Spring is in bloom in South Asia as India and Pakistan, two nations engaged in several wars and border skirmishes, send peace feelers to each other. Crowds in India cheer Pakistani opponents at the India-Pakistan cricket series as the flashing cameras capture the Pakistani Prez and Indian Premier’s smiles and warm handshakes. Not to be outdone, Bollywood soaps showing Indo-Pak romance are topping the charts. And the first peace bus makes its inaugural journey this summer crossing the Indo-Pak border at Kashmir.
But it was a different summer in 1999, when Amitava Kumar, an expatriate Indian, married a Pakistani lady even as war broke out on the India-Pakistan border at Kargil. Kumar’s subsequent writings on cross-border peace earned him the wrath of some Hindu bigots who posted his name as an enemy of India on a hate website. These events and later the communal carnage in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002 led him to examine the elements of hatred and enmity between India and Pakistan, Hindus and Muslims. From United States, where Kumar and his wife live, to journeys across India and Pakistan and South Africa, the author met and talked to numerous people, from all walks of life. Thus was born Husband of a Fanatic, a collection of experiences that the author calls “an essay on the idea of the enemy.”
Throughout the narrative, the divisive forces between the two religions are very apparent. The Hindu-Muslim divide is almost always interchangeable with the India-Pakistan border - and “divide” is the leitmotif on both sides of the border. Yet dichotomies abound as they surely must where complexity accompanies conflict. For instance, the hierarchy of caste and religion that forbids intermarriage coexists with other forms of acceptance. At a remand home, the author meets a woman who dismisses the idea of romantic love between Hindus and Muslims; yet the same woman showers love on her adopted child, who could easily have been a child of such an illicit union.
Interesting, too, are Kumar’s experiences with nationalism in the Diaspora. Nationalism outside the shores of India has come to mean saffron dollars and saffron nationalism, both of which have contributed in a huge way to the neo-conservatism Hindutva: a slogan that demands a monolithic Hindu concept and excludes minorities. It isn’t anti-imperialistic, either (as Kumar says
[see author interview], “they are happy to be in bed with the imperialists”). Funnily, it is in Diaspora that Indians and Pakistanis have mixed. Says the author of a rabid Hindu bigot, “His home in a locality where Indian and Pakistani immigrants live together; Elmhurst is said to be the most diverse zip-code area in the whole of the United States.”
An unusually thoughtful book, Husband of a Fanatic forces one to look at the meaninglessness of the violence and bloodshed taking place in the name of religion and nationhood. Today such questions on the concept and identity of the enemy come juxtaposed with vignettes of Pakistani and Indian crowds cheering each other. All the lines become very blurred, indeed.