“What are you going to do with that photo in your room?” Amma asked with a frown, when I was home recently.
“Which one?” I asked, but should have guessed. “The Jinnah one,” my 86-year-old mum said. “The one in which he’s wearing a black suit, and is posing with his two dogs and a cigarette in his mouth”.
“Why are you asking me suddenly after all these years?” I said. “Why am I asking you? See what’s happening in AMU. Ten years back it was harmless. Now it’s explosive.” “Aiyyo, it’s all a made up controversy for the Karnataka election. Anyway this is a private home, you can keep anyone’s photos in your home.”
“There’s no telling these days, what if they start raiding homes? Like they raided someone’s fridge a couple of years ago looking for beef. You’re a marked person anyway, you are always writing something about how India and Pakistan should be friends”.
“Amma you are over-reacting,” I said.
“No I am not. Anyway, why Jinnah? What is he to you? Your uncle?”
“That photo is part of my history”.
“Do you have a single photo of Nehru or Gandhi? They are also part of your history. They are the people whose photos you should have, not Jinnah’s.”
“I am not talking about the country’s history, though there’s that too. My history, my work history… This photograph was a gift to me from a famous person in Pakistan,” I said.
“Gift? Couldn’t this famous person have thought of something else to give you?”
“He spent all his life telling Pakistanis that the founder of their country was a secular at heart…”
“What secular, is that how Jinnah drove this country to Partition and all that bloodshed?”
“Amma, you know it’s a lot more complicated than that.” “Anyway who is this famous person?”
“Ardeshir Cowasjee. He was a columnist in Dawn, and till the day he died he never stopped writing about how Jinnah said everybody could practise their religions in Pakistan. When I went to meet him at his place in Karachi, he gave me two of those posters, asking me to give the second one to anyone I wanted. He said it was important to share this image of Jinnah in a nicely tailored suit, with dogs and a cigarette just to let everyone know that he was not a fundo.”
“You have another one of these photos?” asked Amma, her voice rising.
“No no, I gave it off to a Pakistani friend before coming back.”
“Thank god. Now coming to my original question. What’s the disposal plan?”
“If you are going to be so touchy, I can take it with me when I go.”
“Never. You won’t get past the x-ray machines at the airport given all that’s happening. Me and Appa will have to come and free you from the police.”
“Amma, x-ray machines can’t make out photos through packing. Anyway, this is Tamil Nadu, not UP. They don’t have problems with Jinnah and all here,” I tried to reason.
“Which world are you living in? You know who has the entire AIADMK’s jathakam with him. They are putty in his hands.” “Who has?”
“I am not going to say his name out loud.”
As I digested this, she continued after a pause: “I am going to give that photo to Quaid-e-Milleth hall. They don’t have a Jinnah photo there.”
“Amma, if they don’t have one, it means they don’t want one. That’s why it’s not there. It’s not as if they couldn’t find a Jinnah photo or they’re waiting for someone to donate one to them.”
“Whatever, we’ve got to get rid of it.”
“Oh leave Jinnah alone, let’s talk about Karnataka elections. Who is going to win?”
“That’s why I am saying, we need to get rid of that photo.”
“Amma, what sort of convo is this? India is still a law abiding country…”
“And you never heard about vigilantes where you live?” “Amma, that’s for cows, and they haven’t targeted any old people yet.”