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.


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