I first came across Tarek Fatah’s book ‘Chasing A Mirage: Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State’ sometime in 2015. I was then embarking on a journey to understand Islamic Terrorism. I had written a series on Islam in Swarajya Magazine and was looking for deeper explanations. The Tarek Fatah book gave me a fresh and very rational perspective into the Islamic behaviour in the world at large ad more particularly in India. It was then that I wrote a piece in a portal ‘India Facts’. Here is the link: https://indiafacts.org/tarek-fatah-the-quintessential-indian-and-his-importance-to-india/ – it encapsulates the entire gamut of his personality and the important intellectual contributions he made to the Indian discourse.
His movement to have Aurangzeb Road renamed to Dara Shukoh Road was an audacious move in a country that was labouring under an inferiority complex even after nearly 70 years of a flawed independence. That seminal action demonstrated his ability to capture the narrative in a most dramatic way. The spotlight on Aurangzeb, his crimes, and his legacy of Shah Waliullah, Iqbal and Jinnah forced many of us to have a relook at our history and read the forgotten works of greats like Sitaram Goel. He exposed many so-called freedom fighters such as Maulana Azad.
To sum up, he shook us awake and given the less hostile conditions to open discourse, the renaissance that had been taking root for a while really flowered in India.
In 2016, a few of us got together and decided to put together The Jaipur Dialogues as a challenge to the resident Leftist show in India ‘Jaipur Literary Festival’. The first event in November 2016 was small. I obtained Tarek bhai’s contact and requested him. To his credit, he readily agreed to attend even though we had no credentials going back. The event succeeded even though we had barely 7 outstation speakers and myself. Tarek bhai was a great draw. We also celebrated his 67th birthday on 20th November.
The association that began in 2016 remained steadfast till the last day. His last talk was also done on The Jaipur Dialogues only – on 25th Feb 2023, a day before he went to the hospital for treating his cancer. He did not make it back, unfortunately. Even in that talk, we were talking about the ‘sar tan se juda’ threat to him and he was laughing about it and making light of a kind of threat he had received hundreds of times.
Jaipur Dialogues began its online journey also with him. He had come to India in late 2019. On 26th January, 2020, we did our first ever outstation talk – recorded – with him in New Delhi. He was then doing a stint for the You Tube channel ‘New Delhi Times’. The talk was so successful that we were encouraged to reinvent ourselves fully into the digital mode. Our first livestream happened soon thereafter – on 28th May 2020. He was always there for JD whenever I made a request. Somehow, we hit it off very well together, I think mainly because he was comfortable with me. It brought out his wit and humour in full measure. That made our talks very popular. He was getting invited to various channels, but they would never give him space to express himself fully. On channels, one mostly saw his feisty form, but on JD one could see his real personality – humane, compassionate, witty, funny, lacing his talk with brilliant turns of phrase; while being direct, forthright and clear in his thoughts.
In 2020, the world was beset with Covid, and most of us were forced indoors. It was, however, a bloom time in my relationship with Tarek Fatah. We could come together many a times on Jaipur Dialogues and people would look forward to our talks, and would remind both of us if we did not get together for a few weeks.
Tarek bhai did not harbour any hostility towards anyone except the idea of Pakistan and the Mullah ideology. His Mullah bashing in his Zee TV programme ‘Fatah ka Fatwa’ earned him many implacable foes in the global Mullahdom. He was always being threatened by the jihadis, but was always unfazed. His love for Bharat was unmatchable. Lot of people took exception to his ‘Allah ka Islam, and Mullah ka Islam’. They would have understood it if they had cared to read his book ‘Chasing a Mirage’. He wanted to reform Islam, and he reckoned that he could not do it if he opened too many fronts at the same time. He never defended the homophobic teachings of The Book in his dozens of talks with me. As far as the Hadis are concerned, he openly ridiculed them.
Tarek Fatah’s boots are too big to fill. He has, however, inspired a whole new breed of people who have learnt unflinching courage of conviction from him, along with the value of scholarship, in taking on a powerful earth-destroying force. He always wanted to be reborn in Hindustan. He had immense faith in values of humanity. He wanted to write a book ‘The Hindu Is Not My Enemy’, but could not do it because of health issues in the later period of his life. Maybe some of his peers or followers would try and do it.
People like Tarek Fatah are not mourned, they are taken as beacons to follow and emulate. As Bhagwadgita says –
tatra kā paridevanā
All beings are unmanifest in their beginning, manifest in their interim state, and unmanifest again when they die. So what need is there for lamentation?
Tarek Fatah shall be reborn as he has his main task of finishing Pakistan and the idea of Pakistan unfulfilled.