I was in Lucknow when Sarabjit Singh died in Lahore. My purpose in visiting the city was to attend a seminar organised by the local Urdu Media Guild on May Day. Despite all my efforts at accommodating change, I have often despaired at standards of political demonstration organised by Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati. That is why it was such a relief to be at the seminar searching for common ground between Workers’ Day and dignity of labour enunciated by founders of Islam. Earliest Islam had itself attempted to build on a “respect for the poor” available in the Bible.
The seminar dwelt on the example set by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his daughter in maintaining an exemplary simplicity in their own lives. Even though Fatima’s mother, Khadija, was one of the richest women in Arabia, Fatima worked out a unique division of labour with Fizza who shared her household chores: they rested on alternate days. Daily chores in those days included grinding grain for dough.
In these days of creeping intolerance, citing parts of history from the religious domain could well be misunderstood but not in some enlightened arenas of Lucknow. Among those who held forth on the theme were former High Court Judge Pradeep Kant and former Vice Chancellor of Lucknow University Roop Rekha Verma.
What I found enchanting was the poetry on the family of the Prophet (PBUH), linking it to Workers Day. This was composed and recited by Sanjay Mishra “Shauq”. An Urdu poet with a name like Mishra still reaching across religious boundaries? The next morning, we were talking about the previous evening’s seminar and I received a message asking to switch on the TV because Sarabjit Singh had died.
We looked at each other with sadness but it was tinged with a sense of foreboding. The anchor with threatening faces in the five windows on the screen sought vengeance and mobilised political leaders on an ultra hardline platform towards an indefinable end. Were they inducing a societal, nervous breakdown for TRP ratings? Political leaders on the eve of a make-or-break election are liable to mistake a noisy media for public opinion. Therefore, on cue, came BJP’s Rajnath Singh. “We should call back our High Commissioner from Islamabad,” he thundered. Not to be left behind, PM Manmohan Singh lamented Pakistani leaders not having listened to “our pleas” to save the “brave son of India”. No one thought of placing in perspective a simple fact: Sarabjit’s sentence is a 23-year-old story which has been invested with so much media attention only recently.
To take the sting out of this agitation which cannot but have a potent anti-Congress thrust, Amrinder Singh, raises the pitch: Sarabjit’s death is “officially decreed, cold-blooded murder” by Pakistan. In the midst of this singular lack of balance does Sanjay Mishra “Shauq”, come across as escapism? Are there others like him ploughing a lonely furrow in their enclaves and who deserve to be identified and linked to a bigger grid?