Articles

  • Farzana Doctor: Making the write choice Her mother died when she was eleven, and she remembers vividly the commotion that followed. The argument, she recalls vaguely, was of religious nature, something to do about burial. Farzana wanted those people, those angry voices to go away, leave her in peace. This encounter with religion was not a happy one. It seared her ... Read more...
  • Taking on the high and mighty Tell the auto rickshaw driver to drop you off at the Red Tower in Zampa Bazar, that is the only tower in Surat, he will know, she said. Fifteen minutes later I arrived in a busy street swarming with people and traffic, a typical late-morning rush of any mid-sized Indian city. There she was, standing across the street: A bespectacled middle-age woman wearing a cotton shalwar-kameez. We greeted, and made small talk as we took a short walk to her house through the narrow, claustrophobic lanes. Read more...
  • Vying for power: Old habits Dai hard As if one Dai were not enough for Dawoodi Bohras. Now they are burdened with two. The dust on Sayedna Mohammed Burhanuddin’s grave has hardly settled and his family is at each other’s throats, vying for power. For the past two years there was the Mansoos (successor designate) Mufaddal Saifuddin. He was apparently conferred the Nass (investiture) by Sayedna Mohammed Burhanuddin. But following his death his younger half-brother and deputy Khuzema Qutbuddin has also staked a claim to Daiship. That he was in the running for the post was always suspected. But it is the timing of his announcement that has sent the Bohra world into a tailspin. Read more...
  • The legacy of Sayedna Mohammed Burhanuddin Sayedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, the 52nd Dai ul Mutlaq of Dawoodi Bohras passed away early Friday morning of January 17, 2014. Tens of thousands of Bohras from all over India – and abroad – converged on Mumbai for the funeral procession. The great crush of people overwhelmed the logistics it seems, and the stampede that followed ... Read more...
  • Fearless intellectual activist like no other I vividly remember the day, some 30 years ago, when the cover story by Asghar Ali Engineer was published in the Illustrated Weekly of India. With Sayedna Moahammed Burhanuddin’s picture on the cover and the title “A Law Unto Himself”, the article created a sensation. Nobody had dared to challenge Sayedna Saheb so openly so publicly before. It gave us young Turks a new sense of mission and energy. Instinctively, we knew this man was on to something. Bohras, who are generally meek and tend to mind their own business, are not quite used to this kind of dynamic personality rising in their midst. Read more...
  • Scholar who speaks truth to power On a cool December morning I knock on the door of a house in a posh Los Angeles county. A diminutive man opens the door. He is Ismail K. Poonawala, former professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at UCLA. There is renovation going on in the house, Prof. Poonawala apologises for the mess. We make small talk as he gives me a tour of his study, it is lined with books on three sides, the fourth is held up by glass doors overlooking the Pacific Ocean in a distance. Read more...
  • The sweet and sour of Bohra cuisine Although food is integral to human survival, for Bohras it boils down to much more. After faith and culture, it is food that binds them together, brings them together. In fact faith would have little currency without that inevitable jaman. Food, or at least the expectation of it, helps one endure those dreary majalises. And for the orthodox brethren, for whom no gathering, religious or otherwise, can end without the ritual of matam, that expectation cannot be sweeter. Read more...
  • The unsung hero of reform movement It was small hours of the morning. A boy of 16-17 was poring over his books, engrossed in his studies. There is a knock on the door. A man in a simple Muslim garb enters, tells the boy that Hazur-e-aali wants to see him. They exchange a few words, and the boy is driven to a grand house where Hazur-e-aali is sitting on a chair in a large room. The boy is directed to sit on the floor before him. Hazur-e-aali commands him to look him in his eyes and begins to talk about the glorious history of the Dais, how they never die; about the infallible Imams and their resplendent past; about Fatimid history and its vicissitudes; about Islam and its Ismaili inheritance and about the Dawoodi Bohras who opposed their Dai and how they were ruined (halak thayaa). Read more...
  • An artist true to himself, true to his soil Every morning after breakfast you will find Abbas Batliwala in his studio communing with his canvas. “It’s the best time of day,” he says. A time to reflect on inner universe. From its unknown depths emerges an insistent creative urge that has defined his destiny and given him his true calling. If not for this urge Abbas would have been just another shopkeeper. “I’m no more than a salesman,” he says. Not for him the airs of an artist. He makes light of his talent and fame. Read more...