Friday, January 21, 2011
Saugandh Ram Ki Khate Hain Hum...
It was the year 1989. Or was it 1990?
20 years is long enough time for clarity to begin dissolving into confusion.
But the mind remembers certain pictures, sounds, smells and tastes of a remote past as if they belonged to a recent yesterday.
I don’t know if it’s an attribute of the mind or the nature of certain events that refuse to dislodge themselves from the grooves of memory.
Among the many pieces of that episode, it is the song that stands out. “Saugandh Ram Ki Khate Hai Hum Mandir Wahin Banayenge”. I do not remember the faces that sang the song. Because I never saw those faces. I was not allowed to.
Standing behind the grill door of the veranda, I had taken a peek at the crowd marching on the street before my house.
I was as tall as the compound wall perhaps but no more.
All I could make out was a throng of red turbans, with red flags above them marching on. About the red turbans and flags, I am not very sure. My mind simply associates the colour red with that episode.
49% Hindus and 51% Muslims. The town of Bharuch in Gujarat was communally sensitive.
There was curfew and we would not go out.
Being from the South, which was very peaceful and calm compared to the disturbed North, all this was new experience to us. We had never witnessed a communal riot and we had never heard of curfews.
Our father explained to us that when there was curfew, no one was allowed to go out to the street. There were policemen everywhere and they carried guns. If they saw someone on the street, they would shoot them. We were thrilled.
That was our first and closest encounter with the Hindu Muslim discord. And it was also the first time I learnt about the Ayodhya Ram Temple dispute.
I don’t remember anything else from that episode.
Those were days when religion mattered to people. There weren’t too many people claiming to be secular or talking about equality. Secularism wasn’t as fashionable as it is these days. I mean, it had none of the prestige value it has acquired today.
There was only one TV channel, Doordarshan and they weren’t aggressively marketing and selling the ideal of secularism.
It was socially acceptable to proclaim that one religion was superior to the other. It was equally acceptable to grimace while talking about another religion.
Most people, nay, all people unanimously mistrusted the Muslim community.
I do remember clearly that at a personal level, there was harmony and goodwill between Hindus and Muslims. They were ‘bhai-bhai’ indeed. My best friend at school was Sakeena, a Muslim.
But as a community, the Muslims were perceived as ‘outsiders’.
I remember clearly how, 2 years later, when we were living in Ahmedabad, during that conversation on the terrace, all neighbours living in the apartment building had assured themselves and each other that the Muslims would meet their doom very soon.
There was Mrs Fernandez, Mrs Pai, Geetha, myself, mom. I am not sure if Alka, daughter of Mrs. Fernandez was also there. There were other people too.
Mrs. Fernandez had announced that according to the predictions of Nostradamus, in the year 2000, when all Muslims gathered in Mecca for Haj, ultra-violet rays of the sun would penetrate through the ozone hole in the atmosphere, fall on them and all of them would die. And after that she had said Christianity would be the greatest religion in the world (of course) followed by Hinduism in the second place.
For all the upheaval that was happening around us, we children were simply happy that our school remained closed for weeks and we had vacation all the time.
Very soon, my father was transferred to the South and the Hindu Muslim discord became a distant cry of another world.
My father often said that there were three issues in our country that would never be resolved and would remain forever. The Kashmir problem between India and Pakistan, the Cauvery water dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and the Ayodhya Ram Temple dispute between Hindus and Muslims.
I believed him.
So when I learnt that the High court would announce the Ayodhya verdict, I could not believe they had taken a decision at last.
First I thought it had to do with the demolition of the mosque.
But when it turned out that it wasn’t the demolition incident but the bigger and older issue of the ownership of the land that they were going to judge, I was surprised.
When there was talk of closing schools and colleges and a country wide bandh, I thought it was unnecessary.
Does anyone care today about Ram or his temple? Does religion matter to people anymore? How many of them there are who proclaim they don’t have a caste and they don’t have a religion!
A lot more had changed in 20 years than anyone had anticipated.
Apart from reading the tweets of Barkha Dutt and certain others about the high court verdict, I hadn’t really been following this story.
But on the day of the verdict, after I returned from office early, I became curious.
I was almost sure they would favour the Muslims. The majority of us being pseudo secular, the whole political system being minority-appeasing and then with Congress ruling at the centre, it could not have been any other way.
As I sat pondering on that quiet afternoon, waiting to hear the verdict, having nothing else to do, I realized that I had never really thought about the question of Ayodhya seriously.
What was my own opinion on this subject?
All the reading I have been doing on the subject of history had helped me understand that this world is like a canvas. All the deeds of men are like the strokes of a paintbrush on the canvas. Kingdoms, emperors, ordinary people, craftsmen, builders, painters, religious leaders, thinkers, rebels, reformers, all of them hold a paintbrush in their hand and put up a painting on the canvas of time.
As time progresses, there are layers of pictures because each one paints on a picture created by his predecessors.
So, layer upon layer, the picture evolves.
As men come and men go, the painting changes, the picture changes.
Some strokes remain on the canvas undisturbed, some mix with new strokes and acquire a new shape, colour and meaning; some become obscure as fresh strokes fall upon them, some of them are completely obliterated as if they never existed.
One may, upon looking at the picture, feel, for whatever reason that a picture of a previous time was more beautiful, was more just, more correct and may want to revive an old picture.
You may, having been convinced by him or having been beaten by the force of his assertion, permit him to peel away a few layers and revive a picture of the past.
But suppose another raises his voice and asks to revive an old picture 10 layers below, what will you do?
Will you let him peel away 10 layers and restore a picture of a remote past?
Someone raises his voice to say the period of Ashoka was golden and should be revived…
No Chandragupta Maurya was better still…
The Gurukulas of the Vedic times provided holistic education… says someone
Yes, the barter system was better…says another
The Gandharva Vivaha was charming…so were the Swayamvaras…
The land between Egypt and the Indus River belongs to Alexander and ought to be unified…
Bhagat Singh was unjustly persecuted and we must seek retribution…
Let’s bring back all the teak of Burma from the palace of the Queen of England…
Let the Romans recapture Istanbul from the Ottoman Turks and call it Constantinople again…
In the dead of a night, one man ran the tip of his pen, impromptu, on a map spread before him and that line became the border between India and Pakistan. Let’s undo it…
How far back can you go in time?
How many layers is it permissible to peel off?
Actually, you cannot peel away even a single layer.
All you can change in the picture is a stroke here and a stroke there when the paint is still fresh.
When the picture is still in its making.
After it is made, it is made.
Beautiful or ugly. Fair or unfair. Just or unjust. Kind or cruel…
You cannot peel away time. You cannot undo.
As far as political correctness goes.
The clock struck 3.
I dashed to my neighbour’s house for I don’t have a television at home.
The verdict was announced.
The land had been divided into parts and one was given to the Hindus. The solution was out of the box. I did not know a court of justice could take such a decision. I thought it was like a debate. They had to be either For or Against. I did not know they could hold a middle ground.
People’s reactions were so varied.
Many Hindu countrymen must have thought it their right to have custody of the land given to them. Many must have gone further and believed that they should have been given all of the land and not just a part of it.
As for my reaction, I was happy, Hindu as I am; though only yesterday, I did not care much.
Because it took me by surprise. Because it had happened in spite of the pseudo secularists.
But coming from all the contemplation of the afternoon, I saw the verdict not as justice deserved, not as the restoration of our rights, but as a bonus, a mercy and felt grateful for it. (and that is the point of this whole article)
With the Muslim groups wanting to claim all of the land and moving the Supreme Court, it remains to be seen however whether the birthplace of Ram will ever see a temple.
May peace prevail.