A memoir of trauma and hope set against the 1969 riots of Ahmedabad, Agnipariksha recounts the experiences of an eminent Gujarat High Court lawyer who lived in both word and spirit a life of religious and cultural pluralism. Hamid Kureshi grew up in proximity to Gandhi in a family whose devotion to the nation, and to Gandhi, was absolute. During the riots, when perhaps for the first time, Kureshi—a third-generation Gandhian and a non-practising Muslim married to a Hindu woman—is reduced to being only a Muslim, he struggles to comprehend the hatred and rage directed at his community even as an entire legacy of Gandhian syncreticism stands challenged.
In this matter-of-fact, restrained, yet poignant first-person account, Kureshi provides the landscape of a violence-ridden city, as also a glimpse into the many lives associated with the Gandhi Ashram. In an atmosphere of terrible fear and uncertainty, he recounts how his family’s struggles for self-preservation were buoyed by the constant shielding presence, concern and affection of Hindu friends and neighbours, and the Ashram community. This memoir is an assertion of human kindness, friendship and dignity amidst mortal danger, hatred and fear; and Kureshi’s narration, untouched by bitterness or resentment, leaves the reader moved.
Agnipariksha is a valuable addition to Gujarati literature and a welcome companion to Gandhi and Peace Studies. This translation by Rita Kothari—a reputed cultural historian, author and translator—makes a rare document of a period, a city and inter-faith relationships accessible to a wider readership for the first time.
Hamid Kureshi (1927–2016), a Gujarat High Court advocate and Gandhian, was the chairman of the Sabarmati Ashram Preservation and Memorial Trust, Ahmedabad. He was the grandson of Abdul Kadir Bawazeer, a close friend and lifelong associate of M. K. Gandhi. He published Agnipariksha in 2003
Rita Kothari is Professor of English, Ashoka University, Sonepat, Haryana. A cultural historian, writer and translator, her published works include The Burden of Refuge (2009), Memories and Movements (2013), and A Multilingual Nation (2017).