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Book Review: Neyaz Farooquee’s ‘An Ordinary Man’s Guide to Radicalism: Growing up Muslim in India’

By Fahad Hashmi

Title: An Ordinary Man’s Guide to Radicalism: Growing up Muslim in India
Author: Neyaz Farooquee
Publisher: Context, an imprint of Westland Books, 2018

One of the ironies various communities – Muslims, Adivasis, Denotified Tribes, Dalits, and others – face in the post-colonial India is that they are yet to be recognized as a citizen in letter and spirit. These collectivities are either absent from the national imagination or have peripheral presence. When the majority community ‘imagines’ this nation, it certainly misses above groups. Even the ‘collective conscience’, in Durkheimian sense of the word, fails to recognise the presence of a host of consciences that ought to go into the making of ‘collective conscience’ of this nation-state.

The scale and scope of marginalization of Muslims and violence against them reflect badly on the post-colonial Indian state; it exposes the dubiousness of its secularism. Structural as well as direct violence are visible in innumerable ‘riot after riot’, ‘Gujarat 2002’, destruction and desecration of mosques and shrines, fake encounters, and lynching. Ironically, minorities including Muslims have representation, rather over-representation only in Indian Prisons.

Neyaz Farooquee’s memoir, An Ordinary Man’s Guide to Radicalism: Growing up Muslim in India, unravels the tattered, bruised, and anguished conscience of a young Muslim boy who lives in the vicinity of Batla House in Okhla, which shoots into infamy following a police ‘encounter’ that takes place in the area as the cops try to flush out suspected terrorists holed up in a flat. One can observe perpetual surveillance in Okhla, a Muslim populated area of south Delhi. Police chowkis that surround Okhla from four sides remind one of Panopticon. The memoir paints a poignant image as it includes Poet Iqbal’s parinde ki faryad (A Bird’s Complaint). The book shows that Neyaz has lived in a perpetual state of stress and fear that becomes stifling at times.

The harrowing incident of ‘encounter’ has left Neyaz emotionally scarred. It forces him to change his course of action. He decides not to continue his career after graduating in Biosciences from Jamia Millia Islamia. Instead, he pursues journalism with a view to making this world that is fraught with injustices a better place to live in. The following couplet by poet Iqbal that Neyaz cites in his book must have encouraged him to adopt journalism as a means to write wrongs.

Ho mere dam se yun’hi mere watan ki  zeenat
Jis tarah phool se hoti hai chaman ki zeenat

(May my soul embellish the homeland
As a flower embellishes the garden)

As Neyaz weaves his private, personal, and political life into a seamless narrative, the reader gets an idea of the predicament Muslims are in. The memoir questions and challenges the maligned and constructed image of Muslim youth. In fact, the image stands in stark contrast to the everyday reality. The Indian media portray negative stereotypes about the community and its youth. In truth, a Muslim boy or a girl is no different from a boy or a girl from any other community. A Muslim boy, just like Neyaz, reads a newspaper; hangs out with friends; enjoys themselves talking about girls; engages in idle gossip; loves the campus life; revels in birthday parties late in the night, and uses obscenities in his conversation!

The memoir is not only about Neyaz! On the contrary, it narrates a tale about any youth who migrates to a ‘better’ city in search of ‘quality’ education or a lucrative job, or both. The book represents the voice of hundreds of thousands of voiceless Muslim youth. It articulates their political and social grievances in contemporary India. Neyaz does not mince words while reflecting on the dismal state of Muslim politics and the conservative voices within the community.

Besides being conversant with politics, the author has a taste for literature. Therefore, the memoir is peppered with couplets of Iqbal and Ghalib, Kabir’s doha, Persian ashar, and Sanskrit shloka. The author’s upbringing seems to have inculcated a love for literature as he often takes a walk down memory lane remembering his dada reciting Urdu and Persian couplets, verses from the holy Quran, and the Prophet’s sayings with the aim of educating and disciplining his grandson.

While reading the book one gets tense at times; on occasions, one’s heart pounds fast and even misses a beat. Interestingly, every now and then the sombre narrative gets punctuated by either an anecdote or a clever wordplay or a neologism.

Having witnessed the time of Batla ‘encounter’ that had unleashed a climate of terror on the campus of Jamia Millia Islamia and in the adjoining areas, and being part of the collective anxiety, one can easily relate to the story narrated by the author. Citing parinde ki faryad, Neyaz makes an appeal to the readers to take his memoir seriously.

Gana isey samajh kar khush ho’n na sunne wale
Dukhe huwe dilon ki faryad ye sada hai

(O listeners, do not mistake this for a song and be happy
This call is the wailing of my wounded heart)

An Ordinary Man’s Guide to Radicalism: Growing up Muslim in India is available here.

Fahad Hashmi 
holds an MPhil in Sociology from Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, India. He regularly writes on political Islam, issues of minorities, and on other issues of political and social concerns.


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