“Isn’t that a bit like a Catholic marrying a Protestant back where I’m from?” asks the Irish officer at the Canadian office as Amitava Kumar, a Hindu writer from India, and his soon-to-be wife, Mona, a Pakistani Muslim, submit their marriage application. It’s much worse, according to Kumar’s
Husband of a Fanatic, the reciprocity of hate between South Asia’s Hindu and Muslim communities having reached new levels of hostility over the last decade or so. Inspired by Underground, Haruki Murakami’s book on Tokyo’s 1995 sarin gas attack, Kumar tries to get to the root of this animosity via the personal experiences of victims. He visits scenes of carnage and sites of remand and retribution, and attempts to discourse with casualties and aggressors in places as distant as India, South Africa, and Queens.
In India, right-wing Hindu nationalists consider liberals and intellectuals as blinkered, consistently siding with an undeservedly pampered Muslim minority even as Hindus continue to remain oppressed. Kumar transcends this typecasting, finding a perch of objectivity as a university professor in faraway Pennsylvania. But while Kumar’s search for the motives driving this intractable enmity is sincere, he tends to lapse into trite sentimentalism, as when asking a distraught Indian war widow if she would like to write a letter to a Pakistani counterpart (she refuses). Sadly for Kumar, as for the billion-plus people on the conflict-ridden subcontinent, the reasons flow disparately and the solutions remain unfound; individual tales of grief only serve to reveal a greater failure. As Kumar himself puts it, “All the truth and the pity of the world, instead of finding its way to a larger politics, gets reduced to a personal soap opera of the self.”