply those laudatory words to himself. If
> this bit of writing was any indication of his capabilities, nobody
> else in their right mind would.
> But it was one sentence in this concoction, in particular, that came
> to mind during my stroll. "Non-Muslims," wrote the accomplished
> nuclear physicist, "rarely venture into areas of India where Muslims
> are in large numbers, fearing unpredictable, irrational behaviour or
> violence directed at them."
> There are quarters, you see, where bald assertions like this one
> qualify as "analysis".
> Anyway: here I was with a couple of friends, certainly in an area
> "where Muslims are in large numbers." This was the heart of Dongri,
> east of JJ Hospital. In three hours walking about, here's some of what
> we found. Bustling shops. Phone booths. Three men ironing clothes who
> asked us to take a photo of them. Young men zipping about on loud
> motorbikes, weaving dangerously close to pedestrians. Street vendors
> hawking trinkets. Owner of a massage place who told us, grumpily and
> to our great disappointment, that he had stopped offering massages
> only days previously; though if we wanted, we could pay him ten rupees
> and have a bath. (We declined). Shop-owner who chuckled when we asked
> for "Pepsi", not the multinational drink, but the common kiddie word
> for a frozen popsicle.
> And a man who chatted genially and shook my hand.
> Which of all this qualified as "unpredictable, irrational behaviour or
> violence" directed at us?
> Yes, I'm a non-Muslim, as is my wife and everyone in my family and the
> two friends I was walking with that day. For work, for a meal, for a
> special meal on a Ramzan night, for weddings, and even for no
> particular reason, all of us and many other non-Muslims I know have
> walked plenty of times through Muslim areas of India -- so much that
> "rarely venture" doesn't apply. Not once have we feared
> "unpredictable, irrational behaviour or violence" directed at us; not
> once has such behaviour or violence ever broken out. What we
> experienced in Dongri was just the normal, pretty much what we would
> experience in any densely packed urban neighbourhood in India. So
> normal, it didn't even really matter to us that this was a Muslim
> area. Much like Thakurdwar or Matharpacady, where we had been
> strolling two previous mornings, it was just another pocket of a great
> city. That's all.
> What explains the paranoia of the accomplished nuclear physicist?
> It matters to me, because a journalist friend's recent efforts to buy
> a flat were stymied because of his Muslim name. He has ended up buying
> in a Muslim area. (Not Dongri, but one like that). Yet now the same
> paranoia that turned him away, that left him with no choice but to
> live "where Muslims are in large numbers", will also tell the world to
> be wary of violence if they enter his neighbourhood.
> Now Islamic fundamentalism may or may not be a huge threat to India, I
> have no idea. I'm no expert. But when its critics use their own
> paranoid prejudice to paint it as such, and dress that up as an
> "expert" analysis, there's no reason in the world to take them
> seriously, even if they are accomplished nuclear physicists. And if
> you look at them and their writing like that, you'll know that the
> only irrational behaviour is theirs.
> And if you walk around the Dongris of this world, you'll know that
> they are no different from the Thakurdwars or Matharpacadys. That they
> are populated by men and women and kids, much like you.
> Then again, something I ate in Dongri gave me a mild stomach upset. I
> can see the words in a future "expert" analysis: "Non-Muslims rarely
> venture into areas of India where Muslims are in large numbers,
> fearing tummy upsets from their bun-maska."
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Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, because you are crunchy and taste
good with ketchup.
(with apologies to Dilbert)
Only that historian will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the
past who is firmly convinced that without a sense of humour you're basically
pretty f***ed anyway.
(with apologies to Walter Benjamin)
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