I like the sound of ‘Insha’allah’


In this polarised society of ours, what role can movies, and indeed, celebrities, play in smashing schisms and reinforcing secular ideals? Religion is never bad, religionists are, says G. Venkatesh, as he tries to make sense of Indian society.

Ido not wish to make a pretentious show of secularism. It is not possible to push this bitter medicine down the throats of people, who are addicted to sugar-coated remedies. Art, literature, music, film and drama have fallen woefully short of the noble goal of preaching universal brotherhood. Exaggeration often defeats the very purpose of the medium chosen to convey the message; just as an unnecessary single attempted by well-set batsmen en route to winning a cricket match for their team, sparks a collapse and turns the tables. Using imagination to drive home messages may work well when one wishes to brainwash sane individuals to fanaticism, but it rarely works well the other way. Bombing a temple or a mosque to smithereens may take a few minutes, while building them would have entailed painstaking months-long labour. The Manichean tussle between ‘light’ and ‘dark’ is ageless and timeless. The light which the said media shine from time to time serves to dispel darkness momentarily, but sadly, can never really be a panacea or an elixir to the ills that have come to characterise the modern-day hate and fear-ridden society.

As far as films go, a film which depicts strong, undying friendship between a Hindu and a Muslim (there have been many such films in Bollywood), is often counterbalanced by one which showcases terrorist acts, and portrays Islam as a violent and aggressive religion out to spread havoc in the world. Introducing a duty-bound Muslim policeman, who puts duty above religion and plays a key role (often as a martyr) in vanquishing his co-religionist terrorists, helps, but only as an exception to the rule. The Rule still rules the non-Muslim minds and hearts. Three hours of exhilaration and perhaps an inclination towards fellow-feeling with the maligned religion, is like a dream, which ends when one steps out of the cinema theatre, picks up a tabloid in the stands, and reads about suicide bombings in some other part of the world. It is quite like kids believing in Santa Claus for three years, and then rubbishing him as an object of fantasy. This applies, it goes without saying, to anyone. It is not just the Hindu point of view towards Muslims, but also the Muslim point of view against everyone else in the world.

My name is Khan!
This piece is inspired by the movie – My Name is Khan (MNIK). Notwithstanding the hysterical ‘nonsense’ (and the limitations referred to in the previous paragraphs), which sometimes characterises Hindi commercial cinema to woo the audience and rake in more moolah – a must-be in order to recover the investments made in producing the movie in the first place – it must be said that Shah Rukh Khan has done a good job in representing the peace-loving and cultured Muslim community around the world (which excludes the groundswell of terrorists, it goes without saying) as a goodwill ambassador. At a time and juncture when Muslims are all being tarred with the same terrorist brush, this film, which can very well be considered as a kind of a sequel to Chak De (quite like Khaled Hossani’s A Thousand Splendid Suns can be said to be a sequel to The Kite Runner) – both serving the same purpose, of dissociating terrorism which unfortunately has become synonymous with Islam, with the religion and its pristine tenets per se. Rizwan Khan of MNIK may well be Kabir Khan of Chak De reborn, or a like-minded twin brother of Kabir Khan. In other words, the war against terrorism is not war against a religion. And thinking thus would be a very inhuman and cruel thing to do, especially if one has tried to read and understand the Quran. It is a religious text, not a ‘How Stuff Works’ for terrorists.

There are some nuggets in the movie which could possibly be played again and again to ‘reverse-brainwash’ if the Gandhian ideal (advocated in Lage Raho Munnabhai) is adopted as one of the battle-arrows in the quiver. The most striking one is the scene in which Zarina Wahab (who plays the protagonist’s mother) sketches two pictures – one of a person giving a lollipop to a boy, and the other pointing a gun to his temple – and asks her son which one is the Muslim and which one is the Hindu. He responds innocently that both men look alike and it is hard to say. Religions are always good. The basic purpose was not to divide, kill, hate and conquer.

The scriptures and religious texts are, as well. The purpose here was not to incite or intimidate, but inspire and spread goodness and peace. It is the religionists who are either good or bad. A bad apple would obviously make the other apples in the basket bad, over time. But as long as the other apples do not turn bad, they are not to be bracketed along with the bad one in the basket. Separate, and handle each apple on merit. Handle each person on merit, as an individual, a unique one with his own strengths and weaknesses. Identify the strengths (interpreted as Good), strengthen them further, so that the weaknesses (interpreted as Bad) are automatically upended.

Whether the ruckus caused by the Sainiks at that time, was stage-managed or pre-programmed as a publicity stunt is not known, but SRK surely made a major lapsuslinguæ – too bold and indiscreet at that – when he labelled the Pakistanis as good neighbours. Given the history of the past and the issues being tackled on the political front between the two countries and the mayhem caused by terrorists trained in the country in November 2008 in Mumbai, that was foolish. To some extent, what Bal Thackeray said about non-politician celebrities being discreet about what they say in the media, holds water. Not in the case of Sachin Tendulkar though, but surely in the case of SRK. This observation is not being made by a Hindu who happens to be an Indian, but by an Indian who perchance is a Hindu. For that matter, yours sincerely, in mails sent out from his Yahoo e-mail signs with ‘God’s Will Be Done / Insha’allah’. I like the sound of the word ‘Insha’allah’. It just means the same as the four words to the left of the front-slash, within quotes.

G. Venkatesh

G. Venkatesh is Associate Professor, Department of Engineering and Chemical Sciences, Faculty of Health, Science and Technology, Karlstad University, Sweden. He is also a freelance writer for several magazines around the world.