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'He was Muslim because he doubted the Holocaust, hated America and Israel, thought Hindus were weak and cowardly, and because the glories of the Islamic past excited him...'

Extracts
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553
STRANGER TO HISTORY: A SON`S JOURNEY THROUGH ISLAMIC LANDS
PICADOR PAGES: 338; RS. 495

I had begun my journey asking why my father was Muslim, and this was why: none of Islam's once powerful moral imperatives existed within him, but he was Muslim because he doubted the Holocaust, hated America and Israel, thought Hindus were weak and cowardly, and because the glories of the Islamic past excited him.... The faith decayed within him..., became nothing but a deep, unreachable historical and political identity.... It was significant because in the end this was the moderate Muslim, and it was too little moderation and in the wrong areas....

I rose to leave the room. It was as if a bank had burst. My father and I, for the first time, were beyond embarrassment. I returned a few moments later to say goodbye to him, but he had left for the day without a word. The now empty room produced a corresponding vacancy in me that was like despair. I wanted somehow to feel whole again; not reconciliation, that would be asking too much, just not this feeling of waste: my journey to find my father ending in an empty room in Lahore, the clear light of a bright morning breaking in to land on the criss-crossing arcs of a freshly swabbed floor.

As the crow flies, the distance between my father and me had never been much, but the land had been marked by history for a unique division of which I had inherited both broken pieces. My journey to seek out my father, and through him, his country, was a way for me to make my peace with that history.... I felt that I'd been given what Partition had denied many. For me it meant the possibility of a different education, of embracing the three-tier history of India whole, perhaps an intellectual troika of Sanskrit, Urdu and English. These mismatches were the lot of people with garbled histories, but I preferred them to violent purities. The world is richer in its hybrids.

But then there was the futility of the empty room, rupture on rupture, for which I could find no consolation except that my father's existence, so ghostly all my life, had at last acquired a gram of material weight. And, if not for that, who knows what sterile obsessions might still have held me fast?


(Stranger to History will be published by Picador India in April 2009.)

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