My book drumming support for father’s killer: Aatish Taseer

August 20th, 2011 - 1:42 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 20 (IANS) Writer Aatish Taseer, son of slain Pakistani politician Salmaan Taseer, says the description of his father as “not a man of religion, but a brilliant well-read intellectual” in one of his books is being used to drum up support for his father’s killer by a section of Pakistani society.

In an incident that shook Pakistan’s liberals, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was assassinated Jan 4, 2011, by his own bodyguard for opposing the oppressive blasphemy law.

“A section is trying to say that he (Salmaan Taseer) was not as strict as one should be in his practice of Islam. It is because I described my father in my book as a cultural Muslim who was not a man of religion, but a brilliant well-read intellectual. For these people (fundamentalists), it is a justification,” Aatish told IANS in an interview.

His book “Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey Through Islamic Lands”, released in 2009, is a political travelogue of his journey through Islamic Asia with a parallel story of his relationship with his estranged father.

Aatish, a London-based journalist, says he hasn’t been to Pakistan ever since his father’s death.

“The last time I went to Pakistan was in 2007. I couldn’t go after my father’s death for many reasons - I have a name that gets recognised, my family was in peril and they asked me to stay away. And now it’s more difficult,” he said.

Aatish, 31, was in the capital to promote his new novel, “Noon”, published by Harper Collins India. It is a narrative of loneliness, loss and rediscovery of paternal legacy in an alien land by Rehan Tabassum, a boy who was raised by his single mother. The novel straddles through New Delhi, Pakistan and stray cities of northern India.

The writer, who has been observing the social turbulence in Pakistan in course of his visits to renew ties with his family, says “Pakistan has made a final break with its culture and its past in the name of faith”.

“I don’t know if Pakistan can return to itself,” he said.

The writer says “the class of people which perhaps has a little education - the middle class - does not exist in Pakistan”.

“In a strange way, I have realised that the presence of (middle) class is a moralising force. But in my book, when the protagonist seeks out the public sphere, what he gets is a mob,” said Aatish, who has also penned “The Temple Goers”.

The broad social decay in Pakistan in the form of social violence is more unsettling to Aatish than religious extremism.

“I think that the violent nature of Pakistan’s creation and the idea behind it is fake and chauvinistic. It has rejected the basis of Indian society for the last 1,000 years. When you set up a country on a fake premise, there is this feeling…

“If you can make this utopia (nation) more Islamic, if only we (people) were better Muslims. It is a misplaced sense of value. The violence that killed my father was the violence with which Pakistan was created,” the writer said.

The situation in India and Pakistan cannot be compared, he says.

“I don’t think what Anna Hazare is doing is the solution. But the fundamental outrage comes through. People are asking for the removal of corruption… But I don’t think Anna is right,” said Aatish, a Muslim-Sikh by parentage.

His years in the capital with mother Tavleen Singh, a senior Indian journalist, gives him an insight into the country. “There is a sense of comfort in this city.”

According to Aatish, his novel has its origin in something “personal and autobiographical”.

“But it is also global. The story has a sense of dislocation of being… The book reflects an original absence in my life - which grew sharper as I grew older. I had to deal with a lot of relationships which people have taken for granted but I could not afford to. I have no world…”

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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