‘Husband of a Fanatic’: Sleeping With the Enemy

Christpher De Bellaigue reviews Husband of a Fanatic: A Personal Journey Through India, Pakistan, Love, and Hate by Amitava Kumar, in the New York Times:

A decade ago, when I was living in India, a Jewish American woman described for me a Hindu boy who had enrolled in Hebrew lessons she was giving to members of Bombay’s tiny Jewish community. When she had asked why he should join a class for Jews, he had replied, ”We share an enemy.” I told the story to a group of Indian friends I knew were worried by India’s growing communal discord. I expected them to shake their heads solemnly. Instead, they burst out laughing.

In ”Husband of a Fanatic,” his challenging and at times eloquent rumination on Hindu-Muslim tensions in India and its diaspora, Amitava Kumar often summons the dark humor that South Asian secularists use to combat their sense that the battle is not going their way. He opens with his encounter with Jagdish Barotia, a member of the militant group Hindu Unity, who immigrated to the United States over 30 years ago and whose violence of feeling is absurd, even pitiful, because he is doomed to live among Muslims in a multiracial part of Queens. Kumar lets Barotia’s grossness stand unadorned and thereby lampoons it. ”On the phone,” Kumar recalls, ”he had called me a haraami, which means ‘bastard’ in Hindi, and, after clarifying that he didn’t mean this abuse only for me as a person but for everyone else who was like me, he had also called me a kutta, a dog.”

Soon enough, we learn the reason for Barotia’s contempt; Kumar, an Indian Hindu who is a professor of English at Pennsylvania State University, has married Mona, a Pakistani Muslim.

More here.