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Sensing the Muslim angst

April 24, 2009

At the historic Bara Imambara in Lucknow, Syed Firdaus Ashraf and photographer Hitesh Harisinghani sense Muslim angst.

Bara Imambara reminds you of Lucknow's rich heritage and culture.

It is with nostalgia that the city's Muslims, who constitute a major segment of the population, share their stories about the sprawling architectural monument.

Moments into a conversation, the nostalgia turns into anger and apathy. Every day, thousands of tourists -- mostly Muslims -- visit the Bara Imambara, that also houses a shrine.

At the historic monument we met 20-year-old Syed Firoz, who works as a guide. Asked if he would vote, he was blunt: "I won't. I don't think any party does any good work for Muslims."

From the top of the Imambara, he points at one of the city's Ambedkar memorials and notes, "Look at that. At least Mayawati does something for her community. Unfortunately for the Muslims of Uttar Pradesh, there is no one to speak for them. Our self-appointed leaders are good for nothing."

Firoz's scathing comment remind us of Akbar Allahbadi's Urdu couplet about the plight of Indian Muslims during British rule:

Qaum ke gham mein dinner khaate hai hukum ke saath
leader ko bahut hai par apne aasheyon aaram ke saath
(Muslim leaders talk about the plight of Muslims during dinner with the British
They are not concerned about the sad state of Muslims, but with their own comforts.)

Image: The sprawling Bara Imambara in Lucknow. Photograph: Bikash Mohapatra.

Also see: Capturing the Muslim mind in UP and Bihar | India Votes