New Year hopes and dreams of the dispossessed



Aijaz Zaka Syed

Published — Friday 4 January 2013

Last update 4 January 2013 6:15 am

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Thank God 2012 is finally behind us and we have seemingly survived all those Mayan prophesies and Hollywood scare flicks about the end of the world. It’s a new dawn and that time of the year when everyone is in an expansive mood. There’s something magical in the air. I love the pleasant nip in the air. Even in the dry Middle East, this is a great time to be around.
Oddly, occasions like these leave me depressed. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that another year from one’s life is gone without accomplishing anything worthwhile. Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that I spent the New Year night alone before the television while Dubai celebrated as if there’s no tomorrow.
The iconic Burj Khalifa ushered in 2013 with a bang, setting skies ablaze with another spectacular fireworks display, synchronized and choreographed to a live performance by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.
A window table at Atmosphere, a restaurant on the 122nd floor of the 2,716-foot tall tower, went for a mere 16,000 dirhams ($ 4,300). More than 2 billion people around the world tuned in to watch “the biggest fireworks display on the planet,” claim the organizers. Superlative is the norm here. What’s with our obsession with the tallest and biggest? Freud may have an explanation.
Be that as it may, I was one of those few who had other things to watch on the tube like the back-to-back reruns of Seinfeld, the addictive American sitcom to which I have been hooked for years.
During my endless channel surfing I stumbled across a rather interesting roundtable discussion on CNN-IBN. As part of his “2012 Bollywood Roundtable,” Rajeev Masand hosted what he described as four of India’s finest actors – Aamir Khan, Ranbir Kapoor, Irrfan Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui. All four of them have not just excelled during the year with some groundbreaking work, they have carved themselves a niche of their own.
The day before, the network had brought together four young writers and filmmakers—Zoya Akhtar, Juhi Chaturvedi, Habib Faisal and Neelesh Mishra—in another program. Again, Masand described four of them as the most influential writers of their generation.
While both programs were a delight to watch, what struck me was their heavy Muslim representation. If superstar Aamir Khan has been the epitome of excellence and perfection for his generation, Irrfan Khan has distinguished himself as an actors’ actor with his stellar performances not just in India but in Hollywood. This despite being born without typical matinee idol looks. Siddiqui, relatively a newcomer, seems to be walking in Irrfan’s footsteps. With his commonplace looks and build, Siddiqui would be instantly lost in Mumbai’s milling crowds if it wasn’t for his extraordinary portrayals.
Similarly, Zoya Akhtar stands out amongst the new age filmmakers and storytellers despite her young years and sparse body of work that includes the refreshing Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and more recent Talaash. Zoya comes from an illustrious family of gifted writers and poets.
If her brother Farhan Akhtar is credited with cult movies like Dil Chahta Hai, her father Javed Akhtar co-scripted some of the greatest films India has produced before turning to poetry. Habib Faisal is another young filmmaker/storyteller who is being keenly watched. With movies like Ishaqzaade and Band Baaja Baaraat, Faisal brings a raw freshness and new grammar of filmmaking to the industry.
Of course, there’s nothing new here. Muslims have always done well in the dream factory that produces the largest number of movies in the world. It’s not just the famous Khans, the reigning superstars in the 100-crore (100 million) club; Muslims have excelled in all areas of the fiercely competitive industry that commands a global market. Indeed, nothing celebrates the diversity of the melting-pot nation as the Mumbai industry does.
The essentially secular nature of the tinsel town, equal opportunities and fair competition — whatever the explanation but Bollywood has been a big success story for Muslims (just as Hollywood has been for the Jews). Not much different from some of those rags-to-riches tales it has portrayed over the years.
And slowly and ever so slightly Muslims are beginning to replicate this success and culture of excellence in other walks of life. If Irrfan Khan was chosen this week for CNN-IBN’s Indian of the Year Award in entertainment category, Dr Yusuf Khwaja Hamied of Cipla, the pharmaceutical giant, picked up the honor in business category.
With an annual turnover of over Rs 6000-crores ($ 1.27billion) Cipla has been repeatedly in the news for defying Western pharma giants like Bayer AG by selling vital, life-saving drugs at throwaway prices in Africa and elsewhere. Last year, Cipla slashed the price of its complex cancer drug as much as 75 percent. But it is its war on HIV/AIDS that has earned the company global laurels and gratitude of tens of millions in the developing world.
Dr. Hamied may have saved thousands of lives in Africa and elsewhere by making the once forbiddingly exorbitant HIV/AIDS cure accessible to the less fortunate — from under 10,000 people in 2001 in the continent to over 8 million today. Today, Cipla is the largest manufacturer of critical antiretroviral drugs.
Another big success story on this front is Himalaya Herbals, founded by M. Manal in 1934. The Bangalore-headquartered company is now a global market leader in herbal medicines and health care products.
Once known for its liver medicine, Liv52, Himalaya’s growth has been phenomenal even as its owner Meraj Manal staves off investment offers and takeover bids by Western multinationals. The Ayurveda major’s growth is expected to jump fourfold in the next five years.
Staying with Bangalore, the city is also home to Azim Premji’s IT giant Wipro. According to Forbes, Premji is the third richest Indian with an individual net worth of $ 17 billion. The magazine hails Premji as “Asia’s most generous person” for his $ 2 billion donation to the foundation he runs for philanthropic causes. Employing more than 140,000 people in 57 countries, Wipro recorded $ 7.37 billion in revenue last year, much less than what it used to be before the global downturn.
These are but some shining stories of hope for a community that has for long been down in the dumps, especially since the Partition. There are more such extraordinary examples of sheer hard work, brilliance and persistence in all walks of life — from missile scientist and ex-president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to Supreme Court Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and new Intelligence Bureau chief Syed Asif Ibrahim, not to mention the popular names in sports and arts.
As we begin a new year, I would like to believe there is hope for India’s Muslims. Doubtless, the challenges we face on all fronts are daunting. As recent government studies have established, Muslims lag behind in all areas — even behind the Dalit and tribal communities. In the North, once the center of Muslim power, the situation remains depressing.
However, there are definite signs that things are slowly and perceptibly changing. More and more Muslims are growing up with a resolve to break free and do better than their parents’ generation. Down South, you see a revolution in the making with Muslims defying great odds to venture into fields once considered inaccessible — from engineering and medicine to IT and even media.
Of course, we have a long, very long way to go. You can’t expect a transformation overnight. But we will get there if we persevere as the shining examples cited above have. Ultimately, if anyone can help us and change our lot it’s us.

n Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Gulf-based writer.

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