Byline

 

By Sunil Kumar

 

There’s no business like the writing business. If anybody could stake claim to this rather glaring bit of self-praise; it’s the people actually in it. So without further ado; here’s another journalist kind of known in the national landscape; M.J Akbar.

 

If somebody had asked Akbar about curries or food in general; his response could have been interesting. With a learned lecture on the subject or the type of dry humor that seems to be innate in his effusions. A full chapter has been devoted to the Indian culinary tradition in Britain(which is a bastardized pseudo-Bangladeshi version of the real thing, actually). To be fair; when I read Tariq Ali; a Pakistani on the “Clash of Civilizations”; he seemed rather more sincere than reading Akbar’s tome; which has been on my bookshelf for nearly a decade.

Cover of "The Moor's Last Sigh"

Visit sunil-kumar.co.in Cover of The Moor’s Last Sigh

 

His style is witty; with many acerbic observations. This book is kind of old; given the current political setup; but poignant and instructive on the minds and motivations of men. The most obvious fact being their strange willingness to change; bend at any known given time; while pretending to adjudge others for hypocrisy.

Going with the spirit of the “so-called” intelligentsia in 2002; Akbar’s comments on Narendra Modi are typical of the slanderous statements that we see on a daily basis nowadays. Given that Akbar’s intellect imbues a certain degree of informed opinion; it is nevertheless interesting to note that he has recently joined the BJP; which is commonly reviled in the Anglicized media as right-wing and Hindu nationalist; as if that were a pejorative term.

 

 

His travel around the world from New York to Petra; Tokyo; Dhaka to Durban; the Phoolan Devi hinterland to an arrondissement in Paris are what makes this book interesting in my opinion. Akbar is a descendant of a peasant from India’s hinterland; who became a slumlord in Kolkata. Quite unlike the Pakistanis; some of whom share the same aristocratic landlord backgrounds with me; Akbar’s observations are typical of the Indian Muslim; a non homogenous species; a substantial section of whom are quite ingrained and integrated in this country’s cosmopolitan psyche.

 

 

The India we have inherited from the old-school English lackeys is a strange queer mix of the unthinking noob and the succinctly intelligent; where life is similar to what it’s been for centuries in some respects; and rapidly changing in other ways.

 

He lists pomposity as one of the writer’s virtues; and I would heartily agree. He talks about Curzon and Kolkata; the city which Satyajit Ray described as an infant compared to Delhi; the capital; the arbiter of the country’s destiny for millennia. It would not be too hard to guess that Akbar was raised in the erstwhile “City of Palaces”; Job Charnock‘s creation in what was once a Bengali jungle.

Some interesting anecdotes for the literary-minded only. I learn a little more about the Moor’s Last Sigh; the strangely enigmatic name given by Salman Rushdie for one of his novels; the magic realism version of reality with an Indianized flavor(a Bombay(Mumbai) that only existed in Rushdie’s head) that forms the staple for his novels. Boabdil’s abdication of the Alhambra before Ferdinand and Isabel; the Catholic rulers of Spain and his final exit; in the true historical narrative are mentioned in Akbar’s admiration for the past.

 

 

He often talks about nudity on beaches; and a Naipaul syndrome. His affinity for Bihar comes through whenever there’s a discussion on the subject. I learnt about the early years of desi gobbledygook; the Illustrated Weekly and Dharamyug; a Hindi magazine edited by the noted literary figure; Dharamvir Bharati. Tarts and tramps; nipples and Viagra do engage his brain at regular intervals; as in many other narratives around the world.

 

Good point; he reminds us of the greatness of being born Indian. The sad part; like many of our netas and verbose acting media personnel; all of his dialogue on freedom fighters sounds a little hollow; as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Nehru are no longer icons deified by many people; with the advent of social media and 24×7 news analysis.

 

Prior to independence; and even to the present day; the power of a leader to influence the masses is undeniable. Gandhi was accepted as a saint in an age which had lesser cynicism; and great illiteracy.  Famines were created; and soldiers sent to wars for people whose culture and way of life was alien and unrelated. The modern world would have rigorously cross-examined the Porbandar lawyer if he were alive in the present day. Some of the facts that he mentions about Jinnah are similar to Jaswant Singh’s interesting biography.

 

He also manages to be in New York on 9/11; and reveals his admiration for cricket and contempt for baseball. There is nothing very strange in this; for most of India has been weaned on the bat-and-ball game; originally a singularly English pastime. The American with his Alcatraz; gun-toting policemen and sleazy in-your-face nudity has gained currency primarily in the last two decades; when the whole world has experienced globalization(economically of course; but also with MTV).

 

In 2014; The economics of the bourgeois has become the pastime of the proletariat. When he describes the boycott of a Dev Anand film in 60s Kolkata(solely due to a perceived affront to Mao; China’s leader); I was quite amused. Akbar’s style is slightly funny; and he seems to be a fan of the melodious old song; and rightly bemoans the lack of poetry in the present day; a fact that was as true 10 years back; as it is now.

So; before I start making this post bigger; I’ll sign off. Love the internet; this generation’s most potent symbol of self-expression. To paraphrase a Lenny Kravitz song; are you gonna go my way? Please don’t. That’s all for today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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