What gives us and the media the right to question politicians for their divisive politics, when deep inside we are as divided and prejudiced. And so we shall get what we deserve. These very pertinent words were part of a note on Facebook.
The aftermath of the Mumbai attacks has set many of us thinking or so would we like to believe. TV shows are roping in distinguished personae to debate and dissect the events of the past three terrible days and suggest measures to ensure that such horror is never revisited. Politician bashing is the call of the day and everyone is engaging in it unabashedly. A popular TV show was aired yesterday and though I only caught the end twenty minutes my, blood ran cold. (for those who want to view it it is available here). The audience was made of a gathering of eminent personalities and an audience of educated people, some of whom had survived what is now known as 26/11.
There was understandable anger and unbridled passion. But what shocked me beyond words was the ease with which our own prejudices and divisive attitudes emerged at the slightest provocation. What appalled me was the casualness with which some identified the enemy and even suggested we carpet bomb them. I am comforted that some reacted to these and put an end to the dangerous direction things were taking. What saddened me was the fact that this was all being done by the intelligentsia of our country. Deep inside we are divided and prejudiced.
I would like to share two stories. One of a young child of 6 maybe 7. It happened many years ago. The child father's was actively involved in some UN negotiations and for many days the discussion in the home had been about the crucial votes needed to push some resolution through. The fate of the resolution lay in the way Japan would vote. While the parents discussed the the matter with passion every evening, the child sat listening. On the fateful day Japan voted against the resolution and the motion was defeated. A few days later was the child's birthday and as she sat with her mom making a list of the children to be invited, she declared that she would not invite her two Japanese friends. her mother was perplexed as they were the child's best friends of the moment. The child's answer was simple: their papa voted against my papa, they are enemies now ! Luckily the child's mom was a wise woman and she sat her child down and put the incident in the right perspective and needless to say the Japanese girls came to the party and remained best friends for a long time. The child was me. I had forgotten this incident that happened almost half a century ago. It sprung back to my mind yesterday as I listened to the hate that seemed to colour the words of many speakers.
The other story I would like to share is one of a simple family that was somehow both Hindu and Muslim. I reproduce it here though it was published some time back in GoodnewsIndia.
(Dr S D Sharma, now 80, is in retirement. He reminisces about a ‘brother’ who went away to Pakistan but stayed in touch till he died.)
‘I grew up in Kanpur, where my father was a doctor. Ours was a large family, and my mother was known for her strict ways with children. We were nevertheless, a merry band of 10 children—siblings and cousins-- that lived in the rambling house. Mummy, as we all called her, showered us with love, but could be a real tyrant if we did not study. For her it was imperative that we do well in school, as she intuitively knew that learning was the key to the greater things in life. And what was even more remarkable was that she had the same view for both boys and girls.
One of my father’s good friends was a Muslim trader. We knew him as Khalid Chacha. He was an imposing man, with a long beard and we were always in awe of him. One day, Khalid Chacha came, holding the hand of a young boy, maybe 10 years old.
That is when I first met Umar. Umar was Khalid Chacha’s son, and was, as we learnt later, a naughty boy who hated studies. My father and Khalid Chacha had decided that only Mummy could get him to study, so Umar would come and live with us, in our home.
Umar turned out to be a lovely boy and he became my best friend. He lived with us for over 10 years, till he passed his BA. Initially it was hard to get him to study, but later it was Umar who decided that he preferred living with us, even though he had to work hard at his books.
In 1947, Umar’s family left for Pakistan. We were bewildered, hurt, sad and also a little bit angry at their decision to leave. But we did not know the power of love. We all thought we would never see him again.
Umar Bhai died in Rawalpindi in 1990. Each and every year till then, political conditions and regulations permitting, Umar made his ‘pilgrimage’ to India. As the rules demanded, he had to fill in the names of people he would visit. And the names would be those of my family, all Hindu names. This surprised the authorities so much that once they asked him why he came every year to meet Hindus.
His answer was the simple: ‘They are the only family I have’. ‘The heart has its reasons that reason cannot understand,’ said a French poet. Well Umar Bhai proved it in a remarkable way.’
(Dr Sharma now lives a quiet retired life in Delhi. He wonders what became of Umar’s children. Do Hindu and Muslim children grow up in the same household now? Or has the Partition put paid to all that?)
Why tell these stories today. Perhaps because the first one shows how easily a young mind can be influenced and how important it is to set things right before they are too deep seated to be removed and the second one simply illustrates how not so long people of different faith lived together in this very country and respected each other without hate or prejudice. This would lead us to ask why things changed and who was responsible. I will not delve into the matter as I know that each one of us know the answers. We have just let ourselves be swayed like the little girl and did not have anyone to put things in the right perspective.
Th real healing and ensuing solutions will only come after deep and honest introspection and a genuine effort to rid ourselves of our prejudices and intolerance.
The picture I have chosen is that of a child who transcended the labels of his birth and origins to try and make his own place in the sun: little Utpal.