Last week Saif Ali Khan wrote in a national daily about his family’s history of love marriages across community, the open-ended religious upbringing of his children, the need to respect choices and diversity. He asked, What is religion? What is faith?...I don’t know. But I know doubt. I’m intrigued by the politics of doubt. Doubt gives us faith…If we become sure of something, then there is a danger of becoming fanatical.”
Illustration / Amit Bandre
In the week when pseudo-traditionalists beat up a young boy from the North East, insisting he speak in Kannada, because this is India (clearly failed in History and Civics paper), these words made my heart bloom. I hadn’t expected that to happen because of anything a Bollywood movie star said!
And then, it happened again!
I’ve lately, become a big fan of Twinkle Khanna’s newspaper column. Her humour is droll, her intelligence clear like morning’s clean light, but her compassion is awesome.
Last week in a column titled The Indian Way, she grumbled good-naturedly about having to observe Karva Chauth.
Describing her longing for coffee and a scotch on the rocks, she pointed out that men live longest in lands where no one fasts for their lives. After this charmingly inoffensive critique she said: One of the better qualities we possess is that most of us will follow traditions and rituals as long as they do not demean or harm us, or cause us to do the same to another — and makes our elders happy. We do it rather than prove a point as to how liberated and independent we truly are.
These are words of confidence — because only confidence allows us to accommodate difference without feeling threatened.
The pseudo-traditionalists idea of family and Indian-ness is a cheaply produced image of sameness with some demented smiles and falsely noble expressions. In these homogenous images, how should I find the marriage of my Bengali Hindu grandfather and my Khoja Muslim grandmother? Of my friend’s Bihari Brahmin father and her Muslim mother or my Punjabi father and my Bengali-Khoja mother? Or, the love between my Malayali Christian friend and her Marwari Jain husband?
Psuedo-traditionalists make family love conditional to conformity. What a load of untruth about Indian families that is. In reality, we know our families give and take, as Ms Khanna wrote. Sure, we do it with drama, tears and threats. But we also do it with love. Eventually we accommodate each other and co-exist. This is how we also learn to accommodate others in the world and make larger families of friends too.
This is the first time in a long time that movie stars spoke up on an issue not connected to an upcoming release.
Spoke not only for themselves, but rather, as part of a larger community of Indians, espousing a set of open-hearted ideas of diversity, doubt and love.
In a time when Shah Rukh Khan seems to have become nothing more than the sum of his abs and Aamir Khan is moved to tears every week, but does not feel it is mumkin, to mention Babasaheb Ambedkar in a Satyameva Jayate episode on caste, I did feel respect for Saif writing that: “Intermarriage is not jihad. Intermarriage is India. India is a mix. Ambedkar said the only way to annihilate caste is intermarriage.” As my (fully desi) parents and I (also desi) would say: jiyo!
Movie stars are supposedly towering figures in our country. Yet their public speeches belies a piteously small sense of self, timidly, vainly subservient to marketing and public relations. Two of them last week, speaking as if they do have a soul, made our sky shine brighter.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.