What we can learn from Amir Khusrau's patriotism and his idea of India

Patriotism test for madrasas in Uttar Pradesh on Independence Day shows the rotten condition of our independent nation.

 |  6-minute read |   17-08-2017
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In one or the other dark bylanes of the country called India, the night before it was supposed to celebrate its 70 years of redemption of the pledge of "tryst with destiny", one man exclaimed to the other in a light mood, "Aur ghaddaro ke sardar, kal jhanda pheraoge (will you hoist the Tricolor tomorrow, traitor)?"

I wonder, when would it be that a person wouldn’t feel like celebrating the nationhood which brought him freedom from tyranny and injustice and expressing it through hoisting the national flag. This could be due to two reasons:

1. Because the end of tyranny and injustice that was meant to be celebrated is not successfully delivered to the people.

2. Or, it may be because the idea of a nation and association with it contradicts some other community identity that the person relates to.

Well, the sewage streaming out of our TV screens would have us believe that the latter holds true for the Muslims, who feel the idea of India is in contradiction with their faith. The anxiety about Muslims’ loyalty to India which is reflected in the act of demanding proof from madrasas of celebrating Independence Day in Uttar Pradesh, highlights the rotten condition of our independent nation.

The stinking either-or equation, that of, either being a Muslim or being an Indian was debated on one of the news channels which quoted some unaccountable representative of Muslims saying he was first a Muslim then an Indian. Well to that man and to many who believe him, there is a surprise that this equation doesn’t have to be of either-or nature and that the two identities of being a Muslim and an Indian are quite complimentary.

i-day_081717120825.jpgA madrasa in Agra celebrate Independence Day. (Credit: India Today)

To put these arguments into perspective, instead of 70 years, let’s go some 700 years back and dig up a work of Amir Khusrau to highlight how this son of Indian soil developed, nurtured, celebrated and held high the idea of India without ever feeling doubtful about his identity of an Islamic saint.

Born in 1253 in Patiyali to Amir Saifuddin Mahmud, an emigrant from Central Asia, Amir Khusrau was a court poet and historian through the reigns of various sultans of Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526). Being a court historian and a poet, Khusrau has enormous amount of work credited to him, the one that concerns us right now is a Masnavi (a long poem written in rhyming couplets), "Nuh Sipihr". In the third chapter of this work, Khusrau brings forth and justifies his love for his country, the Hind.

Before going into the details of Amir Khusrau’s work, the difference between patriotism and nationalism needs to be stated, while Sydney J Harris argues that patriotism and nationalism are different in the sense that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; while reading "Nuh Sipihr", we come across a unique blend of both in Amir Khusrau’s love for the Hind.

The mystic loves India because of the great works it has produced, like it gave zero, chess and Dimna-Kalila (Panchtantra) to the world but he also loves India because of it being India, the country of his birth, the land of sadhus and brahmans, the paradise, where everything is pleasant, especially the climate by virtue of it being the climate of India.

The sense of being a part of and not "the other" in the land of seven rivers that emanates in Khusrau’s works, reflects the nature of the society that flourished during the 14th century India, where Khusrau can easily go on to mention the Brahmans, the Hindus, the Muslims and himself in one vein of being people of the Hind.

The modern understanding of "the other" needs to be disabled when looking at the historical development of society, and Amir Khursau forms an important link in understanding this development of the idea of India as was experienced by him.

Khusrau appears completely in love with the Indian idea, which for him wasn’t exclusive but inclusive. He even goes on to criticise the central Asian lands, even though he was just a second generation migrant from there and there appears no sense of longing or desire for those lands in his words.

He clearly mentions how Rum (Anatolia), Khusrasan (Northeast of Persia) and Khotan (Xinjiang, China) were not better than India though they claim to be so.

On reading "Nuh Sipihr" there appears no consciousness of any sense of exclusiveness of the identities of his Islamic faith and his Indian character. Instead there are references where they appear positively complimentary. Thus, Amir Khusrau’s calling himself Tuti-e Hind (parrot of India) doesn’t appear in conflict with Nizamuddin Auliya calling him Turkullah (the soldier of God) because Khusrau didn’t have to choose one.

Khusrau very casually mentions that the parrot of India was better than any other country’s parrot because it can easily recite the Quran. He also talks of the Brahmans of India and their extensive knowledge and spirituality and their connection to God being as pure as that of the so called believers.

Thus, it can be positively concluded after reading Nuh Sipihr that the idea of nation, national identity and homeland was a matter of choice and so was acknowledging the love for that country or homeland since we find Khusrau saying, "I have fixed up a place (Hind) for myself; if you don’t have your motherland (watan) you may also adopt it."

This hint also suggests the capacity of the Indian subcontinent to absorb and give shelter to numerous peoples and cultures. Thus, this document remains an interesting testimony of the historicity of Indian idea and its multi-cultural and dynamic nature.

I wonder if there is left any scope in the popular imagination of India, today, to be able to understand and make sense of this kind of idea of India and to make sense of this kind of person.

If there is, then no one would worry about the other aggressively displaying his or her nationalism, and providing proof of these actions; neither would anyone find the following quote of Khusrau blasphemous:

“My Hindu beloved is as competent a slayer as is a ruthless Turk. Owing to love for the Hindu beloved, my heart has become an idol-house.”

Also read: Why you’ve got to introduce Amir Khusrau’s riddles to your children

Writer

Lubna Irfan Lubna Irfan @irfan_lubna

Lubna Irfan is a scholar of medieval Indian history at Centre of Advanced Study, Department of History, AMU. Her areas of interest are social history, history of art and architecture and gender history. She's also a poet.

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