The book starts with his multicultural upbringing at Fonseca Mansion in Mumbai, moves on to the impact of the Vietnam War in his world views, the myths created by western nations and how contemporary events like the Charlie Hebdo terror incident raise questions about freedom of speech.
Award-winning filmmaker and writer Saeed Akhtar Mirza is known for his firebrand films like Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai, Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro, TV serials Nukkad and documentaries such as Is Anybody Listening?, to name a few. In his new book, Memory in the Age of Amnesia, Mirza presents a series of conversations, soliloquies and personal essays to figure out what it means to be alive in the current political atmosphere. The book starts with his multicultural upbringing at Fonseca Mansion in Mumbai, moves on to the impact of the Vietnam War in his world views, the myths created by western nations and how contemporary events like the Charlie Hebdo terror incident raise questions about freedom of speech. In a chat with Smitha Verma, Mirza explains why remembering the past is crucial to save the future. Edited excerpts:
Why did you write this book?
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I wanted to know how people forget an event and come to terms with the present reality so easily. I want to understand the world in which we live today, where everything is so controlled and manufactured, including our thought process. We have reached a stage where the nature of manipulation is so acute that we tend to forget things fast. To break free from it will be very difficult. And that’s why memory is so important.
When did the idea to write this book occur?
The idea of the book started sometime in 2014. It was right after the elections. I keep asking myself how does Mr (Narendra) Modi sleep at night. We should know what his slogan ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ signifies. Can we call Gujarat riots an act of terror? Do the 1984 riots qualify as an act of terror? When a man rams his truck into a group of people, it is an act of terror. So my book is an attempt to understand these events in the modern context. There’s also a lot of talk about patriotism. But what exactly does patriotism and democracy mean today, or were they hijacked a long time ago? I am seeking answers to these questions through my book.
You sound very cynical…
I see hope in young people like Kanhaiya Kumar, Jignesh Mewani, Gurmehar Kaur. There are a lot of young people like them the world over. And that gives me hope. Simultaneously, the fact remains that India is the only country in the world where 31% voted for a deeply disturbing political ideology, but 69% did not vote for it. That says a lot about our country. It gives me hope.
This is your third book in 10 years. It is much more personal than the previous titles—Ammi: Letter to a Democratic Mother and The Monk, the Moor & Moses Ben Jalloun—in the way that it tries to seek answers. Do you agree?
I don’t know. I am trying to see if my reader can also see an alternative viewpoint through my ruminations. It’s not just India I am talking about, but the world. It has become a very narcissistic and nationalist world currently. It is full of misogyny and hate. It’s an unjust world. Today, you don’t require any sanction from the UN. You can just go ahead and bomb a country. You will define terror and you will define patriotism for us. And people who do not agree with your description are on the other side. They are on the hit list. How did we reach here? The desire to ask and dig deeper doesn’t seem to exist now. It’s Kafkaesque.
Was there anything more that you wanted to write?
I think I had to write many more things. To make it more ‘understandable’ for my readers. I have left so much to the imagination of the reader. I wrote the book to get things off my chest. I wanted to convey the state of the world that we live in. But now, I think if I should have spoon-fed the readers to make them understand my viewpoint.
You have written about Muammar Gaddafi, George W Bush, Muhammad Ali, the Iraq war, but nothing about US President Donald Trump. Why so?
He is just a misogynist and a clown who blabbers senselessly. I have a greater problem with Hillary Clinton who passes off as a saint. At least Trump says things like why do we have to go to war with Russia?
Why aren’t you making any more films or television shows?
I am too old for that now. Moreover, it’s difficult to sell my kind of films or shows any more.