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‘Intolerance is damaging to human spirit, soul’, says director

I would never have started to work on the subject (physics) if I was not a Muslim.

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Abdus Salam docu

The baffling and paradoxical life of Dr. Abdus Salam, the first Pakistani and Muslim to win a Nobel Prize for Physics, is a subject of a compelling documentary by New York-based Indian American filmmaker Anand Kamalakar.

Salam (1926-1996) is a dichotomous figure in the world of science. He once said: “I would never have started to work on the subject (physics) if I was not a Muslim.” Yet, in his lifetime, not only was he shunned by Pakistan, the place of his birth, because he belonged to the outlawed Ahmadiyya sect, but had the misfortune of standing up for science in a country that had no particular interest in it.

He received his Ph.D in quantum electrodynamics at 24 and went on to do pioneering work in physics. It was only because of Pakistan’s strategic interest in developing nuclear weapons, in whose early development Dr. Salam played a crucial role, that he had a brief period of official patronage.

The documentary Salam’ — produced by Omar Vandal, a doctorate in Immunology and Microbial Pathogenes, and Zakir Thaver, a science/education media producer — was screened at the Mumbai International Film Festival on January 29. Kamalakar answered email questions from IANS. Excerpts:

Q: What prompted you to chronicle the life of Dr. Abdus Salam?

A: The producers Zakir and Omar have always been troubled by the fact that Abdus Salam was not given his rightful place in Pakistan’s history because of his religious beliefs. They have been attempting to make a film to shine a light on his illustrious career since their youth. After almost 10 years of collecting archival material they approached me through an acquaintance and I was taken by their commitment and the layered story of Salam.

Q: When did you discover that science, particularly physics, and Islam were not necessarily adversarial in Dr. Salam’s estimation but, in fact, complementary?

A: I discovered this while viewing the archival interviews. This aspect always fascinated me about his story. Salam went through a complicated evolution on this subject. We have tried to reveal the best we can on where he stood on this at various stages in his life. He was contradictory and controversial on this subject at many stages in his life.

Q: I ask specifically because that is at the core of his ironic and even somewhat tragic life. Here was a man who considered himself devout Muslim and precisely for that reason, chose to pursue physics, but his own country and culture, revolving around Islam, rejected him so thoroughly. How did you approach that strange dichotomy?

A: This aspect is what drew me to make this film. How did Salam reconcile working in an area of physics, which essentially attempts to prove the absence of god, and here he is, a devout Muslim who attributes his talents to his belief in Islam and god� In this sense, Salam was a bit ambivalent but found a way to rationalise this approach. We reveal this duality in many instances in the film� But we wanted to respect his position and give it credence as he was able to walk that line and be a man of science and religion at the same time.

Q: Were you surprised to discover that he saw no contradiction between a pure physicist and a devout Muslim?

A: More than surprised I was fascinated. One of the reasons the producers and I found common ground is because we are all rationalists. We subscribe to the logic of science more than anything. So when we found that Salam saw no contradiction but in fact believed that the religious text in fact encouraged science and informed his explorations, and reality did not reflect that, it was an intriguing area to explore, especially in a time when Islam is often viewed as a regressive religion in the mainstream.

Q: Since you were dealing with a very sensitive theme, what kind of challenges did you face in obtaining archival audio-visual material as well as interviews?

A: We really did not face any great difficulty in procuring archival material as such. We did face difficulty though in interviewing people with the extreme point of view on the Ahmadi issue. We ended up using clips from YouTube to show the extremist view. I was denied a visa to visit Lahore. I had to hire a cameraman there and manage the shoot remotely. We never received a clear answer why I was denied a visa, even though I am a US citizen. We concluded probably because this issue is still controversial there and I am of Indian origin.

Q: Have you been able to resolve the extent of Salam’s involvement in Pakistan’s nuclear bomb? Journalist and author Tariq Ali says it is not clear whether Salam was involved in Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. Both sides — the Ahmadiyya and the Pakistan establishment — have their own reasons to deny it.

A: I think this is answered in the film quite succinctly. He definitely was involved in the initial stages but then changed his mind.

Q: In the light of the way Salam was treated how do you think it impacted the future of science in Pakistan?

A: We address this is in the film with great emphasis. I think this is the greatest tragedy of his life. The younger generation of Pakistan has suffered the most and science in general has taken a back seat as a result of Salam being exiled. The casualty of any kind of intolerance towards knowledge, intelligence and brilliance are the young. Pakistan has suffered irreparable damage by distancing Salam and his legacy. At its core, this is what the message of our film is. Any kind of intolerance is damaging to the human spirit and soul.

By : Mayank Chhaya

(Mayank Chhaya is a senior journalist of Indian origin. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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Navaratri, other systems of dieting; but Persian maxim trumps them

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Navratri snacking

Corona has taken a toll of my discourses on elementary Hindu rituals, like Navratra, because my yoga guru from the Monghyr Ashram has placed himself under severe restrictions. Last year, between asanas, he was able to slip in the odd recipe centered around tapioca, water chestnut, without grain, meat and the amber stuff.

My man Friday, a Hindu of insufficient Hindutva, a gourmet cook of non-vegetarian delectations, is almost thrilled to forego his dietary excesses during Navaratri. What comes into play is his innate ‘aastha’ or faith: scratch any skin, and it is there.

Two categories of Indians, of any faith, tend to have a link with religion which over the years has become tenuous: those exposed to western education continuously for two generations or those who grew up in a ‘progressive’ household. The ‘progressives’ in my environment represented a confluence of two streams. Their anti-feudal, anti-imperial stance had certain Marxist antecedents. Otherwise, they derived from the Urdu poets of the 18th and 19th centuries with their innate abhorrence of religious orthodoxy, a caricature of the Mullah, an elegant irreverence towards traditionalism, committed to social justice — a modern outlook, way ahead of self-proclaimed liberals reared on John Stuart Mill.

In modern times, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Krishen Chander, Rajender Singh Bedi, Ali Sardar Jafri, Ismet Chugtai, Kaifi Azmi, Munish Narain Saxena, and Niaz Haidar have followed the tradition.

Multiple social malaise continued to haunt Muslims in the grip of the clergy to whom they had been subcontracted by the politician. Those being targeted as ‘urban naxals’ are precisely the sources of enlightenment for a community which would otherwise have sunk further into social backwardness.

By way of diversion, social backwardness has triggered an unrelated episode from my travels to the Connemara coast of Ireland where the great cricketer, Ranjit Singhji (Ranji) had bought Ballynahinch castle on a river known for the finest river salmon, a paradise for anglers. W.G. Grace and C.B. Fry stayed with him, but for his sister, he had made expensive arrangements in the nearby convent with some very strict conditions: she would not be converted to Christianity and she would only wear saris.

From childhood, participation in Diwali, Holi and Dussehra for Muslims and Eid, Bakr Eid and Moharram for Hindus was more or less compulsory among families and their circle of friends. Raksha Bandhan too was a beautiful occasion for cross religious participation. What has surprised me is my lack of acquaintance with, say, Navaratri, on which my yoga guru, absent because of Corona, has been my informal instructor. What I suspect has happened is that during my formative years’ observances like Navaratri, Ekadashi, pujas for change of seasons, elements, waxing and waning of the moon were either in a low key or confined to the mofussil who were marginal to Lucknow’s mainstream.

Ramzan, the month of fasting, was noticed by non-Muslims in a sensitive way: invitations for lunches or dinners were suspended. Only the closest of the errant friends made clandestine arrangements to imbibe prohibited beverages. There were eccentrics among the aristocracy in the vicinity of Lucknow who broke their fast with a shot of Scotch. One instance I am aware of where a family protested at the eccentricity of their elder relative. They were roundly rebuffed for standing between the old gentleman and his God.

Ghalib was the biggest advertiser of his mischievous indiscretions during Ramzan. He mentions in his letters how he snatched a bite of ‘roti’ (bread) here and gulped water there. Excuses he makes for not fasting were almost childish:

“Jis pas roza khol ke khane ko kuchh na ho

Roza agar na khaaye to lachaar kya karey?”

(If someone doesn’t have the means for an elaborate ‘Iftar’, or breaking of the fast:

He has only one choice: “swallow” the roza). Swallow here means “end the fast”.

His poor finances and rising costs after 1857 were forbidding. They caused him to write bitterly. “Life in Delhi is becoming impossible; Scotch is selling at Rs 16 per dozen bottles.”

There is a subsidiary group of Hazrat Ali’s admirers, among whom Ghalib counted himself, who fast only for three days of Ramzan, beginning 19th when Ali was struck by a poisoned sword in the mosque at Kufa and Ramzan the 21st when he died.

My grandfather’s fasting companion during these three days was Pundit Brij Mohan Nath Kachar, a regular at our village during Moharram. His sermons attracted full houses.

The speed with which Hindutva has in recent years transformed faith and practice of religion into religious assertion has left me a trifle shaken. Should my 50 years of commitment — films, books, columns on cultural commerce — be put away as a chronicle of wasted time? Or should I dismiss these as cow belt excesses exactly as the authors of the Constitution did.

After 1947, the UP Assembly grappled with a list of 20 alternative names for United Provinces. The matter could not be postponed indefinitely because the drafting of the new Constitution was nearing completion and the state’s new name had to be inserted. The Provincial Congress Committee met in Varanasi in November 1947. A majority of 106 members voted for ‘Aryavarta’ as the state’s new name, 22 members voted for ‘Hind’. Both names were shot down by Nehru.

I had started this column on Navaratri, as nine days of austere dieting. Faith was not an issue at all. Under the guru’s advice, I had been persuaded that it was a healthier way of giving the body a rest than total starvation for 10 to 14 hours which Ghalib found difficult to cope with.

In fact, the best I heard on this theme was from my uncle Syed Mohammad Mehdi. He used to recite a Persian maxim:

“Ba har hafta faaqa

Ba har maah qae

Ba har saal mushil

Ba har roz mai”

(Fast every week;

Drink litres of saline water and

Vomit it out every month;

Purgative every year;

Wine every evening)

(Saeed Naqvi is a senior commentator on political and diplomatic issues. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached on [email protected])

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Thinnest crowd, sans guest: Covid hurts RSS’ biggest event

Like other years, there were no ceremonial band playing or marches. Bhagwat simply offered his floral tribute to Hedgewar, RSS founder and did ‘Shastra puja’.

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Mohan Bhagwat RSS Chief

New Delhi: The foundation day of BJP’s ideological mentor, thee RSS on this Vijaya Dashami has been unique.

The Sangh’s single largest annual event that usually witnesses hundreds and thousands of cadres systematically assembling at the ground to listen to the Sarsanghchalak was missing.

In fact, to Bhagwta’s own admission, this year it was the thinnest crowd ever — apart from the day of its inception.

This time the RSS annual event that takes place on a sprawling ground in Nagpur, took place inside an auditorium where a handful of cadres were seated with adequate physical distancing, given the pandemic situation.

“This is probably the first time in Sangh’s history since its foundation day that a RSS Vijaya Dashami program has been organised with such a restricted low number. We have done this keeping in view the COVID protocol,” Bhagwat said at the outset.

While he paid tributes to the front line workers who lost their lives fighting the virus and urged all to be mindful of the persistent threat, one couldn’t help but notice that there was no Chief Guest this year. It was also done amid the pandemic in a stark departure from tradition.

Each year, some one of prominence is invited to lecture on this biggest annual RSS event. Former President Pranab Mukherjee created a row when he agreed to be the chief guest of this event in 2018. Last year, it was HCL’s Shiv Nadar. Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, and Union Ministers Nitin Gadkari, Gen V.K. Singh were also among the other guests present at the address. However, 2020 was an odd one out when no one special was invited.

Meanwhile, given it was a small inside arrangement, the stage too was very small in comparison to the mammoth stage that is erected each year on the ground. Only 4 individuals, including Bhagwat were present on stage this time — all wearing a mask.

Only 50 volunteers were allowed inside the Maharshi Vyas auditorium this year. “We are all aware that this Vijayadashami the celebrations are restrained in terms of numbers. We are also aware of the cause. To prevent community spread of Coronavirus social gatherings are restricted,” Bhagwat said.

Like other years, there were no ceremonial band playing or marches. Bhagwat simply offered his floral tribute to Hedgewar, RSS founder and did ‘Shastra puja’.

Though, the event is being beamed live each year, it was the main source of dissemination of the Sangha’s message this year, given no media access was allowed.

The event was beamed live on Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. Above 42,000 viewed it through Youtube while nearly 23,000 saw it on the Twitter account of RSS. In fact, while beginning to address, Bhagwat also mentioned those who were joining online.

This is the Sangh’s biggest annual event where the Sarsanghchalak chalks out the broader agenda for the year to come. This time, Bhagwat spoke extensively on the pandemic, Chinese aggression and how India must counter it as well as push for ‘swadeshi’. He also spoke against pro-CAA protestors.

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Market Watch : FII’s inflows to help market register gains

Shares of Vedanta have gained in the past week post the announcement of the meeting for the interim dividend. They gained Rs 9.80, or 10.32% to close the week at Rs 104.80.

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Sensex Stock Market Update UP and Low

Markets continued to gain ground during the week gone by with gains registered on four of the five trading days. BSESENSEX gained 702.52 points or 1.76% to close at 40,685.50 points while NIFTY gained 167.90 points or 1.43% to close at 11,930.35 points. The broader market saw BSE100, BSE200 and BSE500 gain 1.51%, 1.58% and 1.64% respectively. BSEMIDCAP was up 2.43% while BSESMALLCAP was up 2.56%. The breadth of the market increasing as is apparent from the gains in midcap and Smallcap are the redeeming feature.

Indian rupee lost 28 paisa or 0.38% to close at Rs 73.62 to the US Dollar. Dow Jones was under pressure and lost 270.74 points or 0.95% to close at 28,335.57 points.

In primary market news, the fresh issue of Rs 280 crs and an offer for sale of 7.2 cr shares from Equitas Small Finance Bank Limited, was subscribed 1.95 times. The issue saw QIB portion subscribed 3.91 times, HNI portion undersubscribed at 0.22 times, Retail portion subscribed 2.08 times and Shareholder reservation undersubscribed 0.42 times. The price band of the issue was Rs 32-33.

Vedanta Limited has declared an interim dividend of Rs 9.50 for the current financial year 2020-2021. This is from the dividend which it has received from its subsidiary, Hindustan Zinc Limited of Rs 16.50 per share or Rs 6,972 crs. The dividend received by Vedanta against its holding of 64.92% was Rs 4,526 crs. Vedanta has distributed 77% or Rs 3,500 crs of this amount to shareholders of the company. The dividend by Hindustan Zinc was declared in May 2020. Probably Anil Agarwal was super confident that he would be able to pull of the delisting at the ridiculous price of Rs 87.25 and therefore used the proceeds of the dividend to fund his delisting war chest. Looking at it another way he felt that if he succeeds in delisting, the dividend would not have to be shared with minority shareholders. Failing in the exercise, he has distributed the same as per the company dividend policy after five months.

Incidentally, Hindustan Zinc has announced a second interim dividend of Rs 21.30 per share totalling Rs 9,000 crs on 20th October. Assuming that Vedanta would distribute the similar 77% of the dividend received, this would amount to Rs 12.25 per share. On a simple maths and assuming the price of Vedanta to be Rs 100, the two dividends, one proposed and one expected, total Rs 21.75, a dividend yield of 21.75%. Wonder how many companies if any, can boast of that record. Its high time that promoters stop taking their minority shareholders for a ride.

Incidentally, the government has proposed a strategic sale of Hindustan Copper and with Sterlite’s Tuticorin copper smelter plant shut, this becomes a must acquire proposition for Vedanta. Currently there are just two copper smelters in India and both are owned by state run Hindustan Copper Limited. The others like Birla Copper and Sterlite were importing copper concentrates to make cathodes. Its high time, the Anil Agarwal group mends its way and tries to becoming more investor friendly.

Shares of Vedanta have gained in the past week post the announcement of the meeting for the interim dividend. They gained Rs 9.80, or 10.32% to close the week at Rs 104.80.

The buoyancy in the markets has been helped by FII’s being buyers in the market. On a monthly basis they were net sellers of Rs 11,410 crore in September, which they have more than bought back with net purchases of Rs 13,565 crore in October so far. They had also bought Rs 15,749 crs in August of this year. As long as the inflow is so strong where 2 billion dollars are pumped in a month, it would be fair to say that markets cannot fall. If to this you add the fact that the breadth of the market is increasing you have a setting for the present optimist mood to continue.

On the Covid-19 front, the world saw 4,29,46,446 patients with 11,54,862 deaths and 3,16,73,006 people recovering. In India, the number of patients were 78,64,811 with 1,18,567 deaths and 70,78,123 people recovering. Compared to the previous week, there were 29,86,795 new patients, 40,221 deaths and 17,82,622 people recovering. In India there were 3,70,260 new patients, 4,503 deaths and 4,80,914 people recovering. The number of patients recovering has been consistently more than new patients and the same is a very positive sign. The successful launch of a vaccine is eagerly awaited while some countries have begun mass scale administering of dosages for the same.

The week ahead sees October futures expire on Thursday the 29th of October. The present level of NIFTY is higher by 1,124.80 points or 10.41% for the series. This double-digit gain is huge and quite unnatural. One must of course exclude the fall this year in March2020 when the pandemic broke out and the recovery which followed in April 2020. Expect the bulls to build on the same while the bears would try to claw some of it back. Results so far for the NIFTY pack have been good and are fuelling the rally.

With expiry just four days away, expect markets to be volatile and have larger intraday movement. As long as there is no major negative news flow it would be fair to assume that markets would continue to register gains no matter how much smaller. Positive inflows from FII’s would further help markets to gain ground. Continue using sharp dips to add to positions and rallies to sell.

–IANS

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