Such was the voice of Hazrat Amir Khusrao – saint, savant, writer, poet, musician, statesman, creator of the Sitar and the Tabla and the creator of so many ragas – the word genius falls short in describing this unique creation of the Almighty. In exceptional times he straddled five Sultans of the Delhi Saltnate. In an era of intense intrigue, vulgarity and blind ambition, commencing from the reign of Sultan Iltutmish he remained a friend, adviser and guide to successive Sultans till he passed away.
The eclectic secular beauty of his mind is manifest in his couplets.
Khuda Khud Mir-e-Majlis bud
Andar la makaan Khusrao
Mohammed Shamme Mehfil bud
Shabjaye ke manbudam
God at the head of the crowd,
And Khusrao lost in the infinite,
Mohammad was the candle that
Lit the places I spent the night
The courage manifest, in bringing the Almighty within the lines of a couplet implanting the name of the Holy Prophet “Peace be upon him” and then figure himself prominently in between the lines, speaks of the courage of a saint.
As an individual I have been fascinated by the life of Khusrao and it was this fascination that also lit my imagination to often think of the Sufi saints of Delhi. This city is virtually a makka of Sufi saints. Starting from Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki, Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia, Hazrat Naseeruddin Chirag Delhi, Khwaja Mir Dard, Sufi Sarmad, Hare Bhare Shah Sahib and of course the great Nakshbandi saint Khwaja Baqe Billah.
Secularism is the fundamental creed of Sufis: while strictly following Islamic decrees – they had enough space for every thought. As the great Mirza Ghalib has said –
Asle shahudo shahido
mushhood ek hai
Hairun hoon phir
Mushayada hai kis hisaab mein
When what is seen or the person who sees or what is to be seen is all one, it then surprises me what are we comparing.
The tradition of fierce secular belief carries through the 18th century and we can hear the same strains and I am compelled to recite the great Siraj Dakhni
“Khabar-e-tabaiyvrr-e-ishq sun na junoon raha na paree rahi
Na to tu raha na to main raha jo rahi so bekhabari vahi
Chali simt-e-ghabi sey ek hava ke chaman suhoor ka jal gaya
Magar ek shaakh-e-nihal-e-gham jisay dil kahen so baree rahi
Who ajab ghari thee ke jis ghari liya dars nuskha-e-ishq ka
Ki kitab aql ki taaq mein jo dhari thee tyon bi dhari rahee”
Through time and space we have same flow from Rumi to Attar:
what Attar has to say and I will translate his Persian couplet into English
Heresy to the heretic,
Religious to the orthodox,
But the dust of the rose petal
Belongs to the heart of the perfume seller.
In the background of such profundity – how tragic it has been for this great land to be divided on religious lines. How tragic that many of us watch from the sidelines with a sense of dread the sinister dance of death that is so often played around us.
But few amongst us have stood up to this, fought it, resisted it intellectually. In that sense it is a proud moment for me to stand here when we honour a great champion for secularism. Not from now but for decades Mr. N.C. Saxena has spoken, written and demonstrated a rare commitment to the cause of secularism. He is indeed a rare species, a beacon of hope, a modern revolutionary who holds alight the torch of truth. His has been a fight for the downtrodden, imbibed in a fierce belief for achieving justice – through positive affirmative action and to resist injustice whenever he has seen it.
I believe each one of us in this audience salutes this man and we owe it to him to support him and progress his ideas.
We are a great country. We have dreamt of big things. We have hoped to reach out to the stars:
It was that his hope with the great romantic Majaz wrote:
“Jo abr yahan se utha hai who sare jahan par barasega.”
As Amartya Sen said it is important; to understand the long tradition of accepted heterodoxy in India that at all points of time we have given space to all religions – Buddhism, Jainism, agnosticism and aestheticism, and allowed them to compete with each other in many ways, transform themselves in imbibing what we call Hinduism. With the passing of centuries and in the wake of a number of thinking rulers, savants, Sufis and bhakts we evolved into a uniquely secular society. We note the celebration of diversity in Kalidasa’s Meghadootam that applauds the beauty or variety of human custom and behaviour. The very same commitment we see in Khusrao.
Secularism is part of our inheritance. India must transcend religion and caste and region and this idea must be instilled with a firm belief in a nation that can govern with strength and confidence, exhibit governance of similar ideological terms as did Ashoka, Akbar, Dara Shikoh and Jawaharlal Nehru. In modern times I would say these are Gandhian notions of social provision that people knitted together into a human tapestry.
So as we leave this room let us resolve to rise above the murkiness of extant politics and reignite visions of true Ram Rajya. I really believe that India has reached a stage when we must challenge our own religions, we must challenge our birth and be prepared to pay the price for it. I can hardly imagine what Mir Taqi Mir thought when in the 18thcentury he wrote:
“Mir ke deeno majhab ko ab poochte kya ho Unne to
kashka khencha dair mein baitha,
Kab ka tark Islam kiya
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, thank you Ram Singh Sahib, thank you Ajay for giving me this opportunity to be with you this evening and to share the stage with Mr. N.C. Saxena.