An evening with the quintessential liberal activist – Tarak Fateh

An evening with the quintessential liberal activist – Tarak Fateh
An evening with the quintessential liberal activist Tarak Fateh

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A socio/political talk titled “ROC for Israel: Jew is not my enemy featuring Tarek Fatah” was organized by the ROC for Israel foundation in Rochester, New York on 28th February 2016. Like several others, our earnestness to attend the event went up to an extent of driving for 6 hours with a toddler, to reach there and it was not primarily the topic but it’s speaker, the man himself, ‘Tarek Fatah’ that had brought many of us there. If we are asked to pick words to describe him, then in soul, he is a ‘voice’ for many who have been silenced and in person, he is humility personified. He is a quintessential liberal activist- extremely well read, vastly informed and globally connected.

We all came from different educational and professional backgrounds. There were professors, social activists, teachers, spiritual leaders, undergraduate students, engineers, chartered accountants and linguists. This cross cultural and cross discipline group was bound by a common thing called “cause.” They all had a distinct cause that was relevant and personal to them but lesser known to others. They zealously wanted to solve it, articulate it and spread it and this is why their search brought them to Tarek Fatah. He, who is a man of letters with the gift of gab topped with wit and humor and with all this bundled up together he resolutely takes issues head-on. He is infamously famous for raising voice on several controversial burning issues such as atrocities in Balochistan and its freedom, linguistic rights in Pakistan, freedom of Palestine, Hindu holocaust, islamophobia, Arab high handedness are the few to name. During his talk in Rochester, he began with the rapidly growing feeling of anti-Semitism among certain communities and cleared myths about how Muslims misquote Quran for their Jew hatred. Surprisingly, in the same talk he stressed on the responsibility and obligation of Israel to free Palestine. But it did not end there. Within a short while, he talked about the killing of the 132 men in the village of Balochistan that has gone unreported. He once garnered attention by casually stating that “he is an Indian born in Pakistan.” This seems validated when one listens to his observation on Indian history, politics, culture and religions that are more insightful than what many Indians could offer. He talks about the Vedic counting system, multiple Indian gods and their fascinating stories, the potential of Indian Muslims in the contemporary discourse on Islam, the significance of post-independence Muslim appeasement, the wrongly evaluated contemporary appeasement policy towards Muslims and much more. But I disagree on calling him an Indian. In fact, I do not want to call him a Pakistani, a Canadian or a Muslim either. He is a crusader, who is human at first. Thus, I do not want to identify him with any discreet labels. In fact, his observations will sound more relevant once we listen them unbiased and unlabeled.

One feels envious and amazed at his multi-faceted awareness. We remember asking him, “How do you know so much?” To this he quickly replied, “I read. These are all in the books. What would a person do when imprison for a year and kept in one of the prisons of Balochistan?” We were amazed. “Good for us that Nehru had donated his library to the prison”, he added. “There was a vacant position for an assistant librarian and I jumped in to take it. Everything else followed it. I began with rise and fall of Roman empire and then kept reading.” Thus, for obvious reasons every word he speaks is a lecture on history, politics, culture and social systems. His courage of speaking his mind compelled us to ask him, “Sir, don’t you feel scared?” He smiled and replied, “My wife Nargis often jokes with me on this.” He told his wife says “Tu college ke dino se pit raha hai. Tera Kya hoga Kaliya? (You have been roughed up since college days. What will happen to you?) This speaks volumes about his strong support system in form of his wife and their phenomenal capability of jovially standing against odds. He is not a practicing Muslim but has vowed that he will only go and pray in the mosque when his wife and daughters are allowed to go along with him. This has garnered him worldwide support and criticism.

There was lot more than words that he gave away that day. It was the meaning of a purposeful life. The purposes, those are not just about you but about others. Perhaps, he is so because he has felt and touched the transience of life while he was fighting cancer and a paralytic attack. He is a courageous man who has an exceptional ability to inspire others. Thus, he was the star and we were struck.

Once the talk was over the organizers invited him over for dinner. Something was favorable that day that the organizers asked him whether we all who were talking to him towards the wrap up wanted to join them too. He eagerly asked us, “Khana khaenge aap? (Would you like to eat?)?” We were taken aback by the warmth of the organizers and Tarek Fatah. We all joined in. The evening slipped into the night amidst melody and diverse discussion on the cultures, religions, beliefs and conflicts. There was a potpourri of accents that clearly manifested heterogeneity of gathering. In between the loud spell of chattering, we began to introduce ourselves. All of us began with names, country, occupation and our reason of coming there. There was an eager Macedonian, inquisitive Jew, warm Jamaican, articulate and enthusiastic Indians, observant Sri Lankan and a plucky Pashtun. It is remarkable that we all are made of our stories. Thus, the courage on the face of Pashtun was quite evident from his remarkable escape story. He used to teach in Pakistan where he was shot thrice by the extremists. He fled the country and now studied economics in an American university. Our hearts almost melted when he told that he has not seen his family for quite a long time since they stay in Afghanistan but he does wish to go back and do something for the people of his country. It was noteworthy that over that dinner we all wanted to talk and listen both. While someone asked us the reason behind driving 6 hours to meet him, we replied “we would have felt useless if we would not have met him when he was just 6 hours away.” On hearing this, he just folded his hands and bowed his head in all humility, acknowledging our reverence and admiration.

Upholding the glasses of sparkling wine and water, we sang in glory one of the golden melody of Hindi cinema; “mere mehboob qyamat hogi.” This was followed by a detailed translation of this song. This was done to facilitate the diverse audience we had that evening. On learning the translation, the non- Hindi speakers correctly remarked that it was a song of grief. Ironically enough we sang it in effervescence. The meaning of the song starkly juxtaposed the mood with which we were singing. Perhaps, that is the charisma and charm of Tarek Fatah that melancholy was unconsciously celebrated as joy. By this time the restaurant staff had begun to clean up their place, shut the bar and kitchen. Certainly, none of us wanted to end the evening. But it is rightly said “all good things come to an end.” We had to get up when the restaurant staff began to turn off the lights. That was it. We began to get up. But the evening was not over without a joyous group photograph. We started walking towards the exit to bid him and each other goodbye. All of us did walk away towards our specific destinations but with a sense of greater determination and fulfillment that we experienced and absorbed that evening.

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