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Indian Muslims can be torchbearer for Islamic world: Javed, Shabana

By Mayank Chhaya          Friday, November 17, 2006

Renaissance Hindi movie couple Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi believe Indian Muslims have the potential to be the torchbearer at a time when the Islamic world is in ferment.

Poet and lyricist Akhtar and actor Azmi, currently touring the US with their highly acclaimed theatre production, 'Kaifi Aur Main', said that Muslims in India held out a great hope for the rest of the community in the world because they had learned to negotiate through demands of a democracy.

'I think the fact that India is a pluralist democracy where people from different faiths and backgrounds have a means to address their grievances prevents Muslims and others from resorting to the more extreme ways such as terrorism. To that extent the Muslims of India can provide leadership to the rest of the community in the world,' Akhtar told IANS in an interview.

He was responding to a suggestion that there are some figures within the US foreign policy establishment who have begun to realise that the Muslims in India could be a possible role model for Muslims elsewhere.

Akhtar, however, added a caveat saying that it was all good for the US to look at the Indian Muslims as a possible model even while throwing its weight behind some of the most repressive Islamic regimes in the world. He cited the example of Saudi Arabia.

'If you make a list of the kind of tyrants that the US has supported in the last 50 years, you would realise that their pronouncements about exporting democracy sound hollow,' he said.

Azmi agreed that Indian Muslims could emerge as the torchbearer at a time when the debate in the West inevitably centres on the so-called clash of civilisations.

'As Javed said, democracy is the operative part of the argument. In India democracy gives the people of all faiths the hope that is often missing elsewhere. It is possible for a young Muslim boy to go on to become a top cricketer, a top movie star and even the president.'

Akhtar and Azmi are touring Canada and the US with what they describe as a 'unique' theatrical experience that draws on the life and times of Kaifi Azmi, one of India's greatest Urdu poets and movie lyricists.

'Kaifi Aur Main' is a two-hour narrative written by Akhtar based on 'Yaad Ki Rehguzar', a memoirs written by Kaifi Azmi's wife and respected theatre and film actress Shaukat Kaifi.

The performance in interspersed with songs written by Kaifi Azmi. The set is minimalist in terms of props with Akhtar and Azmi sitting on either side and reading compelling incidents, comments, notes from Kaifi Azmi's life.

'We have tried to capture the nearly 60 years of togetherness between Kaifisaab and Shaukat apa. There is romance, there is playfulness, there is humour and there are a lot of other emotions in between,' said Akhtar, who is Kaifi Azmi son-in-law.

The performance brings the two together for the first time on stage. 'And I hope it is not the last time,' said Akhtar.

Describing the experience, he said: 'To say anything about Shabana would be stating the obvious. I merely read what is written by me.'

However, Shabana Azmi thinks Akhtar performs brilliantly and brings out the spirit of her father's works very well.

Akhtar and Azmi are fresh from their recent triumphs with him having been honoured with the 21st Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration and her having been conferred the prestigious International Gandhi Peace Prize.

The couple said they saw the honours as a huge responsibility to do even better than what they have accomplished so far in terms of their societal contributions.

Akhtar specifically talked about Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), a Mumbai-based peace advocacy group, which has done pioneering work in building communal bridges in the aftermath of the sectarian strife in Gujarat.

The audiences here have welcomed 'Kaifi Aur Main'. 'The response so far as been phenomenal, particularly in Toronto where the audience lapped up the whole experience,' said Ketki Parikh, who runs a performing arts promotion company called Vachikam.


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