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Interview: Habib Tanvir

Interview: Habib Tanvir

‘I am repelled by intellectual dwarves and extremists’
Habib Tanvir talks to NEHA DIXIT about adolescent pranks, women and globalisation
After all these years, do you ever want to go back to your childhood?
I don’t miss it because there’s still a fullfledged childhood living deep within me. When I was in my first year of college a very close friend of mine, Anwar-ul-llah, made me a part of all his naughty acts; I also used to enjoy them thoroughly. In college, in Nagpur, we used to sleep in a big lawn in the centre of the hostel. One day, we lifted a cot on which a very simple boy called Salim was sleeping. We took it out of the gate and kept it right in front of the warden’s room, so he would get a scolding. And since we were known for our notorious activities, Salim didn’t open his eyes when we were carrying his cot, although he was awake. In the morning, the warden scolded Salim a lot. But he didn’t utter a word. He didn’t even complain to us
And are you glad to be your age now, when you can share all your experiences?
Now I am worried. I’d never thought that, with such a lean figure, I would live till the age of 85 — longer than my father who was a well-built Peshawari who died at the age of 82. I’m writing my autobiography these days and I’m scared that I may not live to complete it. I want to be able to complete it.
What are the things that make you happy and what makes you angry?
I enjoy poetry, fiction and travel. Globalisation makes me very angry… market economy. People don’t understand the basic concept of development. The fact is that culture pervades every category of life. Service to culture and its preservation is of utmost importance. But the Ministry of Information and Broadcast are hellbent on showering fire over it, to finish it. It makes me furious that policymakers think that by doing this, they are resurrecting the nation. They don’t realize that this way, they can never make growth percolate down to the marginalised, to the ones below the poverty line.
Is the new generation heavily influenced by this market economy?
They are allowed to practise all kind of inhuman, wicked and alien values. But there is a ray of hope. I believe in both the Shastras and Marxism. I am not a cardholder of any party but my definition of being a leftist is different. I will always be anti-establishment, no matter what the regime; a leftist is always critical. Like Marx says, when evil comes to a saturation point, then people get fed up and there is an inevitable change, either through evolution or revolution. Our Shastras say, Vishnu can’t kill Kans, so he takes the form of Krishna to put an end to his tyranny. A similar saturation point is already visible in our society, which is why many bright students still take up the IAS and the IPS and declare that we think that it is evil to earn lakhs and lakhs of rupees from corporate sectors and multinational companies when millions of people are living in acute poverty. They want to change the corrupt system.
What do you think of modern women, let’s say, compared to your mother?
That’s a tricky thing. Women are progressing, inching their way through legislation, NGOs and human rights groups but the male dominated society is not letting them move on. In old times, women were most empowered in a joint family, when the keys of the house were tied to their pallus; they were the ones who made decisions. Despite being in a patriarchal system, they made rules and everybody followed them. Now there are nuclear families. A change that was inevitable and also emancipatory, but at the same time, it is tricky. We are now in the wilderness and have not quite arrived where we wanted to be. My mother was a strange, rare thing. She was educated and was the headmistress of a school. Even though she practiced purdah, it was very selective in nature. She accepted my inter-community marriage and became a great friend of my wife. She taught everyone how to cook great food and had a flair for cleanliness, to the extent that she would not wipe her hands after washing them and allow the water to drip because she suspected that the towel wasn’t clean. We belonged to the lower middle class. My father was an overseer in PWD and had a limited income. But she never let anyone feel a crunch. She was wittier than my father. She would call my father “pathani akal”. She could balance things, an ability that isn’t there in women today. I miss her a lot.
What was your biggest dilemma?
Getting married was the biggest one because there was a time when I had decided not to because I thought I was not cut out for it. My concerns and thoughts about life are so different that no woman could cope with them. So for two years I kept thinking what to do. Then I got married at the age of 38. I found a partner who was wedded to theatre. Monica became a source of strength and was with me all along. It was such an unexpected bonus. She took to Chhattisgarhi theatre and could manage with the illiterate (people), understand their feelings, culture and imagination. That was a rare thing for a person like her who had come from America with a masters degree in theatre. She was an independent producer and could have gone her way, but she found a teacher in Denver who told her that America is not a place for theatre. The place is India with its indigenous culture and that kept her going, and everything blended together inside her.
Where do you think you are most relaxed?
My comfort zone has always been in the villages and the tribal areas. Even when there were problems, they never seemed like problems to me because of the environment. When I used to drink the dirty water, even then, my stomach did not get upset. And I love the food the tribals cook. It is delicious. Most of all, I enjoyed shitting under the open sky. But the times have changed so much now, that there is no corner left in this world where one can find any comfort. The penetration of the modern lifestyle into every nook and corner of the country has bulldozed everything and led to this preposterous and obnoxious condition.
What kind of people repel you the most?
People who are intellectual dwarfs sometimes repel me, because it takes ages to explain a particular thing to them. Dishonest and political people who do not live upto their words and practise ardhsatya (half-truth). But the ones who repel me the most are extremists. Whether they are religious fundamentalists or of any other kind.


From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 23, Dated June 14, 2008
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