Friday, August 04, 2006

Conversations: After the blasts

Saala, atom bomb daal deneka. Mach-mach hi khatam!” thundered the gentleman sitting opposite to me, in a crowded churchgate local, with his fist raised in fury and rebellion. A permanent solution to India’s terrorist problems, bomb the neighbouring country.

Kya Paresh biwi ne khane ko nahi diya kya?” countered Rasikbhai, with an impish grin. The grandfather of three and also a father-figure for many who travel by this route everyday, in the same compartment, had found a way to ease the tension.

I had mistimed my entry into the train and was now in the midst of a predominantly Gujrati group, robust and loud, with a strong sense of companionship and bonhomie. I generally keep to myself, trying to avoid all at best ensuring my peace of mind in the grimy enclosure, but today I wanted to know what these ordinary but opinionated individuals felt about their community being the prime target in the recent Mumbai blasts, which evoked the above reaction.

Ravi who sat next to me, balancing his left cheek on the “fourth seat” assured me that this wasn’t what most of them felt should be done. People across the border also have families, maa-bhen, just like us, a thought which was reflected in the dismissive reaction to the ‘final solution’. But I suspected that it was only a lack of opportunity than compassion.

“What do you know, you are a kid. You would wet your pants in Godhra. I was there I have seen it all happen, people being burnt and robbed. They burnt the train full of kar sevaks. It was brutal.” said Ashokbhai, trying to control his anger from spilling on to the proving ground, karmabhoomi, of cosmopolitan Mumbai, the suburban train. He addressed me directly this time. “Have you seen a person being burnt alive, it is a sight that remains etched in ones memory. My childhood friend’s only daughter was to be married the next day when they ransacked his shop and stole his money.” The term ‘they’ is more apt here, as it confers a certain alienation from his own person, not fit to be recognized. I looked around; the faces were tense and sympathetic.

“Do you have any Muslim friends?” I asked aloud. By now, the people standing around the seats in the compartment had turned to face us, purely out of morbid curiosity as to what was going on.

Not sure to whom the questioned was directed to Rasikbhai, the jovial elder volunteered. “It is not that we hate the Muslims or want to kill all of them but there is resentment. We all do business with them everyday, share jokes and laugh. But some of us are affected deeply by what has happened here in Mumbai. Everyone knows the Gujratis were the target, then and now. We want the good Muslims to stay in India, they are a part of this land, but the bad ones must be apprehended. Why is it that this community has most of the criminals and terrorists? They bear allegiance to Pakistan and jihad. It is in their blood.” He spoke in a calm voice as if stating the obvious.

This predilection of being victimised singularly in a wave of mass destruction was startling. The secular credentials of the bomb-blasts were blown to bits.

Sensing unwarranted tension in a packed train, some one begins to sing an old Hindi film song and everyone bursts out laughing. Amid the smiles there is a sense of relief, the balance is restored and all can go back discussing the mundane, teasing, and laughing. My conversation ends here.

I remembered my exchange with about ten young and educated individuals from different parts of Gujarat post-Godhra. There was a strong undercurrent of hate and suspicion towards any Muslim they would encounter. They all said that they don’t mind being around or even eating with one but they would never go to their homes. A girl confessed that it is forbidden that she marries a Muslim; even the thought is not allowed, any other caste will do and she is more than glad to comply. A fact that is prevalent even here in Mumbai. Modi’s seeds of venom have come to fruitition, the tactful master of communal polarization has succeeded and its consequences are disturbing.

I am invited to dinner by Ashfaq Patel, a friend and also a distinct confluence of the seemingly immiscible Gujrati and Muslim heritage. Being part Gujrati and part Muslim he is the collateral in this perceived civilizational battle.

“I feel blessed as I am safe from this hindutva political rhetoric that is alarmingly accepted these days. Born in a multi-religious environment is liberating, it helps in moving beyond this fanatic affliction to ones identity. I relate to a person based on his individuality and not his caste or religion, it doesn’t concern me. My cousins are Hindu’s and I care for them dearly. My uncles may not see eye-to-eye on certain issues, but there is no animosity as such. We all are a part of a big family, connected to each other.” He said while admonishing any such notion of contempt there may be towards other religions. In his case both were his own and yet neither of them influenced his thinking.

This feeling of belonging to a ‘big family’ is a necessity to overcome barriers and prejudices borne in our minds, to set ourselves free. As I reach for my second dhokla he asks me to go easy on it, as there’s biryani later. He truly is blessed.

6 comments:

Da said...

hey renegade guess who this is? went thru your blog, didn't know you were so opinionated and talented man. We talked often, but this is a totally different side. Considered pulblishing this stuff? Anyways, all the best in whatever you do...

Dr. Viren Shah said...

I am a gujarati living in mumbai and let me assure you sir that neither I nor my community harbours ill will towards Muslims or Pakistan as it may have accross in your article. It indeed is unfortunate that a group of people feel this rage which is a never ending quest to sustain our own insecurities.
I feel obliged to correct you when it seems to me clearly, that you are under a false impression that there is a brewing animosity between the two religions.

vinny said...

Dr.Shah,
In my write up neither do I suggest nor insinuate that these are the views held by the gujrati community in general or even by you as an individual.
This is an actual conversation I had with this group of very opinionated people and by all means these are their views, not as a group, but as individuals. I donot wish to assume that the entire compartment shared the opinion. But their silence was alarming nonetheless.
By regarding this write-up to be a representation of a community en mass, would not only be a grave offence to the distinct different people of this land, but also to yourself.
Their anger is misdirected, it must have been focussed onto the administration or the government, which were amply abused by weren't held responsible while we talked.
I appreciate your critique and hope that I have managed to clear any misunderstandings. Do keep reading.

mihika said...

good, you have finally learnt to piss people off.

ivan said...

i am a human livin in mumbai tooo n dont think my religion matters. wat im tryin to say thru this comment is not every1 but some or shud i say most of the pepl among us have experienced wat vinny felt in the trains n other public places after the blast n wen some1 sayd gujjus he doesnt mean the whole lot of ull he is tellin u his experience n y does ne1 want to correct ne1 for wat the saw n heard n know is a fact. well vinny replied to u n put it in a much better way i guess so we alllll coooool ehhh......

ivan said...

n by the way im just curious to know how many of the pepl who r not muslims n smart enuff to understand wat ive written wud want or let their daughters get married to a muslim afetr the blast incident or may b even before it happend