Musings on Migration, Labour, Politics, Dissent etc.
November 5, 2001, University of Delhi.
I feel incredibly, though nervously happy, Prof. Chomsky, Prof. Jean Dreze, Aruna Roy and Arundhati Roy, to be standing here addressing such a huge gathering of alerts minds. I feel in fact overawed. But I will still try to say my little bit because I feel it MUST be said. I would like to make it clear that I speak on behalf of many students from different colleges and across departments of Delhi university.
There is no time to recite before you the full-length of that beautifully crafted, heart-rending cry from the soul of Faiz Ahmad Faiz in ‘Subah-e-Azaadi’ or the ‘Dawn of Freedom’ (August, 1947). But a few lines simply have to be……
Ye dagh dagh ujala, ye shab-gazida sahar,
Vo intizar tha jis-ka, ye vo sahar to nahin,
Ye vo sahar to nahin jis-ki arzu lekar
chale the yar ke mil-ja egi kahin na kahin
Falak ke dasht men taron ki akhiri manzil,
kahin to hoga shab-e sust mauj ka sahil,
Kahin to jake rukega safina-e-gham-e-dil……
…….Kahan se ai nigar-e-saba, kidhar ko gai?
Abhi charagh-e-sar-e-rah ko kuchh khabar hi nahin;
Abhi girani-e-shab men kami nahin ai,
Najat-e-dida-o-dil ki ghari nahin ai,
Chale-chalo ke vo manzil abhi nahin ai.
The stain-covered daybreak, this night-bitten dawn,
This is not that dawn of which there was expectation;
This is not that dawn with longing for which
The friends set out, (convinced) that somewhere there would be met with,
In the desert of the shy, the final destination of the stars,
Somewhere there would be the shore of the sluggish wave of night,
Somewhere would go and halt the boat of the grief of pain……
……Whence came that darling of a morning breeze,
whither has it gone?
The lamp beside the road has still no knowledge of it;
In the heaviness of night there has still come no lessening,
The hour of the deliverence of eye and heart has not arrived.
Come, come on, for that goal has still not arrived.
These lines were recited before you not only because, subtly, overpoweringly they take us down with them into an abyss and invest us with the strength to survive, come out, and carry on searching for the light that is yet to be; but also because this poem reminds us of Eqbal Ahmad, who died suddenly at Islamabad in the summer of 1999.
Eqbal Ahmad loved Faiz Ahmad Fiaz amongst all Urdu poets and ‘Subah-e-aazaadi’ happened to be one of his favourite poems. I would like to, with your permission, remember Eqbal today in your midst. Of course, because, in Prof. Chomsky’s words Eqbal Ahmad was his “old, close and treasured friend, trusted comrade in many struggles over the years, counselor and teacher”, but mainly because some of us barely out of high school were fortunate enough to meet with him in February 1999 at Ramjas college where he was invited by the History Society to speak on the ‘Crisis of Sate and Society in Pakistan’. It was a brief meeting, but for those of us who met him, the beginning of a journey that still carries on.
When Eqbal Saheb died in May 1999, just three months after we had met him, we knew we HAD to go to Pakistan. In January 2000, when relations between the Governments of India and Pakistan had touched their lowest point in many years and showed no signs of improving, some of us from Ramjas History journeyed into Pakistan. We went to Lahore, Islamabad, Taxila and Peshawar. We traveled by train, hopped in and out of buses, slept cheaply, ate as best as we could with the little money in our pockets, bummed around in bazaars, hung out in monuments and met a variety of people. By mid-January at the end of nine days in Pakistan we were back in Delhi.
There was of course a lot that we had not seen, and not all that we had experienced had been rosy; but most importantly for us, we knew within ourselves that we had begun to question stereotypes of the EVIL Pakistan and the GOOD India; that something that had seemed so difficult to do, a border that had seemed virtually impossible to cross, had in fact been so easily crossable. It was as if a slice of the world that had been closed to us had suddenly opened up, enriching us no end and filling us up with hope. Now it was not just Pakistan that we wanted to go to, but a new dream was born. Borders began to dissolve within our imaginations, the pull of the Khyber and the world beyond that pass, the call of place names – Samarkand, Bokhara, Tashkent and the Farghana valley – began to sound and feel irresistible. We still have not made it to Central Asia, but the dream remains. But for Eqbal Saheb and the manner in which he urged us to travel into Pakistan lots of us most probably would have sat in our homes and classrooms, experientially poorer, twiddling our thumbs, maligning Muslims, and after September 11th of this year, rubbing our hands in perverse glee at the prospect of not just Afghanistan, but an entire undifferentiated mass of the so-called barbaric Muslim world, being bombed out of existence, in the unabashedly unjustifiable, vicious, cruel and illegal war against the Afghan people in the name of fighting international terrorism.
Eqbal Saheb would never have defended the carnage of September 11th, but lots of you may have wept if, soon after the WTC tragedy, you were to have read what he had to say back in 1998. He was appealing, almost pleading with the American state, to take stock, look inwards and stop committing atrocities against people in large parts of the world, especially in West Asia. It was almost as if he could see September 11th coming and the world being driven to the brink of a disaster from which there may be no return.
Eqbal would most certainly have said NO to all kinds of terror and an even more resounding NO to the present war with all its dreadful implications for international communalism, the attack on civil liberties and democratic rights and the prospect of nuclear apocalypse. He would also most certainly have urged us to do whatever we can in our own little and big ways, including continuing our travels to and from Pakistan, in search of “that promised dawn”. These are the reasons why we remember him in your midst today. Remembering Eqbal, and in appreciation of the work that you have been doing, Prof. Chomsky, I wish to present you with a synopsis of presentations written by history students at Ramjas College, University of Delhi, for a meeting called “Terror, Counter-terror, War, and our Lives” held at Ramjas College on September 25, 2001. Other meetings have been held at various colleges during the last few days. We will forward you synopses of student presentations made at these meetings as soon as they are compiled.
There was a very well attended open air public lecture by Prof. Chomsky on November 5 at the Delhi School of Economics for which students from different colleges had worked extremely hard putting up banners, making poster exhibitions and learning songs and singing. During the meeting this statement, on behalf of students, was also made by Bonojit Hussain a 3rd year History student from Ramjas College .