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An epitaph for Madhubala

Published Jun 20, 2013 05:39am


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MANY years ago, I had climbed to the top of the Qutub Minar by sweet-talking the gardener who also officiated as the underpaid watchman at Delhi’s 13th-century landmark.

This was when the government had shut the city’s tallest minaret to visitors following a spate of suicides and a tragic stampede.

I have a great desire now to climb to the helipad atop the 27-storey high Antilla in Mumbai knowing of course it will never be possible. The building’s owner is India’s richest tycoon who cannot be bribed by a mere scribe to allow a peep into his private world.

But I don’t wish to look inside Mukesh Ambani’s multi-billion-dollar home, its exotic ballrooms, its powder rooms and private chambers. I just want to go up to the top and see how far the building is from the Muslim graveyard near the Juhu seafront of Mumbai.

From the top of Antilla I should be able to fathom, if not directly see, the approximate spot where India’s most popular screen goddess Madhubala was buried in the 1960s after a tragedy-filled life. The legendary leftist poet Sahir Ludhianavi, evergreen music composer Naushad, the magical singer Mohammed Rafi — they were all buried at the Juhu Muslim cemetery.

Three or perhaps four years ago, their bodies were exhumed and shifted to goodness knows where. The graves were levelled, the plaques thrown away, the fans simply stunned with disbelief.

In their interviews, which I recently read on the web, representatives of the Muslim body that looks after the graveyard proclaimed it un-Islamic for people to build tombs for the dead. This sounded so much like Salafist extremists of yore.

It was also reported that a shortage of burial grounds for Muslims prompted the Juhu graveyard’s keepers to cleanse the place to make room to receive fresh bodies.

Standing on top of Antilla, my mind would have panned to another story. It was about the sale of priceless waqf land to Mukesh Ambani for a pittance so that he could build his dream home there. Apparently there is, or there was, a litigation pending over the sordid affair.

How could anyone sell prime land and exhume the remains of beloved icons by claiming there was no land available to bury so many people, and that it was un-Islamic to do so anyway? Global corporations should form an alliance with Salafist Islam. I wouldn’t blame Mukesh Ambani for the sorry pass yesteryear’s celebrities had met with, but I would marvel at the irony of it all nevertheless.

Peering over the ledge from Antilla’s terrace I would want to watch all the celebrities — politicians, cricketers, movie stars, senior editors of newspapers and anchors of major TV channels, trooping in for their convivial rendezvous with the nation’s leading mover and shaker. I am almost certain I will see Narendra Modi there. Isn’t the controversial Gujarat chief minister racing ahead to be India’s main opposition candidate for the prime minister’s job? He staked his claim with the complete support of Mukesh Ambani followed by several other leading businessmen from Mumbai.

Wait a moment though. Isn’t Mr Ambani also supporting Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s much-touted sway over the state? And Nitish and Modi don’t see eye to eye.

I would have thought, assuming that the clandestinely recorded “Radia tapes” were heard right, that Nitish Kumar’s chief economic advisor – a former civil services star who had a key room in prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s office, was a lobbyist for Ambani’s Reliance group of companies.

If that were the case, and if Mr Nitish Kumar is bracing to eject from his alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party because he will lose Muslim votes by being seen with Mr Modi, doesn’t that make two Ambani horses in the electoral fray for next year? True to form that is one nexus that has been studiously avoided in the news headlines.

It’s a dizzying thought to imagine all this from Mumbai’s tallest residential structure. Beyond Mr Modi and Nitish Kumar, who is trying to raise the banner of a third secular alternative to the BJP and the Congress, is the motley group of socialists and communists generically called the left.

A Times of India report from Washington in May 2004, the day Dr Manmohan Singh was anointed prime minister, was an eye-opener. Mukesh Ambani, the report said, “used the example of American dealings with China to calm the initial dread that accompanied the return of India’s leftist parties to position of influence”.

The Times quoted Mr Ambani as telling an elite gathering in Washington where he received a leadership award from Senator Hillary Clinton: “International financial markets and analysts need not panic because they have dealt with Chinese communists successfully. I can assure you that the communists in India will put them to shame.”

On cue, the communists in West Bengal hurried to spend so much political capital defending the right of industrialists to make cars on land allegedly cornered from poor peasants that they faithfully endorsed every expectation Mr Ambani had voiced for them.

From my vantage point atop Antilla, can I see anyone from the ruling Congress party alighting at the Ambani doorsteps?

My memory pans to the pirated copy of Hamish MacDonald’s proscribed book Polyester Prince, an exposé of the rise of Reliance Industries. Its dramatis personae are the existing and former members of the Congress party. Is there anyone left in next year’s electoral fray who remains untouched by Antilla’s generous grace? I must quickly find a way to get down from my dizzying reverie.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

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Comments (25) Closed

Abbastoronto Jun 20, 2013 08:46am

Now you see why our parents wisely separated Pakistan from India. Thank you mom and dad. When even graveyards are not safe, who is?

Arju Jun 20, 2013 09:33am

You have touched the right nerve. Ambanis have built their business empire on bribe and corruption. But forget not, the ruling party, what ever it is, where ever it is, cashed on Dhirubhai's pittance and he took the lions share at the cost of public exchequer. Ambanis always won, by hook or crook. It does not matter who comes to power in this poor democracy, he or she will be micromanaged by Ambanis. Starting from a simple businessman, he became a tycoon. But hey, the same story repeats many times in pakistan also. or in that case, all over world, the source of riches are either corruption or bribery.

Babu Khan Jun 20, 2013 09:57am

Why you don't write about Zardari, Nawaz etc. who have stolen from Pakistan? shame on you sir

Jeevan Jun 20, 2013 01:55pm

At least Mukesh Ambani bought the land from Wakf authorities. Even today Sunni Wakf Board is one of the richest and highest land owning organizations in India. In Pakistan Hindu properties and temples can be taken over by land sharks by simply bribing the civic authorities to look the other way. And is none of your article complete without bringing up Modi ?

Sandeep Singh Jun 20, 2013 03:18pm

This Man is High Time Cry baby lol

Anup Ranjan Jun 20, 2013 04:32pm

Nice entertainment ! Folks my dear readers start your joyride with Qutb Minar, Madhubala, Ambani, Muslim graveyard, Muslim votes, Modi, Nitish and at the end you don't know where you are.

Good laughing stock as always.

Khalil Anwer Hassan Jun 20, 2013 05:54pm

Naqvi's covert lament over the disgraceful treatment to the last remains of some of the sub-continent's greatest Muslim movie celebrities is an eye-opener for those of us who advocate for friendship and free trade with India. Perhaps, the "two nations theory" was not such a bad idea, after all. At least, we, in Pakistan have not shown this kind of irreverence to the shrines and remains of those who died in what once used to be undivided India. The ultimate fate of some of the still surviving and nationally awarded Muslim celebrities, in the light of Naqvi's expose', must be making them recite Ghalib's famous couplet: "Huey mar ke hum jo ruswa; huey kyun na ghark-e-darya: Na kahin janaza uthta, na kahin mazaar hota".

surendra sukhtankar Jun 20, 2013 05:58pm

Typical Jawed column; doesn't make much sense. You just get some "stuff" out of your system in every column you right. You sit in a dark corner with the prayer beads in your hand and keep chanting, Modi, RSS, BJP, Secular, Ambani, Capitalists, CIA, Conspiracy Theories, etc, etc.

And of course DAWN pays you for your silly chanting!!! What a deal!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Raj Jun 20, 2013 06:45pm

@Abbastoronto: Sir: Perhaps , you should know Pakistan being a hot bed of terrorism with its minorities being cleansed out and Muslims killing Muslims, most Indians are saying, " thank God, thank mom and dad that you decided for the partition. Pakistan is a good riddance,,"

You can keep your Sharia laws, blasphemy laws and carry on with your daily blowing up busses and innocent men and women. You are a threat to yourself and all of South Asia.

NotReallyNeeded Jun 20, 2013 07:01pm

@Khalil Anwer Hassan: there's nowhere mentioned that state was involved in the whole affair here... it ws the decision of the Muslim body who manages the graveyard, n as is the norm, the state didn't interfere in the personal happenings of a particular religion... grow up n stop demonizing India at every instance u get, no matter hw insignificant it is...

Capri Jun 20, 2013 08:13pm

@Khalil Anwer Hassan: The article very clearly states that it was a Muslim body that did away with the graves. Oh for gods sake, all you guys are sick in the head it seems, looking to see where you can run Indians down, without even understanding the context fully.!

Capri Jun 20, 2013 08:20pm

@Abbastoronto: I wonder if you know that there are millions of Indian Muslims who are watching the unfolding intolerant and violence prone scenarios in Pakistan and thanking their mom and dad for not crossing over during partition! Do be my guest sometime, mr Abbastoronto, and see for yourself how Muslims live in peace here. So churlish of you o assume too that the government is behind closing down those gravesides of celebs, Naqvi clearly states that its the Muslim bodies that did it! Quick to jump to negative conclusions!

aditya Jun 20, 2013 09:46pm

at lease they died natural deaths in India..not torn apart by the religon of pieces in pakistan

Sony Jun 20, 2013 10:17pm

@Khalil Anwer Hassan: Pl keep things in proper perspective. Muslim body and not maharastra state is responsible for the affair. Minorities have no say in Pakistan you are well aware of it.

BISWAJIT ROY Jun 20, 2013 11:10pm

@Abbastoronto: thank u very much for separating by the way is not there loadshedding now in pakistan how u writing ur comments here is cheap generator or u urself leave pakistan for good

Bharat Jun 20, 2013 11:16pm

Utterly foolish article. first, Ambani land was not bought from muslims. Second, waqf and not hundus are responsible for removing buring bodies to resell the land. Where does the great Gujarat CM Narendra Modi come into picture from involving a muslim cemetery in Mumbai?

RAJA Jun 20, 2013 11:56pm

@ Raj, Thsi dude namedabbastoronto had moved to west because pak is "real safe".

Mansi Jun 21, 2013 12:00am

@AbbasToronto One of the statements I must agree with you on. Otherwise we would be stuck with a set of people who see conspiracies and victimization by others with zero analysis and introspection. It is very difficult to run a household if there are people with such mindsets, let alone a country.

Lalit Jun 21, 2013 12:54am

listen up all of you, if we keep burying the dead bodies without a limit then soon the whole world will be a graveyard ! then whats the problem with reusing the same graveyard for new fresh bodies ! try to make sense here !

Sujith Jun 21, 2013 01:24am

I never knew Madhubala was a muslim. But when I saw the heading of this article and that too by Jawed, I thought there is every chance that she might be muslim by faith. When I went through the article, I was not 'disappointed'. His articles are so predictive and similarly patterned, for me it has been a great time pass to find out how close I am in guessing each time the content of his articles. But lately that too is faced with boredom...

umesh bhagwat Jun 21, 2013 03:15am

excellent article! It is the Ambanis,the Tatas,the Birlas and their ilk who are ruining India!

ruzlan Jun 21, 2013 06:16am

@Abbastoronto: thnks for leaving ... we are spared of the daily bombings beheading of our own fellow coreligionists under the name of religion !

AL Jun 21, 2013 09:30am

@Khalil Anwer Hassan: You are probably not aware of the careless and vindictive writing of Jawed Naqvi. He is a weaver of conspiracies and a casual creator of cause-and effects without any veriable evidence. For example the connection between salafist and Ambani. Have the graves of these beloved Muslim Bollywood stars been moved or destroyed? We wouldn;t know from Naqvi's concocted and vicious storytelling. While he demonizes the corporates and the BJP and all other politicians - and some may be valid - you ought to find other sources for the "truth". Instead of being a healer of wounds caused by the Partition, Naqvi - like that other DAWN favorite Arun dhati Roy - are bitter human beings bent on dividing and opening old wounds.It's truly a pity!

AL Jun 21, 2013 09:37am

@Abbastoronto: Perhaps you do not realize but there would have been no Pakistan without the willing consent of the non-Indians. Without the leadership of Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Abul Kalam Azad, and other Indians of all stripes - and by the way, without any help from Pakistan's founders Jinnah and Iqbal - India would not have achieved its Independence. Maybe you might want to read REAL history of the Partition.

Stayed Jun 21, 2013 10:01am

Why people are so sensitive and also defensive for Modi.Javed Naqvi ju st mentioned the creation of an icon bldg with the land scam.