Book Review: Non-fiction/Current Affairs, Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan by M.J.Akbar, Harper Collins publishers, 376 pp; Rs399 (Paperback)
M.J Akbar is one among the iconic journalists, India has produced. He contributed immensely for the nation, both as journalist and writer of many remarkable books. His uncountable articles written in the last three decades and some of his books are very important contributions to contemporary history, which shows his early interests and inclinations for regular reading and meticulous independent research.
As having fortune to know him from close (mostly through reading and listening him for years), can say this humble man’s journey started in journalism through honest aspirations and he rose to the crest of success by following the path of sheer excellence. In his teenage and during college days in Calcutta, like many young writers, he started writing letter and later unsolicited articles to the editor, The Statesman (then Sunanda Datta Ray was the editor)-the concern of writings used to be varied, from the shortage of fish in Bada Bajar to jams at college street etc.
Like his many earlier works, this book is seriously focussed on the liberal and modernist discourses and also about their weak formulations in the specific context of Islam in South Asia. The book has written with deep research, so details are very nuanced and proliferated but without ever loosing the focus in narrative. This work needs high level of concentration from readers, as the history of Islam in South Asia and the genesis of Pakistan have entirely covered throughout its pages with degree of high seriousness. The liberal and enlightened impulses of the author is being evident through the kind of effort he has placed for sincerely documenting the every essential facts in the formation of Pakistan
As chronicler of historical journey of an idea, M.J Akbar gives Tinderbox the touch of first-hand authenticity on events, peoples, circumstances and the rigid mindsets that divided India. For finding the mainframe, his overtures spans a thousand years and with the both good and bad factors, such as-visionaries, opportunists, statesmen, tyrants, plunderers, generals and numbers of unkind theologians beginning with Shah Waliulah who propagated “theory of distance “to protect Islamic identity from then still socio-culturally dominant Hinduism.
The book gives unprecedented insight to know Shah Waliullah’s intervention in the 18th century not be taken complex, rather it should be seen for very much directed with virulent aims to corner the liberal discourses-for now, this book should be considered authentic before Shah Waliullah’s works in Arabic and Persian is translated into English. Contrary to this, Syed Ahmad Khan was a modernist in conviction but inconsistent with same in action, though his works overall benefitted emphatically to atleast elite sections of Muslims under the Aligarh Muslim University, an institution of repute he founded at the height of independence movement. Despite few historic blunders, he deserves to be known as modernist, strongly for his exemplary contribution in education and also for his sporadic display of political prudence that assisted in strengthening anti British sentiment at crucial times.
The chapters, Gandhi’s Maulanas and The Non-violent Jehad explores very well about the Gandhi’s agenda for common struggle to meet the independence and further looking forward for a free nation out of the narrow religious confinements. Akbar seems doing right act with balancing the events of past that bloodied the nation and drawn the unfortunate boundaries over its fate. It’s true that non-conformity of few Congress leaders was the prime reason for the formation of obstinate and lustful greeds among high rank Muslim League leaders, particularly with M.A.Jinnah, who had his own dreams formatting and deformatting under huge fluctuations.
Jinnah was the man, who stood with all anti-thesis possible against the Islam. He was religiously non-practicing, English speaking, consistent drinker and married with a woman of different religion-moreover, his best friends were Hindus/Parsis until he seen the dream for modern secular Pakistan that unfortunately never realised. Why Jinnah moved under the aegis of blind religious faith and later in remorse, after triumphing Pakistan is still need to be reckoned?
Here, the major competitor of Jinnah, Jawaharlal Nehru alone gives frank account of the reasons why the Congress and the Muslim League couldn’t settle rights lucidly implied in the Act of 1935. Nehru noted in 1938 that Jinnah didn’t show much interest in the economic demands of the masses and shown no concern for issues like-poverty and unemployment, damaging even minimum attempts to propose democratic reforms and modern economic policies.
The essay on contemporary Pakistan highlights the over grown impact of religious conventionalism burdening the architects of the new nation. Those practices are being continues under the confused mental state giving fillip to all imagined misnomer about anything beyond that “defined and restricted construct”. That somehow makes stronger the blockade of mind and progressive policies with equal vigour. The new chapter/ Dark Side of the Moon on the events leading up to the killing of Osama bin Laden and its realised and potential impact on US-Pakistan relations are giving the picture of Pakistan till present day. Tinderbox has enough space and erudite range of narration to cover the every possible details related to formation, shattering of beliefs to the level of chaos in Pakistan.
This is a sort of work, which is not written to subvert the existence of Pakistan. If this book will be read by readers with rational angle, sure the crux would be very worthy for them, as here is concern for a nation consistently moving towards instability-the leaders of global politics will be hardly show off their concern for this fall. So, at some point solutions and good thoughts have to be come and accepted from the homeland or neighbourhood-this work should be taken in the same context!
Atul Kumar Thakur
April 06, 2011, Friday, 2012, New Delhi