Syed Shahnawaz Hussain | 44 | Bihar
I USED TO GET scared very easily, because I’m in the BJP and there aren’t many Muslims in the party. But then I read Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s books and speeches. Azad was a Congress leader and there weren’t many Muslims within the Congress then either. His speeches were against the dominant wave, because most of the Muslim community supported Muhammad Ali Jinnah at the time. People weren’t paying attention to Azad. It was only in 1947 that the Muslim community turned to him, beseeched him for help and guidance. He gave a speech at Delhi’s Jama Masjid where he said, “When I used my pen to write, you cut off my hand, when I spoke up, you cut off my tongue, when I turned in my sleep, you broke my back. And today you are in a helpless, hapless and in a miserable condition. A community with a faith that can turn the tides before bending is in such a situation today because you were sentimental. When you go to Pakistan, you might find your co-religionists, but never your countrymen.” These words hold a lot of truth and even today when I read them, I’m amazed.
I regard Maulana Abul Kalam Azad as my ideal. Because of my background, I would get dismayed easily at conspiracies hatched against me. I wouldn’t have a clue how to counter them. Now I think through and wonder at what Azad underwent during Partition, with the Muslim community leaving for Pakistan. His speeches brought a significant change in my life. He changed me, I’m no longer scared. I read Azad’s Khutbat-e-Azad in 1992, when the Babri Masjid demolition was happening. When the atmosphere of the country was terrifying, I was reading this book.
Another book that has impressed me tremendously is former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s collection of 21 poems. I like them a lot. He is a politician and a poet, and interestingly, the words for those in Hindi, ‘kavi’ and ‘neta’, conflate to become ‘kavita’ or poetry. Bollywood songs such as Munni Badnaam Hui might have a popular appeal but they can’t cheer you up. So in these times, what can show you the way? Vajpayee’s lines “chhote mann se koi bada nahi hota, aur toote mann se koi khada nahi hota” (no one becomes great with a small heart and no one can stand up with a broken heart) were instilled in us by our party president, and we follow the spirit of those lines. I have them framed along with the picture of Atal Bihari Vajpayee in my house.
A long time ago, before Independence, our leaders had long stretches of time to read when they were sent to jail. I don’t have that kind of time; I have to meet people all the time now. Politicians no longer get sent off to jail, except on corruption charges! I only get time to read when I’m travelling, otherwise I’m a people’s man. If I spend a lot of time reading and writing, I will be cut off from the people. I read people, I read their emotions, I sense their happiness and sadness. I don’t read the papers, or books; every man is a book to me.
A person and his story of being oppressed, being the subject of injustice, being discriminated against, these are the stories I read. What I have learned from people, I will write about that someday, and hopefully people will read that someday.