Taverns for the fanatics

Aneet Kanwal Randhawa

We are currently in the grip of a heightened jingoistic and fanatic fervour in the aftermath of the Balakot airstrike. Ironically, Balakot is a place where historically forces of a zealot were vanquished by those of a secular ruler. The pluralism so inherent to our history and culture should flourish and should not be annihilated by orthodoxy.

It is a fact that fanaticism has raised its ugly head innumerable times in history. Quite often, conflicts have been given religious colour to aggravate them beyond measure. We have witnessed orthodox Brahminism, with all its parochial preaching, resulting in the fragmentation of society. We have witnessed a host of ferocious Muslim invaders, smashing idols in our temples. What an irony that in their frenzy, emerging from the contradictions of two faiths, they could not appreciate the aesthetics which these idols were a manifestation of. They also ventured into forceful conversions. Even the more recent eclectic faiths such as Sikhism have had their own anxious moments with fanaticism.

But there is also another soothing fact of history. Fanaticism has always had a silver lining. Buddhism emerged from the dungeons of Brahmin orthodoxy. Movements such as Bhakti and Sufism seemed like cosmic plans to counter orthodoxy. Indeed, it seems that cosmic power has its own way of balancing out things.

Beyond these silver linings, there is a medium which has always expressed satire at orthodoxy. Poetry, in all its hues, has consistently mocked orthodoxy. Urdu poetry never left a chance to mock ‘zaahids’, ‘sheikhs’ and Brahmins. They are accused of fragmentation under the sway of their beguiled preaching and secretly consuming liquor. At times, the virtues of taverns and cup-bearers are extolled over and above temples and mosques. These places of worship are accused of being divisive while taverns are unifying. The taverns may be interpreted as the earthly ones, or may have cosmic connotations, with cosmic power manifesting itself as the cup-bearer offering divine bliss. Poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan goes to the extent of calling the dreary mosque an anguished widow and the tavern a blissful bride.

The purpose of this satire will be grossly undermined if it is taken at face value. There is no intent to offend. While anybody would extol a place of worship, the intent is only to expose the hypocrisy that has crept in. In true spirit, a place of worship can only preach love and harmony. If it is preaching fragmentation, it has outlived its utility.

In the face of fanaticism, there have been sane minds that have proselytised love and communal harmony. Let them be the custodians of temples and mosques. As for the fanatics, send them to the taverns, as expostulated in the following couplet: Masjid ke jo bigde hain sheikh/unhein maikade mein bhejo sanwar jaayenge (the sheikh, so deformed by the mosque/send him to the mosque to be reformed).

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