Sunday, 10 May 2015

Remembering Eqbal Chacha

It is exactly 16 years today (May 11, 2015) since we lost Eqbal Ahmad, described by the great critic Edward Said as "the shrewdest and most original anti-imperialist analyst of the post-war world". Noam Chomsky described him as "a treasured friend, trusted comrade, counsellor and teacher", a "secular Sufi" whose life was "rich with learning, understanding, and from dogmatism."

Eqbal Ahmad knew closely many of the world leaders of his time - from Fidel Castro to Yasser Arafat. Indian Prime Ministers, from Indira Gandhi and V.P. Singh, and especially Atal Bihari Vajpayee, were personal friends. Such people very often sought his counsel on matters of international import.

It has been a true privilege for me to know Eqbal personally. I knew him  during the last decade of his life, mostly in Amherst in the US, where I was then a student. For me he was an eternally reliable touchstone of truth, unerring in his instinct for it. In my whole life I do not think I have met a better listener, who was, at once, a stirring orator.  On this day, May 11, exactly 17 years after India tested its nuclear weapon, I recall Eqbal's memorable expression for the twin states of India and Pakistan, more true today than ever. He thought of these violent twins as "pathologies of power", steeped in antagonistic, self-destructive mediocrity. To me, what was most remarkable about Eqbal was not just his accurate and fearless critique of Western imperialism and the unjust, often barbaric, regimes it supports. Much more significant was the simple, accessible humanity with which he approached any other person, be he the Prime Minister of a country, or a worker at a construction site.

Always fresh in my memory would be the hundred stories I heard from his own mouth, including the chilling ones about the Partition of the Sub-Continent which he experienced with the sensitive senses of a teenager. No less alive are the kalaams of Faiz and Ghalib which would emerge after a few glasses of wine late in the evening. He was a man of love and courage to be found rarely in any age of history, but even less so in this barren time of ours. 

Eqbal will always be relevant to human society and is eternally alive in my heart, engaging me in challenging conversation. I paste below what I spoke at a memorial held for Eqbal at Hampshire College, Amherst in October 1999. (You will have to enlarge to be able to read it, since it is a jpeg file from 1999!)

Here is one of Eqbal's last lectures on terrorism, prescient as always. He had predicted an event like 9/11 long before it happened:

Eqbal did not write a single book when he was alive. However, these books, collections of his articles and interviews, have so far been published posthumously:

And here are two good archives on the net where you can find a fine repository of Eqbal's letters, articles, essays and reviews over almost five decades. His articles on India, Pakistan and Kashmir are especially insightful:

Very recently, a biography of Eqbal has emerged, published by Columbia University Press as well as by Oxford. I have not read it yet, so cannot vouch for it in the way that I can for Eqbal's own writings. All that's obvious from the cover is that he was a handsome youth!:

No comments:

Post a Comment