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Saeed Naqvi

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Being The Other

'Reality is stranger than fiction, as in my case. I write what I have lived,' starts veteran journalist Saeed Naqvi as we speak to him about his new book, Being The Other, which releases this week. His part-memoir part-reportage is the bitter tale of being a Muslim in India no matter the powers or the good life. Excerpts.

Tell us the story behind Being The Other.
I was born in a Muslim home in erstwhile Awadh, of which Lucknow was the capital. We were Saeeds, a caste who among Muslims are supposed to be sustaining the mythology that they are direct descendants from the Prophet. This is a story, if you give it any credence, of migrations. The Prophet was in Saudi Arabia. We were in Awadh. There are linkages. Shia Islam came to Iran in the 16-17th century. But before that, around the 10th century, some of these Saeeds were parked in Nishapur not far from Mashhad, and then the Mongol Hordes came and destroyed the place… Genghis Khan and Hulagu and their armies. So they settled in Gardez. Therefore some of our relatives used to call themselves ‘Gardezi’. So when I was in Kabul sometime after the year 2000, I asked Hamid Karzai if I could go to Gardez. It was a troubled area and I want sent there with two jeeploads of security. The Shias in Gardez were happy to see me, I clicked a lot of pictures for record. I returned home, there was great celebration and my mother had never known anyone returning from Gardez. Then, I took out the camera and there was no film in it! All of this set the scene...

But the fact was that the Saeeds faced exile in 1857 (Mutiny of Lucknow), 1947 (Partition), and then 1951, when zamindari was abolished and their lands from Jahangir were lost. 

What were the incidents in your life that shaped the story?
During my own journey in journalism too, I was to face a similar exile. Of course, I had a whale of a time. I assumed a class in my profession and travelled to 110 countries, and Ramnath Goenka had hand-picked me to report on Morarji Desai. Then Babri Masjid happened. The Bombay riots happened. The Gujarat riots happened. Things began to change. VP Singh brought in Mandal. Memories of Partition came back. I was suddenly identified as a Muslim. Then came the War on Terror, and it separated people even farther. The Soviet Union had collapsed in 1991. The Americas had targeted what Eisenhower called the military industrial complex. Now, this big military industrial complex was not going to sit jobless. It had to find another target. That was Islamic terror. Huntington wrote a book called The Clash of Civilizations? Where he said before 1991, there is no instance of Muslim terror anywhere. Suddenly after the collapse, communalism was growing. Muslim officers were given an option to go to Karachi at the time of Partition…and they went because they did not want to burn their bridges. The result was that we who stayed on had no connections. Earlier the Hindu was my friend. Vinod Mehta and I grew up in the same school but as the country evolved, we began to see things differently. I became a Muslim and he became a Punjabi Hindu. Everyone had their network. Who was I? Always The Other. 

This book is my take on all these events. I keep going back and forth in time and see how I find myself isolated. I had never complained about it then, but I complain about it now. 


Text Soumya Mukerji

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