Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Lost in Post - Mumbai Mail 6

To a niece

My Dear Niece,

A month or so back, while we were returning from a party you asked me if I was patriotic. Your very tone had warned me that I was in for debate for which I was hardly in a mood, so I had asked you why you asked. You then audaciously told me that at home you, your brother and your cousin ( Did you say your mummy as well? I don't clearly remember…but I hope not!) were one group as against your papa and Mukund Uncle. That they stated that they were patriotic but you didn't think so. You again asked me if I was and I said, yes, I am patriotic. You laughed derisively and said, if I am patriotic what I am doing for India. I tried to explain to you that one doesn't have to do something concrete to show one's patriotic feelings. I said, I still stand in attention whenever I hear the national anthem… and that I take pride in my country's heritage and culture. You refused to be convinced. I said, even though your papa and your Periyappa do not reside in India and work there they are all playing a part in the Indian economy. You with that cocky confidence the life in an affluent country like UAE has instilled in you, mocked at me and your Papa saying that we are pretenders. I, not savouring the unpleasant taste your attitude left in my mouth, begged to differ and closed the conversation.

Last week, we witnessed an unparalleled tragedy in Mumbai. I have been to Mumbai only twice… I do not even remember what landmarks I saw during those trips. The pictures I have in my mind of Mumbai have all been gleaned from Hindi movies and news channels. I have no emotional attachment to the place… Yet, I spent almost 50 of the 60 traumatic hours undergone by the people of Mumbai, glued to the TV screen… my heart bleeding, flinching and beating hard as I watched a city being ravaged by heartless terrorist animals!

I sat there bereft of speech as courageous police officers led from the front and fell pray to terrorists' bullets… I sat there looking for traces of the so called 'netas' among the crowds of common man… I sat there wondering where the 'senas' of MNS and the likes had holed up while 'Indian' (mind you… not merely marathi… but those from all parts of India…) soldiers, commandos and policemen valiantly fought for 60 hours… I sat there in disgust when politicians tried vociferously to campaign while a city burnt… while they slung mud at others and pompously claimed their own tenure to have been better… they sounded as childish, stupid and inane as you, dear niece, did when you asked me if I was patriotic.

I reiterate… I am patriotic. So you asked me what I did to show my patriotism… I stood up in front of the TV screen, bowing my head in silence with the denizens of Mumbai…and your uncle, Periyappa, was right beside me. We grieved in our hearts, we still do, with the kith and kin of the unsuspecting victims of the wild animals let loose on us from neighbouring jungles with the intent to kill.

I join in the public outcry against the likes of R. R. Patil, Vilasrao Deshmukh, V. S. Achuthanandan, Naqvi and even L K Advani, who couldn't find it in him to postpone a campaign in order to participate in an all party meeting summoned at such a time of national crisis… I wish there is accountability for such behaviour… I wish the common man would realize just how much these elected donkeys are making fools of us… Anger surges in my veins… anger that demands some positive action…

This anger, this silence and the tears that rolled down my cheeks as the Last Post sounded from the bugles as a Gajendra Singh or an Unnikrishnan or a Hemant Karkare was laid to rest… that is another shade of my patriotism. It is blazing red in colour, not unlike the flames that erupted from the iconic Taj Hotel… brown like the dried blood on the floors of CST and the rooms of the Trident, Taj and Nariman House… it is dark like the skin and uniform of the brave commandos who faced death defiantly… it is a raw green in its pain… BUT IT IS NOT YELLOW… like the skins of the politicians who are fighting for their chair…

Yes…I am deeply patriotic, dear niece… perhaps you'll understand the feelings once you go back to the land of your birth and LIVE there… This land where we are temporary residents is safe, clean and rich… yet, you are just passing through here. You don't belong there. Any day, you can be asked to leave. When you have to roost at the end of the day, you will have to go back to the country where your parents were born and brought up… where I was born and brought up… Be it any corner of that vast heavenly land, you'll realize, that's home… That realization is the essence of patriotism. In the meantime, I'll wait for you to grow up and mature before engaging in pompous debates for the sake of debating!

Affectionately ,


Monday, December 01, 2008

Lost in Post - Mumbai Mail 5

To my adolescent self

Do you remember the day when you were bundled into the back of an army truck in the dead of the night along with your friends to the relative safety of a university campus? Do you remember how the day had broken like any other when you had taken a leisurely stroll around the village, tucked into some delicious rotis and played volleyball with your friends when you heard the first volleys of gunfire? You were young and terribly thrilled to be caught up in all the drama. The enormity of the situation didn't dawn on you until the next morning you saw the fifteen-or-so bodies laid out in a row - like an army of the deceased. Later that day, it was decided that for your safety it'd be best to move the lot of you to a safer location.

In the heated discussions that followed, you made it clear where you stood on these matters - those bloody muslims. On returning home, there was a huge anti-muslim sentiment and being young and prone to taking the opposing stance for the sake of it - you supported muslims vociferously. Where would you send 11% of our population? you would cry. To Saudi Arabia, would come the answer. Oh come on, that's not even an argument! you would shriek, even louder. In the subsequent years, your views have swung wildly depending on who you were talking to or what the latest catastrophe was.

Take any war that is going on around the world at the moment, said an uncle once, and you will find that it involves a Muslim. You agreed with him. You were ignorant of the kind of organised, government-sanctioned terrorism that was happening all over the world at that very moment. Including in your own country.

Some years later you moved countries. And one of the first jobs you did was a voluntary post where you requested that you not be asked to help a Pakistani muslim family. Your request was met with muted horror and someone wondered what the point of volunteering was if one was going to be selective about it. Could they say that they wouldn't like to help a gay person or a Jew? And would it be alright?

You were surprised that it was an issue at all. After all, back in India, Pakistanis were the very devil incarnate. But this incident made you wonder how you could've come to such a conclusion when you had not met a single Pakistani! Over the next few months you were matched with a Pakistani family and to your horror you found that they were just like you! The same concerns, the same fears, the same hopes...heck, they could be Indians! By and by, you met more Pakistani muslims and realised that they were perfectly normal. And secretly, you were even ashamed of your earlier judgements.

Just when it seemed like your mind had opened up just a little bit, along comes another tragedy. The shock and the horror of the carnage shakes you to the bone. And this time, you are back to where you were all those years ago. Bloody muslims, you want to shout. Hate the lot of them! But political correctness and the need to be accepted by your peers keep you from airing your thoughts. Plus, there are now young impressionable, untainted minds around the house. And you don't want to corrupt them with your violent ideas. So instead you say, this is not the time to point fingers at Muslims. Islam means peace and other pathetic cliches that don't ring true even to you.

And while your mind screams bloody revenge, a corner of your head says peace. Because you fear the bloody world that your children might inherit. You have raised them with little idea of religion. Recently, when talking about gods, you asked your firstborn if he knew who you were (expecting him to say Hindus). We are Indians, he replied. Your ensuing hug was so fierce, you almost crushed his little body. It's much more important to be a good human, you and your husband had once decided. And the kids can worship one god - any god they choose. But in the present climate, you are wondering if you should tell him about your faith. The one even you are unsure of.

And so, your views swing again. Perhaps it is just as well that you haven't made up your mind. There are enough fanatics already.