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Noor Sahab in Horror Land: Gowhar Fazili

December 19, 2010

Guest post by GOWHAR FAZILI

Some old memories came to mind when Noor Mohammed Bhat, a college lecturer in Kashmir got arrested for asking in an examination, “Are the stone pelters real heroes? Discuss.”

I studied at Burn Hall, a missionary school in Srinagar. In the mid-‘80s, they would make us recite the national anthem in the morning assembly on one of the week days. Interestingly, while the little kids would do as they were told, the ‘big’ ones who had just crossed their sixth grade, would for some strange reason go off tune so that Jana Gana Mana… would start sounding like “Jaaaaaanaooauea maaaoAAAonaa gaooooOOnaannNNaaaA…”, like it were a sound coming out of an audio tape that was stuck or a damaged gramophone record! This bad behaviour invited corporal punishment. Shah Sir and Mohinder Sir (P.T. Masters) used to lurk behind the assembly and surreptitiously appear and whip on our legs at lightning speed. They would lash at the whole queue in a single run and be gone before we knew it. While the tune in the queue that was being freshly hit would get restored, the queues furthest from the P.T. Masters would go really off the tune! They would keep running about madly like this from one end to another but the cycle (orchestra) would continue till the whole song was over. It used be maddening for them. Though they were quite ferocious if one were to encounter them in person, (having been used regularly to instil fear and maintain ‘discipline’) somehow as a collective, we dared them in this manner week after week and year after year.

I have still not figured why we used to engage in this mischief only during the national anthem, while we sang other songs like the school anthem, ‘What is the leaf in your armour my brother?’ (Referring to the Chinar leaf shaped school badge) and ‘We shall overcome… One day!’ and ‘Make me a channel of your peace! Where there is hatred let me bring in love…’, so on and so forth with rocking verve and absolute passion. It was only the national anthem that seemed to invoke rebellious vocal disorder! I seriously doubt we understood politics back then, especially because the times were so different (it was in the years prior to 1989 when kids were not socialised into politics the way they are now). There must have been something suffocating or alienating about the national anthem; may be it was the language that we could not make sense of; or maybe because it was imposed with such authority; or may be going off tune was simply a ritual of initiation into manhood. Whatever be the case, I remember we used to really enjoy our little rebellion even though the whiplashes were painful. The red mark and swelling across the calf muscle would last for days!

Noor Sahab reminds me of my childhood and our ritual mass prank. The mischief must have brought smiles to the faces of all those pranksters who wrote that wretched English exam (though it did cost Noor Sahab dearly; he is still in jail and has been refused bail). I don’t know about the purpose of his action, his intellectual acumen or the strength of his political convictions. But I am sure that at least among the Kashmiri students (and those like me who will never manage to outgrow the chuckle of those youthful years) he will be remembered and the memory of this act will be passed on for a long time to come.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Anil permalink
    December 19, 2010 11:25 PM

    should I write going off-tune during our father in heaven everyday and being punished for it? Will you publish it, O paragon of democracy!? or will you construe it as right-wing hindu hatred for minority practices?

  2. Vasim Makhdoomi permalink
    December 19, 2010 11:34 PM

    We are living in an era where the word apolitical literally doesn’t exist. Being apolitical is being “political” and endorsing politics of another kind. Even our educational institutions right away from schools to universities stand politicized. In Kashmir, we learn about ancient, medieval, modern (both pre-independence and post-independence) history of India; about renaisance, industrial revolution, American and African struggle for independence, world wars, cold war period etc. In nutshell, we learn about others but we are bereft of our own history which is unfortunately marred by continued occupation and subjugation at the hands of ‘alien’ forces. We don’t learn our history but we live it day in and day out since nothing has changed. Prof. Noor Saeb’s brave act is aimed at teaching us what our teachers couldn’t teach us. He has tried to awaken us so that we raise our voice against oppression be it schools, colleges, universities or streets and alleys of Kashmir. Let the clotted blood in our veins flow freely and we throw books and stones on the face of oppressor.

  3. K Veeranna permalink
    December 20, 2010 4:50 AM

    What is this love for self identity ?
    A great revenge story worth to be shared on Kafila!

  4. SadMan2901 permalink
    December 20, 2010 8:59 AM

    India as body is huge but unfortunately the brain is not proportionate to it’s size. May be till 20th century it was not a issue. In the 21st century when the world has turned into a globalized village the brain’s importance comes in play. Historically, ancient India was in pices, ruled by native rulers with interaction between people of different regions. But now with onset of the IT age, communication has become interactive. With diversity in faiths, race, culture, language, etc centralized rule will prove ineffective. The sooner the country turn into a federal structure it is better for all. But it is a very sinsitive issue.

  5. CitySlut permalink
    December 20, 2010 2:30 PM

    thank you gowhar, for this lovely little story. may noor sahab be freed soon.

  6. December 20, 2010 8:55 PM

    Gowhar Fazili’s memory of being whiplashed for being irreverent to national anthem provokes me to share few words on the possible motivation behind the prank and its political resonance in today’s Kashmir.
    Put in the context of present widespread anti-Indian sentiments in the valley, his moving personal reflection appears to be a snap-shot from an occupied land where colonisers are trying to impose an alien history and culture on the children of vanquished people to ensure their political submission in future. But I suspect it’s a throwback of the present into the past. Our childhood was not much different.
    Despite being the children of Tagore’s Bengal, we too found it boring to join the compulsory morning prayers and singing of national anthem in our school days in the late sixties and early seventies. The language and literal meanings were not alien to us. Nevertheless, we could not exhibit the reverence and passion, which our teachers expected from us.
    It was quite a mechanical exercise to which many of us who were standing at the rear and not visible to the inspecting teachers only paid lip service, literally. Sometimes we tried to improvise the tune parodying the Bellwood popular numbers of that time or made it an occasion for a lung power competition between rival student groups putting Tagore in peril. I remember caning by teachers when we were caught. The regular mischief-makers were also asked to kneel down for hours in front of headmaster’s room for hours.
    I don’t think our irreverence was exactly inspired by the growing disillusionment of middle class with the Azadi in the sixties or the anger of rebellious seventies. It was mostly childhood protest against the soulless ritual and regimentation of our education system that wanted us to conform to the idea of loyal patriot mechanically. I am sure my children too find it equally boring today.
    At the hindsight, however, I feel our political violence-torn childhood, tumultuous adolescence that witnessed the turning of Calcutta and suburbs into a Death Valley—an Armageddon between the revolutionary terror and nationalist state terror— might have encouraged us to experiment with such pranks on national anthem.
    May be it was influenced by the stark mismatch between our everyday nightmare and Tagore’s pre-independence, pan-subcontinental imagination of a great land and its people united in their diversity that served later to anchor the nation-state’s legitimacy and our sense collective tryst with destiny. Similar sacrilege on Vande Mataram was not informed by the controversy over its Hindu overtone. But we shouted Bonde Mataram (mother, Bring us the sister) mockingly, emulating the tricolor-holding lumpens who made it their war cry against the Reds of CPM and Naxal varieties. Many such nationalist songs that touched the emotional cord of generations of pre-Independence Bengalis and sung collectively as hymns were subjected to shocking profanities. I think it happened to all the post-colonial societies. People stand up together and sing the national anthem passionately only at the time of wars and international games. I am sure it will happen to post-colonial Kashmir too if it manages to come out of the Indian and Pakistani yoke, only after few decades.

  7. December 21, 2010 1:50 PM

    Further comments here are closed

  8. January 4, 2011 4:18 PM

    Comments here re-opened.

    Must read: this interview of Noor Mohammed Bhat, who is out on bail:

  9. Haseeb permalink
    February 18, 2012 11:54 PM

    The trend just continues.


  1. Our memories come in the way of our histories: Gowhar Fazili « Kafila

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