(For the purposes of this series where I shall be posting interviews with people I am close to, I emailed Faisal a set of questions that I wanted him to respond to. I have reproduced the responses here. I hope that you would like the idea and enjoy the conversation. It is my plan to continue the series with other friends as and when that becomes a possibility).
A lean bodied young man seemingly lost in an intense conversation on his cell phone walked a couple of steps ahead of me. It was a hot summer afternoon of 2007 and I was at the headquarters of the organisation that I had chosen to study for my Ph.D. thesis. It was months before I got to meet him in person. We had a very formal conversation at that time. I remember that we spoke to each other about such things as my research and the university departments where both of us were then enrolled-Jamia Millia Islamia and University of Delhi.
It was not until July of the following year that we met again. He had come to Delhi University as an applicant for the M.Phil program. He soon joined the program and it was not long before a never-ending exchange began between the both of us. What I call exchange has in effect been a precious experience, special because it has always transcended and at the same time overlapped varying categories in terms of which we tend to generally think of relationships. I find it difficult to think of an instance where we have had any talk that was either just intellectually serious or nonsensically humorous. Being with him and talking to him has always been that unique moment wherein laughter and intellect intertwine. I cherish all that I have shared and learned from him and I hope that this friendship deepens further and takes so many more roots in our minds.
Faisal finished his M.Phil thesis in 2010 and left Delhi for Bangalore where he now works as a researcher for the Centre for Study of Science, Technology and Policy.
Personal Concerns- Thanks Faisal for agreeing to respond. To begin with, I would like to ask you something about your name. What does it mean and what do you think of it?
Faisal- My Dad named me. The name is OK. My name is stupid….I am the most confused and the weakest when it comes to taking decisions in personal life…But still it means ‘the one who takes good decisions’!
PC- You know a number of languages. Is there any one of them that you find special?
Faisal- Urdu is special to me as I am the most expressive in it. Urdu is also the most accessible of languages in terms of audience. No matter if a person doesn’t fully understand Urdu, a properly delivered talk can make sense to most Indians. The language has a lot of ‘expressional’ merit. Also for a language which has developed in last three to four centuries, it has travelled a credible career, in terms of literature and in its reach.
PC- Could you please tell us something about the kind of literature, music and sports you enjoy the most?
Faisal-I like poetry and sports/sports persons who are more artistic like tennis/Roger Federer, Cricket/Laxman and Jayawardhane. Firstly, to appreciate any music I need to understand the lyrics. I can’t hum away a song if it doesn’t make full sense to me. My musical senses hit a road block if they can’t digest lyrics. I enjoy plain instrumental, mostly the classical type. Especially (the ones) filled with emotions.
I think Begum Akhtar is one of the greatest singers. Unlike any other singer she does not try to match up to the music direction or even to the lyrics for that matter. She owns the raag and the song she is singing because her voice is the medium of her emotions. To my mind, the instruments playing around her voice come to life and all of them unconsciously decide to tune to her voice almost like those disciplined and drunk rats following the bagpiper. She is the Singer Sorceress.
My favorite of Begum Akhtar’s Dadra is ‘Hamri Atariya pe Aao Sanwariya…’- such lyrics! Very few actually, but the way she repeats them with layers of emotions coming to the fore with each recitation is just magical. She is someone who has mastered the classical art and has reached a state where she need not care for the classical form. The form is a slave to her voice, emotions and persona. Total Be-nayazi, still the most classical of them all!
PC- If I ask you to name two of your most favourite sociological thinkers, who would they be?
Faisal- (Emile) Durkheim for his emphasis on a scientific method and (Max) Weber for his breadth and depth. I don’t know about August Comte. But to me founding fathers of sociology are only two- Weber and Durkheim. Marx is a great thinker, a greater satirist too but I don’t think his contributions to critical theory have developed Sociology as a discipline. Without Durkheim and Weber there wouldn’t have been Sociology. Only with Marx, Sociology wouldn’t come to life either. People who can’t make this distinction in the founding fathers’ contribution are called Marxists in the Indian academia. Marx set out to make political economy as a method of inquiry and not to build an academic discipline from scratch.
To my mind the earliest foundations of Sociology are in Durkheim’s Suicide- solid empirical data, spatial as well as temporal. And the ways in which it helps him come up with concepts and make generalisation on the nature of social cohesion in nineteenth century Western Europe. Durkheim made the difference between mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity and for the first time made the nature of social cohesion in modern societies more discernible, saying that in modern times people’s inter dependencies increase due to division of labour.
I think Weber, though famously called as some one who always fought against the ghost of Marx, was precisely making this point. Marx introduced a method, but it cannot encompass a whole discipline, for God’s sake! He carried it forward and made Sociology a prophetic discipline, if you want to call it, by explaining the missing ingredient of modern societies, Enchantment! Made it more decisive by proclaiming an ‘Iron Cage’ if instrumental rationality increasingly rules the world. Somewhere here between these debates we started to understand the meaning of being social or a collective.Weber enriched and carried forward that emphasis on empirical data. But more than anyone else he was a critical theorist trying to critique and understand the role of religion in human societies. Grappling with the idea of what is now called the interpretative method, broaching the subject of Objectivity and Interpretation. (He never defends subjectivity, or whatever it is!) and giving those fine touches to what would be a sociological method. I wish I get a chance to revisit Marx, Weber and Durkheim.
PC- Which film did you recently watch and how did you like it?
Faisal- I saw Don 2. Its awesome. Don 2 epitomizes what Shahrukh Khan is in Bollywood. He romances his audience- the ones who like and do not like him. The way he romances in the film! To my mind, he is not a great actor, not a good one either. At times he doesn’t even make an effort to act. But no one has better capitalised the need for a superstar for the Indian cinematic mind/eye than SRK. He has a face, not necessarily the most beautiful, that the camera cannot take its lens off from! Most importantly he maintains an intriguing balance between his religious/social identity. A conscious Muslim, throwing in Inshaallah’s here and there in conversations, married to a Hindu and seemingly comfortable with it. Mind you someone with no family background in Indian cinema the career he has built for himself is just incredible. Most importantly, from a fan’s point of view, he doesn’t make those annoying distinctions like Amir Khan between private and public life! Neither is his life up for sale. Sorry, I speak more about SRK than the film. Frankly, there is no Don sans SRK. He was born to be a Super Star.
PC- What is on your mind these days?
Faisal- Confusion about what to plan for the next few years.
PC- How do you react to the notion of being an Indian? In other words, what about India impresses you the most?
Faisal- I don’t know….
PC- Which book, if any, have you been reading these days?
Faisal- No book actually.
PC- If there is anything you would like to say about the time we spent together, do it here 🙂
Faisal-Time spent with you is very valuable and lovely. It is one of those moments which I remember when alone.
(All comments and suggestions regarding the format and the presentation of the interview would be deeply appreciated. Friends who wish to be included in this series, please let me know. It would be lovely to have you here on my blog. Cheers!)