Must you really meet an author when you see him every day through his powerful works?
I haven’t often been as unlucky. First time around, I was in Paris in the run-up to France’s Year of India celebrations. I was supposed to meet a host of authors, poets, musicians, singers, and a political scientist. I had earlier had an occasion or two meet most of the authors and poets. It was the mention of a political scientist that had me excited. Of course, Christophe Jaffrelot had often spent time in India, and indeed specialised on India and Pakistan in his thought-provoking works.
However, I had not had an occasion to meet him. I had listened to his talks, his lectures, read his works, stood in aisles in eager anticipation of his book launches. So I hoped Paris would chip in where Delhi didn’t. My luck was yet to turn, though. I was in Paris, but Jaffrelot was off to America, I learnt! Disappointed, I decided to wait for the next visit of Jaffrelot to India. He was here soon enough. There was a talk in New Delhi on varna system. He was there, the cynosure of all eyes. I soaked in every word of his like an eager pupil. A little later I expressed my wish to the organisers to meet the renowned academic in person. They were more than happy to facilitate an interaction. However, a little before the appointed hour, I was told it may not be possible as he is not inclined to interactions with the media. Bad luck! Disappointed, I decided to be the master of my destiny. And write to Jaffrelot. There is, however, only as much a man can do. Soon I learnt that Jaffrelot was in town to discuss his latest book Muslims in Indian Cities, a Harper Collins publication he co-edited with Laurent Gayer. I decided to skip the talk and concentrate on probing the mind of the political scientist.
However, eagerness got the better of me. And I couldn’t help reaching the venue to get a little more than a glimpse of the man and lap up a few words falling off his lips. So much the better. This time too, he had checked out! My much-wanted interaction plans nipped in the bud.
But, hey, who needs to give long interviews or take part in unending discussions at various fora if one can write with the precision and insight of Jaffrelot, he of the elusive kind. His latest work is remarkable for its clarity of thought and the doubtless ability to go beyond the surface.
At first glance, it is yet another take on marginalisation of Muslims in Indian cities. But there is more to it. He looks out, he looks within too, and in the process he discovers the keys to ghettoisation that has dogged Muslims in India. I remember in the wake of Mohammed Kaif’s match-winning knock in the Natwest trophy a few years ago, overeager media had gone to town about how a Muslim had played a crucial role in a victory at a game of cricket — the religion of the masses. Of course, one had pointed out that it was not Kaif or Zaheer Khan the cricketers who stood as guarantees of India’s secularism, but a Kaif, the carpenter. Would the society open its doors to Kaif the carpenter, as easily? Would a Zaheer with an MNC job under his belt get a house on rent in Mumbai or New Delhi? The answers were not exactly blowing in the wind, until Jaffrelot put everything to rest with his clinching arguments. He analyses in an instructive manner and refuses to paint all Muslims with one stroke. Noting the decline of the Muslims in North India in socio-economic and political terms, he explains that the Muslim elite never recovered from the loss of power they experienced in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Then he points to the absence of business-oriented traditions in the community. Pointing to the Bohras and Khojas, he feels they have never been fully integrated with the community. Quite different has been the deliberate marginalisation of the Muslims by the State, he says in the conclusion. “While Nehru tried to endow them with all the attributes of a fully-fledged citizenship, the Hindu nationalists, who ruled over North India, never implemented the policies that had been designed by the government.”
This is the kind of analysis that takes wisdom of years and years of instruction. I am still to meet Jaffrelot in flesh and blood. But I meet him every day. Through his works. His thoughts stay in my mind, his views influence mine. Frankly, what more can an author or a political scientist aspire to do? Do I really need to meet Jaffrelot!