Linguistic safari

Keki Daruwalla

With Diego’s departure, the ‘hand of God’ goal against England has again got the limelight. That’s one of the most famous goals in history. How does that gel with a piece on BJP’s football with linguistics I am embarking on? How the leaders dribble and never quibble as they move towards their goals. The other side doesn’t have a blessed goalie. He has already been sent off by the referee (not to be confused by the one who never saw the Maradona goal).

I am poor at scoring, but let’s list the improvements on Queen’s English. From secular to pseudo-secular to sicular was just testing the waters. It was the Reconnaissance party at the start of a true military campaign against the heathens. Then came the Army Chief’s contribution with ‘Presstitutes’, an alliterative hit, I am lost in admiration of. Then you moved on to the desi types, meaning you and me, and we got ‘ghar wapsi’. That was not the BMC handing back her flat to Kangana Ranaut. It was women returning to the fold after being ‘fraudulently’ married to Muslims.

The question has a demographic angle. How many such women have been emotionally ambushed, taken into wedlock, with the Qazi reading out from the Quran? We want the numbers. Earlier in Lucknow they had the anti-Romeo squads. Do they have something against love per se, or Italy? Now we have ‘love jihad’, which is a bit of an oxymoron. Jihad, in its primal meaning, may mean self-purification, as attempts are made to justify jihad. But for most of us, jihad is war. How do you pair love with war? Do some of our Chief Ministers suffer from delusions? Do they imagine apocalyptic scenarios, a pan-India sweep by Islamic proselytisers under orders from WAMY, that’s the acronym for ‘World Assembly of Muslim Youth’? Now that you can’t convert with the help of the sword, do it through nikah! The bane of not just Indian, but Asiatic thinking is that we imagine a conspiracy at the end of every lane.

Talking of conversions, they were avoided by the mullahs once. You needed non-Muslims to pay the jaziya, one-fourth of your income, to the state treasury. As a student of history, I, as a Zoroastrian, should know what conversion is, or rather was. After the battle of Qudisiya (in Iraq) in 636 AD or thereabouts, the decisive battle between Arabs and Persians (already exhausted with a decade-long war with the Byzantine empire), and between Islam and Zoroastrianism. Caliph Omar’s forces won. Arabs plus sandstorm proved irresistible. There were no eye-glasses those days. The battle lasted four days and on the last day, a sandstorm confronted the Persian forces and they were beaten. But conversion was slow. The Persians reverted to their religion till an Arab citizen was billeted in each Zoroastrian home for at least a year so that the Muslim ritual and prayer would prevail. But all this was in the 7th century. Our Chief Ministers have to be reminded that this is 2020, 1,300 years later.

The main minority is hardly ever mentioned in public discourse. When I was in school, mandir and masjid were mentioned in the same breath, so were Ram and Rahim. Gandhiji talked of Ishwar and Allah in the same breath, his favorite bhajan said the same thing. Why have things changed? A year or two ago, an actor in a Ram Leela was sacked just because he was Muslim. Mohd Rafi sang “Darshan do Ghanshyam” with great fervour. A Maharashtrian Brahmin, Lata Mangeshkar sang “Bekas pe karam kijiye sarkar Madina” with as great passion as any Muslim could have summoned. Why has this camaraderie vanished? The Progressive writers of Urdu mostly, and Hindi, were of Left leanings. In JNU today, for a section of students and teachers, to be a leftist is almost a crime. If I was a student, I could be failed for quoting Romila Thapar! And worse would befall me if I were to mention MN Roy in his communist phase (before he fell out with Stalin), or Shripad Amrit Dange, or that very able and good looking Brinda Karat.

What has happened to civilised discourse? TV is to blame to some extent, bringing opposite factions for a debate night after night. If there was TV in Jinnah and Gandhi’s time, imagine the fun. Jinnah being a better lawyer, would he have won? Verbal duels have become coarser. Look at JNU. A national paper carries an article by a member of the Executive Council of JNU. How she lambasts leftists! “Having converted their centres and schools to leftist swamps, they have survived on past regurgitations of stale theories.” And she dubs leftists as “the most malevolent anti-student force”. Not one civil word in the piece.

Isn’t consultation a component of civility? Why couldn’t the farmers be asked before those laws were promulgated? Farming seems the only sector which is showing growth. This is how the farmer is treated.

Language is being coarsened and twisted. “The age demanded an image/Of its accelerated grimace”. Nothing today exists by itself. We could end with Saul Bellow: “Everybody knows that there is no finesse or accuracy in suppression. If you hold one thing down, you hold down the adjoining.”

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