Now that the Special CBI Court in Lucknow has exonerated all the accused BJP and VHP leaders of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement from any charges of ‘criminal conspiracy’ in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, We the Wee Wee and Pee Pee People of India may heave collective sighs of relief that the 28-year-old case is over and pray silently and fervently for peaceful times to come.
Alas, we may also rest assured that with this verdict, our wretched politicians and their media-marketing chelas of every hue – saffron, green, white and red – will only redouble their efforts to fatten themselves and their vote banks by fanning the fires of Hindu and Muslim religious fanaticism, so that the atmosphere remains charged with political lightning, TV anchor thunder, social media storms and affiliated atmospherics till the next Lok Sabha elections are held in 2024.
‘Tis an appropriate time to reflect on how everything seems to change but nothing really does; and conversely and perversely, how everything seems the same but nothing is unchanged.
So, my dear and long-suffering Reader, here is an article I wrote for the Indian Express back in 2005, on how the infantile religious kooks among us might yet learn a lesson or three about true faith from infants.
Watch a toddler at play with building blocks. She picks up a red block and places it on a yellow one. After deep thought, she selects a green block and sets it down next to the yellow one. Frowning in concentration, with an occasional gurgle of contentment, she continues to build her little edifice of blocks in this way. At length she is satisfied and leans back to admire her creation, a magnificent three-storied edifice.
And then… she brings her little clenched fist down upon it. The structure disintegrates even as she claps her hands and squeals in delight before gathering the blocks again to build another edifice.
The toddler’s just taught us a valuable lesson. That we must not get too attached to human-made things like shrines.
Sure, it’s fun to build a pretty shrine. Every stone and brick, every cut of the chisel and stroke of the paint-brush, expresses our passionate faith in a loving, all-powerful Protector of the Universe. But when we build our shrine we must remember that its truly enduring value lies only in the very act of its creation.
The blocks and rafters with which our shrine is made will not endure, nor will the sculpture and ornaments that adorn it, nor even the icons we place within it. In time, all these things will crumble even as we, the creators of the shrine, must die. After we are gone, after our shrine has crumbled to dust, the only thing that will endure is the love and inspiration that drove us to build it in the first place.
Does this mean it’s perfectly alright to start tearing down religious monuments all over the place and building others on them?
Of course not.
All it means is that we must not suffer from the delusion that a flesh-and-blood Protector dwells within our shrine, or that She/He is destroyed when our shrine is destroyed!
That One, from whom all creatures and all creation have sprung forth, surely cannot be confined by the walls of any shrine, however magnificent it might be. Or by the codes and rites of any one religion, or by human-made borders.
That One dwells within every speck of life and matter in this Universe.
It’s hard for us adults to see this. But it’s child’s play for kids!
Maybe that’s why the toddler shrieks in delight and claps her hands as she destroys her building-block shrine with a single blow.
“I am Creator, Sustainer… and Destroyer!” is what she says. “I create because it’s so much fun… and I break because only by breaking can I make again!”
Maybe all our priests and sants and mullahs should learn from the wisdom of the world’s toddlers.
With International Yoga Day coming up on June 21st, yoga enthusiasts the world over are stretching their muscles and metaphors of peace with increased agony and zeal respectively…even as Indian Communists, Socialists and affiliated Left-Liberals are twisting their slogans and bending their lips in increasingly sulky slants.
I do believe this is because the Left always feel a little Left out when it comes to yoga, which they mistakenly associate with something that only those nasty Hindus and Hindutva-types do when they are not plotting how to construct Ram temples on every square centimeter of India that is Bharat.
May I hence recycle an execrable article on yoga (with a few slight but necessary amendments) that my late and lamented alter ego Ghatotkacha wrote over five years agoto bring mirth and the Satori of Shavasana to his dear Communist/Left Liberal friends.
P.S.: Mystery surrounds the sudden disappearance of Ghatotkacha soon after this article was first published; he was last seen attending a yoga retreat in Kumarakom, Kerala. Some conspiracy theorists link his disappearance with the publication of this article. However, I am convinced that Ghatotkacha achieved yogic dematerialization – his most ardent wish – while standing on his head and chanting the three sacred syllables…
CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury has come under much flak from yoga-lovers because he humorously compared the movements of yoga with the movements made by a typical dog. [click here to read]
“All yoga exercises can be noticed in a dog’s body movement,” said Yechury while speaking at an event to mark the birth anniversary of Communist ideologue Harkishan Singh Surjeet in Bhubaneswar. “When a dog gets up, it stretches its front and rear legs and takes a deep breath. That’s yoga!”
Now, a Communist with a sense of humour is a rare and beautiful thing.
Yechury is among the last members of this exotic and greatly endangered species, and hence we urge yoga-lovers to take his canine comparisons without howls of protest or baring of fangs.
Also, unconfirmed reports from usually unreliable sources suggest that at a secret CPI(M) capacity-building retreat in an undisclosed resort in Kumarakom, Kerala, Yechury urged his fellow-traveller Communists to appreciate and apply certain simple yoga techniques that would bring immense benefit to their brains, gonads, and other secular organs.
Excerpts from Yechury’s presentation, provided by our sources:
Hindu and Buddhist yoga performers across the world chant ‘Aom’ [thus: Aaooooooooommmmm].
Muslim yoga performers chant ‘Ameen’ instead of ‘Aom’ [thus: Ammmmmmmeeeeeeeeenn].
Cadres of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chant “Gow’ (meaning Holy Cow’) [thus: Gowwwwwwwwwwww]
Communists rightly regard ‘Aom’ , Ameen’ and ‘Gow’ as communal or Gowmunnal incantations. Hence, in keeping with our ‘secular’ credentials, we Communists could instead chant ‘Aom’ but in another way, as ‘Mao’ [thus: Mmaaaooooooooooooo]
(i) Upward facing dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana). This posture relaxes and tones the muscles around the jaws and mouth. It is especially suited for Communists, who often strain their facial muscles and jawbones through constant chanting of the Sacred Jibe so beloved of Communists: “Running dogs of capitalism”.
(ii) Wind-releasing posture (Pavana mukta asana). This posture is excellent for releasing pent-up gases that might otherwise affect the secular organs of the Communist body-corporeal. It is particularly recommended for the campus-orators, who will take the Revolution forward and who may not always be able to afford Pudinhara and other medicines that are manufactured by the MNC pharma companies and their affiliated Braying Donkeys of Capitalism.
(iii) Plough posture (Hala asana). This posture is highly recommended for Communists, as it symbolizes our identification with the humble agricultural worker who wields the Plough. Besides, it is symbolic of the Plough Constellation, also known as Big Dipper, which Communists fondly associate with Boris Yeltsin, the Big Vodka-Dipper ex-president of Russia – the Holy Land where Communism was born.
(iv) Son salutation (Surya namaskaar). This set of postures provides all-round health and vigour to the body. Unfortunately, it has lately come to be associated with the Son-worshipping Congress Party. Hence, barring the ‘Upward Facing Dog’ pose (see above) it should be avoided by the Communist Yogi.
“Let us not be cowed down by the Gow-worshippers! Let us not be misled by gods and angels – instead, let us be inspired by dogs and Engels!” Yechury allegedly yelled at the conclusion of his speech.
He was greeted with thunderous cheers of “Workers of the world, unite in Communist head stands…we have nothing to loosen in our brains!”
After all, over two months have passed since the CAA was enacted and the anti-CAA sit-down protest began in Shaheen Bagh, December 15th 2019.
Two months…with not even one decent-sized communal riot to reward the sincere and strenuous efforts that have been made by political parties Left and Right, along with their captive journalists and intellectuals, to spark off riots.
Oh sure, a few score Delhi Police personnel—men and women—have been beaten up or pelted into coma with stones or stabbed or shot from time to time. But then they don’t count…who cares about cops, right?
[Aside: is attacking police personnel considered ‘Secular’ or ‘Communal’ violence?]
But now at last, on 25th February 2020, hope blazes in our hearts, like the fires blazing in North-East Delhi.
Hope, that for the first time since Gujarat 2002, we can all get to watch real-time large-scale Communal Riots on Prime Time.
For the looming Riots, we must thank our beloved political leaders who always have the strengthening of Human Riots uppermost in their minds – like Kapil Mishra of BJP and Waris Pathan of AIMIM.
And unlike in the primitive days of Gujarat 2002, when people didn’t even have mobile phones (imagine that! How Jurassic!) we can not only follow the Riots as they unfold but safely participate in the Mobs, too! Thanks to Social Media.
We can create and spread poisonous rumours, we can ignite murderous rage, at the speed of electrons, without messing up our hands with blood and gore …yucccckkk. And without any danger of getting caught by the police, either…assuming there are any police left to catch us, of course…Ha Ha Ha.
Hail the glory of WhatsApp! Oh, the joyous anonymity of end-to-end encryption!
And hail the wondrous power of Instagram too! Don’t you just love those multi-media Instagram ‘Stories’ that self-destruct within 20 seconds so there’s no evidence left? Stories that you and I can create and forward to spread the most unspeakably violent videos and messages, the most cruel propaganda, secure in the knowledge that in less than half a minute the Stories will vanish with nothing to show the stories ever passed through or even existed in our phones? Or in anyone else’s phones?
Forgive the flippancy, gentle reader…but the situation today merits graveyard humour.
Because the danger is real…especially to the ‘young’ who more or less live in the virtual worlds of their mobile phones and Social Media.
Because Social Media does give each one of us the wild, untrammeled irresponsibility of the Mob member.
And Mobs are frightful.
The very nature of a Mob can transform us, however rational we might think we are, whatever be our social and economic status, into creatures capable of terrible violence.
A Mob offers anonymity and provides a feeling of security by its sheer numbers. It removes our sense of individual responsibility, and thereby dismantles the elaborate codes of ethics and morality that govern ‘normal’ conduct.
Nobel Laureate Elias Canetti viewed the Mob as a ‘biological entity’, something qualitatively different from the simple sum of its parts. His description of how a quiet street-corner gathering develops into a violent Mob is chillingly familiar. [quote from a 2002 edit-page article I wrote on Gujarat riots ]
“Nothing has been announced, nothing is expected, but suddenly the street is transformed. Windows are thrown open, people come out of doors and alleys — streaming in from all sides as though streets had only one direction. At first the only noticeable property of this composite creature is its urge to grow. It wants to seize everyone within reach. Anything shaped like a human can join it. It knows no limits and admits of no restrictions. It does not recognize houses, doors or locks, and those who try to shut themselves in or deny its hunger are immediately suspect…
‘‘As long as the crowd is growing, it feels secure. But as soon as growth becomes restricted, as soon as it runs out of its natural food, it gets irritable and develops a sense of persecution. It becomes hostile and then it starts to break things. Windows of shops and houses, windscreens of cars are the first to go because they provide such a satisfying sound. Doors, gates and fences, anything that represents a boundary, become the next target and are torn down and trampled underfoot.
And finally comes fire. Of all methods of destruction, this is the most impressive. It can be seen from far off and attracts even more people. It destroys irrevocably; nothing is the same after a fire. A crowd setting fire to something feels irresistible. It is. The quiet evening street is now a district in riot, an environment inhabited by an organism that is out of control…”
The rioting Mobs of Delhi 1984, of Bombay 1992-93, of Gujarat 2002, left thousands dead, tens of thousands maimed, and a nation in despair. But who were the Mob members? Who were those tens of thousands who pelted stones and firebombs, who fell upon their fellow Indians and beat them, molested them, raped them, killed them?
Within hours, within a day or two, they were all back to their ‘normal’ selves — lawyers and laundry-owners, teachers and traders, students and shopkeepers, professors and paan vendors, bankers and businessmen, writers and rickshaw pullers. Nice ‘respectable’ people, young and old.
People just like us. Their faces are our faces.
And what of the evil men and women who sowed the seeds of the Mobs, who broke the reservoirs of violence with whispered rumours and words of poison?
They vanished without trace, as they always do.
As have vanished the evil men and women who planted the seeds of communal violence in Shaheen Bagh.
I write this at the urging of a dear friend, who believes (bless him!) that I might have something worthwhile to contribute on this whole CAA-NRC issue that’s destroying so many lives and so much public property and so many millions of youngsters’ academic careers and the nation’s collective equanimity (except, maybe, Amit Shah’s and Pinarayi Vijayan’s equanimity).
But I can’t get started on CAA-NRC and affiliated crap; not right now, at least. I am still too filled with angst at the way our political leaders – BJP, Congress, CPI(M), the whole rabid lot of them and their respective captive media-houses – have yet again exploited the well-known, repeatedly validated tendency of We the Moronic Indian People to allow ourselves to be suckered by netas and kooky religious leaders into taking violently extreme and opposed positions on things we understand little or nothing about.
Right now I only do three things (ignoring your theatrical groans):
1 – I declare my belief that Amit Shah, Union Home Minister and BJP leader, has crafted and timed the passage of CAA in Parliament, supplemented with carefully planned loose talk about NRC and NPR, as a cold-blooded, brilliantly laid trap to ensure that India remains divided along communal Hindu vs. Muslim lines till the next Lok Sabha elections. I believe Amit Shah has done this because the Ayodhya issue, which has been used by all political parties to divide the people for 30 years but benefited BJP the most, has finally and honourably been resolved by the Supreme Court…and therefore the BJP is desperate to find another issue to keep the people polarized on communal lines. And predictably, tragically, the fools of the Congress, CPI(M) and other Opposition parties have fallen into this BJP trap by taking communal positions on the CAA issue and fighting street battles over CAA instead of fighting CAA on logical grounds, on Constitutional grounds; they are right in opposing the CAA, but they are opposing it for horrendously wrong reasons and in violent ways…and this is precisely what BJP wants [More on this later, I promise…if I can conquer my nausea]
2 – I translate the infernal, eternal, and vehemently disavowed words of the great Narakasura the Terrible, ruler of ancient Pragjyotishpura [c. 1191–1124 BCE]
Beware cruel Leaders who light Fires of Radicalism, Fanaticism
In the minds of the ignorant, gullible and young,
To divide them, break them, as white light in a prism
Till they forget the One Source from which we’ve all sprung…
Thus riven, passions aflame, driven by Sermons of Venom and Hate
The masses butcher one another in the names of Secular Gods and Prophets
Whilst in theirs quiet clubs and boardrooms, on their electronic slates
The Netas and the Priests chuckle, and chalk up their Profits…
3 – To complete your agony, I paste below a highly irrelevant article on Secularism and Nuclear Physics written in 2007 by another dear old friend, Ghatotkacha the Late (alas, he disappeared without trace soon after posting this article: unconfirmed reports suggest he was dispatched by a joint assassin squad comprising members of Bajrang Dal, SIMI and certain unnameable and unmentionable Leftist groups).
Indian Scientists Discover ‘Secularon’
It is a moment that all Indians should be proud of. On Friday 1st June 2007, at precisely 2344 hrs IST, a team of scientists headed by Dr Falturam G Bakthahai of the prestigious IIFS (Indian Institute of Fundamentalist Sciences) announced the discovery of a new fundamentalist particle found only in Indian adult brains: the ‘secularon’. Social and political scientists believe that this strange and elusive particle holds the key to understanding the various forces that influence political behaviour among Indians.
“Naturally, we are thrilled!” announced a visibly tired Dr Falturam at a hastily convened press conference at the sprawling IIFS campus in New Delhi. “Our team has worked very hard these past four years. We have had to face and overcome immense technological challenges and resource constraints…but now, finally our efforts have been rewarded!”
News of the IIFS breakthrough has generated great excitement not only in India but across the global scientific community. Many feel the secularon’s discovery is as momentous as that of the neutron in 1932 by Sir James Chadwick.
“The IIFS finding is stupendous!” says Prof. Mel O’Drama, well-known philosopher, science writer and Head of Caltech’s Department of High Energy Physics. “The discovery of the secularon confirms Richard Feynman’s famous tenet: that ‘the only thing we know for sure is that we don’t know anything for sure’!”
His views are echoed by scientists across the world. “The secularon’s discovery reveals how little we know about our Universe, and indeed about humankind itself,” observes Nobel laureate Dr Gott Tubi-Jokin, Head of the Psychophysics-Cyberobiology group at the University of Grumingen-Schlauss. “Just as the discovery of the neutron changed our understanding of atomic science, the secularon’s discovery dramatically alters our long-held theories of Indian political science.”
Dr Falturam agreed to answer a few basic questions regarding the nature and significance of the secularon.
What is the secularon?
The secularon is a tiny, negatively charged fundamentalist particle that is found only in living Indian brain cells. It contains at least 237 extremely complex organic compounds – most appear to be enzymes. These compounds are looped together in a kind of triple-helix form, vaguely reminiscent of DNA’s double-helix shape and also somewhat resembling the trishul shape venerated by Hindus.
Why is the secularon’s discovery so important?
The secularon exists only in Indian adult brains; it is unique to our nation’s population! Our studies reveal that an average adult Indian brain contains an estimated 2.34 billion secularons, and that the nature and level of secularon activity in a brain directly influences the political outlook of the owner of the brain. In simple terms, we can tell whether an Indian is secular or communal simply by studying the secularons in his or her brain!
Can you please elaborate?
Well…to start with it is important to understand that the secularon can exist in two possible energy states: ‘passive’ or ‘active’. We have found that the secularon can switch between these two states several million times a day! At any given instant, if the majority of secularons in a person’s brain are passive, that person exhibits secular behaviour. However, when the majority of secularons are active, the person becomes communal.
How does the secularon switch between active and passive states?
Indeed, this question foxed our team for three years. Now we know that the secularon’s energy state is determined by a factor that is external to the brain itself! To be precise, whether a secularon is active or passive depends entirely on the political climate in which the observation is made.
Do you mean a person is sometimes secular and sometimes communal, depending on both the observer and the external political environment?
Precisely! IIFS has evolved a set of equations – tentatively named ‘Arjun-Advani Transformations’ – to describe this extraordinary behaviour. These equations resemble the Lorentzian transformations of relativity theory. At the macro-level, we have found that the secularity of a person varies in direct proportion to the closeness of that person to the Congress and/or Communist parties. Examples abound, not only of individuals but entire political parties! For instance, the DMK party members had active secularons in their brains (and were therefore communal) when they opposed Congress in the late 1980s. However, their secularons switched to passive (and they became secular) as soon as they backed the Congress-led UPA government. The Telugu Desam members were purely secular when they backed the United Front, but deeply communal when they backed the BJP-led NDA. Sharad Pawar was a secular Congressman who became communal when he opposed Sonia Gandhi and formed the NCP; but now he has regained secularity by supporting the UPA. Another fine example is Sanjay Nirupam, ex-Shiv Sena MP and rabid communalist who is now the epitome of secularity because he has joined the Congress.
Truly amazing!Will the discovery have any impact on future politics in India?
Well, I cannot comment on that. However, our discovery does reveal that Indian secularism is as transient and ephemeral as our development plans are.
What is your team’s next quest?
We are trying to isolate another even more elusive fundamentalist particle – we call it the ‘minoritron’. As its name suggests, the minoritron imparts the feeling of ‘minority-ness’ to a brain. The minoritron is far more stable than the secularon; once a brain feels a sense of minority-ness, it becomes permanent. Unfortunately, the minoritron carries no charge and occupies virtual space; this makes it as difficult to detect as the neutrino. However, we are confident we shall succeed, thanks to a grant of 2200 crore rupees from our beloved HRD Minister Arjun Singh. We shall be collaborating in our work with a team of scientists from ILS (Institute of Lactile Sociodynamics), Kanpur. You may recall that ILS did path-breaking research with milk cookers in the 1980s that finally led to the discovery of the regresson – the Backward-spinning cerebral particle – and formulation of the famous Creamy Layer Postulate that forms the bedrock of today’s affirmative action policy. It is our hope that we may one day unify the secularon and minoritron into a Grand Unified Theory of Backward Integration, thereby showing India the way to retrogressive progress.
That Saturday, I left the bank as usual at about two o’clock and went straight down to Safina Restaurant, on the ground floor, where I wolfed down a half-plate of rice and chicken curry. Safina Restaurant was my regular eating place in Chemmad, primarily because it was the only restaurant in the whole town. Not that I ever had cause to complain about its fare. The Safina menu was limited but nutritious. Usually, I breakfasted on eggs and Malabar paratha; lunched on chicken biryani; and dined on chicken curry and rice. For variety, I sometimes lunched on chicken curry and rice and dined on chicken biryani. When in extravagant mood, I sometimes had an omelet with my chicken curry and rice. Safina’s owner and head chef, Haji Mohamed, was a friendly and solicitous host, ever ready to sit with me and chat while I ate, and quite tolerant of my occasional forays into his kitchen to modify or experiment with some dish. Thanks to Haji Mohamed’s fare, I gained three kilos during my five-month stay in Chemmad.
I was a Probationary Officer assigned to State Bank of Travancore‘s branch in this little town, located in Malappuram district of Kerala. It took a while for me to adjust to Chemmad. Without doubt, it also took a while for Chemmad to adjust to me; for having lived all my life in Meghalaya and Assam, I knew little of the cultures of southern India. I didn’t know a word of Malayalam; even my Tamil was awful. Naturally, then, I dropped bricks of varying size and weight throughout my stay in Chemmad, much to the amusement of the townsfolk…
But all that is for another story, for another time. This is about a bus journey I took that Saturday in early 1980; a routine weekend bus journey from Chemmad to Calicut (now Kozhikode) to buy things and do things that I couldn’t buy or do in Chemmad—like pick up newspapers and magazines, medicines, toiletries, biscuits and namkeen, a carton of cigarettes. Make ‘phone calls to my parents in Guwahati, perhaps to a friend or two in Delhi and Bangalore (Chemmad didn’t have a public telephone booth). Drink a cup or three of good filter coffee; eat something other than chicken biriyani and chicken curry. As always, I had with me a large bag filled with linen to give for wash at a laundry on Beach Road in Calicut, and in which to bring back the earlier week’s consignment: Chemmad didn’t have a dhobi, and its perennial water shortage made it difficult to wash anything larger than a shirt. I looked forward to strolling along the Calicut beach, having a coffee somewhere, wandering aimlessly through the centuries-old lanes near the old harbor, the air redolent with spices and flowers and dried fish, the narrow pavements lit by oblong orange-yellow glows from a thousand shops selling a thousand different things as they probably had for a thousand years. I thought of the huge, smoke-filled tavern near the mofussil bus stand where, as always, I’d quaff a quarter bottle of rum, dine on rice and fish, and then board a bus back to Chemmad…
Presently, a Calicut-bound bus came rattling down the highway—like most of its kin, a private bus operated by ‘Vengara Roadways’ . I boarded the bus and found a seat. Seated next to me, at the window, was an ageing maulvi with a deeply lined face and long, lustrous white beard. He had his eyes closed; his lips moved slightly in silent prayer. Most of the score or so other passengers were easily identifiable as Mohammedan by their kufi caps; hardly surprising, considering that Malappuram district’s population was predominantly Muslim.
We rattled along a two-lane winding road through low, thickly forested hills and valleys carpeted with green paddy and yellow mustard. To the west, beyond and above the fronds of coconut palm and betel, banana and jackfruit, the glittering Arabian Sea stretched to an indistinct horizon, blue-green water merging and dissolving in blurry blue sky. It was hot; the sun beat down from a shimmering cloudless sky; the maulvi dozed off, his wizened cheek resting against the edge of the window.
Calicut was only 30 kilometres away from Chemmad, but the journey usually took an hour or more. The driver slowed down the bus upon sighting any pedestrian or human habitation on or near the road, whereupon his assistant—a wiry, curly-haired youth wearing a red T-shirt and a lungi of incredibly bright pattern and hue—leaned out at a dangerous angle from the front door, banged the sheet-metal side of the bus and entreated prospective travellers, visible or otherwise, to board the bus with musical chanting of the names of all the villages and towns that lay en route. “Aiieeee, Kozikode! Kozhikode!Tenhipalam! Feroke! Beypore! Kozhikode! Aiieeee, Kozikode!” The driver also obligingly stopped the bus wherever and whenever a passenger wanted— to disembark, to exchange pleasantries with passers-by, to buy fruit, or simply to relieve himself.
And so, in this wonderfully relaxed and friendly way, we trundled along. We stopped for over fifteen minutes at Tenhipalam, where the Calicut University is located. Many passengers disembarked here; a few boarded, and we moved on. As we drew nearer to Calicut, the traffic on the road perceptibly increased, as did the noise levels. We passed the industrial town of Feroke, crossed the long bridge across the Chaliyar river, and turned left to drive past the ancient port of Beypore with its thousand-year-old boat-building yards.
It must have been around 4 p.m when, with Calicut barely 10 kilometres away, the bus suddenly lurched to a halt. The maulvi started and opened his eyes. I peered down the aisle and saw, through the windshield, a row of buses, trucks and other vehicles standing on the road ahead of us, extending as far as the eye could see. The driver muttered imprecations and switched off the engine; the assistant hopped off the bus and walked off to converse with a small group of people standing next to the bus in front of us. He returned and exchanged a few quiet words with the driver, who stiffened visibly and then turned and announced something in Malayalam to all of us. At once, all conversation ceased, and an electric tension filled the atmosphere inside the bus.
I didn’t understand much Malayalam then, but could gather the gist of what the driver had said.
There was trouble ahead. And the trouble was drawing near, in the shape of an RSS procession.
It seemed that the RSS—Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, self-proclaimed defenders of the Hindu community—were angry because earlier that day, an RSS activist had been hacked to death in a village up north, not far from Calicut. The assailants were Muslim men. The assailants had been arrested—but the RSS was still in a rage over the incident. And they were marching down this highway, in a ‘show of strength’.
I sat, silent as the other passengers were. Next to me, the maulvi had again closed his eyes in silent prayer. The afternoon sun poured in through the windows on the left. One by one, on both sides of the road, shopkeepers were pulling down their shutters. Only a few pedestrians hurried past on the pavement, heads down, urgency in their steps. The wail of a distant police siren wafted through the oppressive quiet, grew fainter and then vanished.
After an interminable moment, the driver turned on his radio and fiddled with the knobs till he found a local Malayalam news channel. A woman newsreader mentioned communal tension in the Calicut area sparked off by the killing of an RSS man near Tellicherry, cheerfully adding that according to police, the situation was “tense but under control.” The news summary ended; abruptly Malayalam pop music blared forth from the speakers, shockingly loud. A voice from across the aisle roared something, and the startled driver switched off the radio.
Silence returned. The pavements were now deserted. A few people leaned on the balconies overlooking the road. Black ravens sat on the telephone wires high above the road, still and watchful. And then I heard the drums, throbbing in the silent, still, humid air; soft at first, but growing louder and louder.
Ta-da-da-DUM. Dum. DUM-dum-dum.
Ta-da-da-Dum. Dum. DUM-dum-dum.
Over and over again, on and on, the pulsating beat grew louder and louder till it was the only sound that filled the ears, the only thing that stirred the air, the only energy that filled the world. Automatically, the Timekeeper in my mind took up the beat: Ta-da-da-DUM. Dum. DUM-dum-dum. Ta-da-da-DUM. Dum. DUM-dum-dum. It was a driving, maddening beat, a funeral beat; a beat I had learned to play from King Crimson’s ‘Devil’s Triangle’; a beat that resonated with grief and desolation, with Fear and her demented brother, Rage.
Abruptly, the ravens took flight with a rush of wings and raucous cries. And presently, around the edge of the bus in front, the marchers appeared and streamed past along the road. Almost all of them were young men, some barely in their teens: black caps on their closely cropped heads, mostly clean-shaven, clad in starched white shirts and outsized khaki shorts over white socks and black shoes. At regular intervals along the fluid column were rows of drummers. They were clad like the others, but had drums slung about their waists: huge bass drums, beaten with ferocity to set the pace of the marchers, and smaller kettle drums on which slender sticks played the off-beat funeral march. Ta-da-da-DUM. Dum. DUM-dum-dum. Ta-da-da-DUM. Dum. DUM-dum-dum.
The marching column flowed past, seemingly endless; the marchers were silent, their muscles rippled as they swung their arms to the beat of the drums. Their faces were expressionless but their eyes flickered now and again towards the bus windows as they moved past us. I caught the glance of one marcher as he moved past: his eyes bored into mine, hard as stone, blazing like a lizard’s eyes blaze in the instant before its tongue lashes out to capture and gobble up a frail-winged insect. With an effort I looked away and stared at the back of the seat in front, frozen in body and mind.
The marcher’s eyes were filled with hate.
Hatred, for me. For us.
For the marchers, we were all Muslims— I, we, all of us in the bus. We were identified as Muslims, if not by caps and beards, then by the name painted on the side of the bus. We were Muslims…like the men who had murdered their RSS colleague in Tellicherry. We were Muslims, and therefore regarded as culpable in that murder.
Frantically, my mind wrestled with the sheer absurdity of the logic…even as icy fear grew like a wave and swamped the carefully constructed scaffolding of rational thought, self-control. Conscious of the moving column just outside the window, at the corner of vision, I stared blankly at the seat in front, fists clenched in my lap, neck stiff, legs feeling like water. Some of the passengers across the aisle had half-risen from their seats and were peering out the windows on our side, eyes wide, eager to catch a glimpse of the marchers yet anxious not to be seen. The tension and fear in the bus was now palpable, a smothering blanket.
The sharp sound cut through the silent, fevered air like a knife. It was the sound of metal sliding on metal; it had come from across the aisle. I turned and saw a young man half-risen from his aisle seat, about three rows ahead. His eyes were on the marchers. His left hand gripped the top of the seat in front; in his right hand was a straight-bladed sword, about two feet long. Where he had pulled the sword from, I had no idea. To his left, at the window on the far side, crouched another young man; even as I stared at them both young men turned and looked at me. And their eyes were as hard, as blazing and pitiless, as reptilian as the eyes of that RSS marcher outside.
I tore my gaze away and looked out the window on my right, and then at the seat in front.
They are Muslims, a voice in my mind shrieked. They know I am not a Muslim. They see me as a Hindu; as one with the RSS marchers out there, whom they hate. To them, I am a Hindu…and therefore, equally to be hated.
Reason grappled with panic as I stared at the seat in front of me. Incongruously, I felt laughter well up in my throat. I closed my eyes and swallowed, fought for breath as I felt myself caught, squeezed between two walls of hatred; walls that were closing in on me, closing in…
“Chinta mat karo…”
The heavily accented Hindi words were soft, almost a whisper. The maulvi’s eyes were calm.
“Chinta mat karo,” he murmured again. “Hum sab ek hain. Hum sab Khuda ke saamne ek hain.”
Do not be afraid. We are all One. We are all One before the One.
Like mist before blazing sunshine, my fear vanished. I drew a deep breath and looked out the window, where the last of the marchers were striding past. I looked across the aisle; the young men were seated now, chuckling over something. As the driver started the bus and turned on the music, I looked up at the maulvi. He nodded and smiled, and then closed his eyes, lips moving in silent prayer.