Tuesday, March 12, 2013

When Black turned Red

[Warning: Long Post]
Pronounced locally as “Amdavad” (similar to “Calcutta” being pronounced “Kolkata”. ), Ahmedabad is a city which is to Gujarat what Mumbai is to India, a city previously known as “Manchester of the East” due to its once booming textile industry, a city which represents both business and busy-ness of Gujarat; a city which was established by a Muslim sultan, but currently inhabited by a Hindu majority. The river Sabarmati divides the city into two distinct parts: Eastern Ahmedabad or old Ahmedabad, with its congested localities and roads-with a concentration of most of Ahmedabad’s Muslim population, along with Hindu locals. It is also the centre of traditional business and the location of the city’s biggest markets. Western Ahmedabad is the opposite, with its malls, restaurants, gardens, coffee shops, call centers and posh localities. Dominated by Hindu population, the only areas in the west which have significant Muslim populations are Sarkhej, Paldi and Juhapura, both on the outskirts of the city.
It is the city where I was born and spent 22 years of my life-till my job forced me to move to Bangalore.
Riots and Ahmedabad do have a history. When I was a kid, I heard frequent news reports of riots breaking out in the eastern city, historically the epicenter of Hindu-Muslim enmity in Ahmedabad since the 1960’s. Areas like Kalupur, Jamaalpur, Daryapur, Shah-I-Baugh, Naroda, and Maninagar were quite infamous-especially amongst Hindus, and I do remember my father discussing among my other relatives to avoid these places during all major Hindu festivals. The famous Kankaria Lake was to be avoided during Fridays, for obvious reasons. Outbreaks of stone-pelting and curfew were routine those days and yet, quite ironically, business between Hindus and Muslims continued unabated after those temporary irritants had passed. It was a part of life in Ahmedabad as much as nine days of Navratri.
I do remember that there was a little precursor to the horror. Just a week before the Godhra carnage, this had happened, which I watched with some curiousness on Doordarshan in the evening news that night. And when the actual brutality in Godhra took place, there was a strong suspicion in my mind that it, quite possibly, had its inspirations in Egypt. Anyhow, when it did happen, the first reaction, obviously, was of shock and anger. VHP and BJP called for a bandh the next day, and all the shops were forcibly closed in early morning itself. The atmosphere was unusually charged across the entire city, different from those days of routine unrest in eastern Ahmedabad.
I was preparing for my SSC (10th standard) exams late afternoon that day, having a leisurely stroll on the terrace. Faint shouts from a group of people were heard somewhere from the east, and turning around I saw a trace of thick, dark smoke erupting in a slum (known amongst my community for having a dense, uneducated Muslim population). I remember a gentleman coming home for a daily evening tea, and casually saying-“Have bahu thayu. A wakhate aa loko ne saaf kari naakhva joyiye. (Enough is enough. These people should be cleansed out this time around. )”. It had started.
And start it did even though the declared bandh did not last long. As for me and others of my generation the most important news was that the exams had been postponed. And yes, the eastern Ahmedabad was to be avoided at all costs, according to my parents. Local news papers too played their part, not shying away from reporting gory details and even some inflammatory news-for example mentioning that Godhra actually had a ‘Karachi colony’, a subtle message open for interpretation. I remember a picture of a burnt body of a child on the front page of a prominent news paper one morning, with the following humanitarian caption-“Is this what we want?”. Direct references to the communities were avoided, replaced by subtle ones; a Hindu was referred to as-“vyakti” (person in Gujarati) while a Muslim as-“Isam”(person in Urdu). Right on cue, a lot of rumors had started doing rounds, most notable of them was one that was about a group of women from that ill fated train in Godhra jumping off and getting abducted by a bunch of rioters. Masjids with loud speakers, Temples and Slums were the first to be targeted.
As was the case all these years, people who both did and face the maximum damage were from the lower sections of the society. The gentleman who visited our house one evening for a cup of tea, said-“Aapni maate ladai to lower caste naa loko e kari chhe sheher maa. (It is the lower caste that has fought for us in the city. )”.
Roads in Kalupur-a place of City’s biggest cloth market during happy days-now bore a strange sight, riddled with blood and stones. A day later, out of curiosity, I had lied to my parents and wandered off on my bicycle to tankshal road from Lal Darvaja (entrance to Kalupur) I was unfortunate enough to stumble upon a corpse of a boy (presumably Muslim) crowded by a group of Muslims, but fortunate enough not to have been recognized by them as I drove off quickly. When I remember it today, I remember that feeling of fear, of being recognized as a Hindu, of my heart-beat quickening.
A week later, that gentlemen, while having an evening tea said-“e aa loko ne seedha kari nakhshe. (‘He’ will straighten these Muslims out. )”. To be frank, there was no him or his representative out there on the roads nor any shred of evidence of him being involved, baying for blood, but when madness reigns, burden of proof goes for a toss; and it was supposedly comforting for some to assume that power of the administration was with them. It did change though, when few days later army was called and the city slipped into an uneasy calm; at least for a while, waiting for aftershocks.
My uncle worked in LIC, and one day, was told by a female Muslim colleague-“Tame amaaru kalu karyu, ame tamaaru laal karishu. (You painted ours in black; we will paint yours in red. )”.
If round one of the horror was about burnings, round two started with stabbings-which according to my relatives was the specialty of the ‘other side’; mostly carried out by mobs on unsuspecting business men and college students. I was too scared to wander off this time around, but did hear about two elderly Hindu gentlemen getting hacked to death near Idgah. One afternoon, I and my parents had to go and console one of my neighbors. In a completely disheveled and shocked state, he and his wife told us what had happened with him when he went on to meet his factory manager-a Muslim-in Jamaalpur. Halfway across a stone-ridden, deserted street, he was apparently spotted by a teenage Muslim boy, who asked his name and shouted it loud-inviting maniacs carrying swords and knives. The poor guy received some token bruises, but managed to run off barefoot-zigzagging across a few congested localities for some 20-minutes, hiding temporarily inside a closed bank building. Just a day ago, my grandfather had a worried phone call with my uncle in Paldi (another area with significant populations from both sides), who said that they had decided to stay awake for the whole night after hearing shouts of-“Islam khatre mein hai! ”. Residents of most of the localities across Ahmedabad had made a routine of taking turns to keep night time watch on their respective gates with lathis, knives and metal rods.
My Ahmedabad had become a city of enemies.
The madness continued sporadically for a few months, quite horrifically, even after the dates of board exams were finally announced. Perhaps it was emblematic of the tragedy that the last victim of the blood bath-one that was triggered far away in Godhra-was actually a class 12 Muslim student going to attend his Physics examination in Surat. Hearing this, the gentleman, who accompanied my grandfather daily for an evening tea, who had earlier talked about teaching lessons to Muslims, surprised us by saying-“A kharaab chhe. Ek waar chamatkar dekhadi didho etle bahu thayu. (This is bad. Whatever had happened the first time around was enough. )”. The popular mood for now was stopping and realizing what had happened … and what was left after it did.
What summed up the venom coursing through veins, ironically, was what I saw in a local newspaper much later after the riots had ended, on the day of elections in Gujarat in 2002-a huge advertisement by a prominent right wing organization (not BJP), featuring a photocopy of a press release by a local Masjid, asking Muslims to vote for a certain party. The advertisement had a question, presumably for Hindus-“Now you decide who you will vote for. ”
Years have gone by, and being in a rapidly progressing state means you have a number of things to be happy about. It also helps that there have been no riots since the horror of 2002. There is still a fear that if a certain political party comes to power, Ahmedabad will again experience those routine riots it did for some many years preceding 2002. Whenever there is a news report on the riots in 2002, there is certain anger-“Why do they never show atrocities committed by the ‘other side’? Why do they not talk about Assam?”. My parents still have a few Muslim friends and co-workers, although what happened in 2002 is never mentioned. The ghost of 2002 is still present at the back of our minds, but we do not let it run riot on the streets. In a way, a lot has changed for us, no more routine riots in the east, no more routine curfews, something we did not grow up with.
Some say it was necessary, to ‘pay back’ for other atrocities, some say it exposed Ahmedabad’s dark underbelly, some say it was just another riot amongst countless others. Almost all avoid discussing it.
Not exactly our moment of glory, you see.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Grief … Why???

Blame me for being nostalgic, or dark, or brooding - one instance from my childhood still flashes past my thoughts every now and then.
It was an unremarkable day. I was playing cricket at my mom's house in afternoon as a lot of kids without play station tend to prefer. A dark skinned, thin and filthily dressed kid - about my age - stood at the gates and gestured me to come towards him. Being unusually shy, I simply looked on. There was something in his eyes which begged for an arm around him. The smile on his dry lips seemed frozen but expectant. His clothes looked every bit as old and worn out as any every day beggar in any street would hope to show us to drop a chiller (change) out of sheer sympathy.
... is grief bad ?
... is grief bad ?
Moments dragged on…few auto-rickshaws on the nearby main road rustled past. His dirt-ridden hair and even dirtier clothes fluttered in the hot summer wind. He gestured again for me to come towards him. I still looked on - the boy was obviously couldn't speak (or was conjuring up an excellent performance - as a cynic would say). He then dropped a pamphlet towards me as I realized that was why he wanted me to come closer. I still looked on in sympathy - abandoning the cricket bat in my hands. In the meantime, my aunt came out and checked the nuisance outside. She gestured back, asking the boy if he wanted something to eat. The kid gestured back - asking to take the pamphlet. Aunt had a brief look at that piece of paper dropped on ground - again asked the boy what he wanted (assuming him to be a beggar). Seeing the lack of response, she made a final, carefree gesture to the boy to get going. The boy did so without further gestures.
I see no point for pointing out what actually was written in the pamphlet - even today that sounds immaterial to me, but what I do not forget is the strange feeling of sadness - or pity.
Why it is that pain which should quite clearly be obsolete doesn't remain so? Why it is that a tragedy affects our inner self in the most personal way? Why it is that a calamity on someone such as family of the Delhi brave heart invokes a passion of sadness so strong I still remember it - even at the time of a personal triumph? Is this just another weakness or affects of too much thinking-too much negativity on one's mind - whatever that means? What's so special about it?
One of the master-strokes of Christopher Nolan for the Batman saga was to show the heroism of Bruce Wayne in a much more basic and different way than the previous turkeys. Sure he has money and some cool gadgets - but it is his darkness that defines him. Beneath his cape and hood, lurk a tortured soul and a tragic fate. He is a hero, because he has allowed his darkness to become his shadow…an extension the good inside him. In a way, he being a hero is about him being more 'human' than any other human. He fights with the grief inside him, just as any ordinary human does, and in the process, brings out a personality that any ordinary human hopes to be.
As a fellow human, a fellow Indian, the Delhi incident has left an imprint on my soul - just as the mute kid on that summer afternoon did. As I brood on, I keep feeling the pain - but the pain is much like pain of a surgery - something I must live with for some time, because rather than be drawn inside or suffocated, I must choose to make darkness an extension of the good inside me…
Perhaps the hero who is inside all of us is not about being larger than life…it's our journey of being human. The grief I feel is not my enemy, but my guide.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Looking For Hope

"Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." - Andy Dufresne (The Shawshank Redemption)

(Warning - Long Post)

News and the way they are reported and read is something I have always felt, exposes our nature as a society. Cases in point being the way news items of cricket or bollywood are read, occasionally with furious discussions along with a cup of tea.
News of crime - especially the ones about rape never stirred me in the way analysis of the last finished cricket match did. The biggest reaction it ever generated would be a somewhat curious glance on the details inside - an occasional shake of the head (India is great / What was the bastard thinking / What was the girl doing at that time) - even more shamefully, an occasional smirk if I felt there was something fishy with the girl’s claim. Perhaps the way it was reported - making the girl a nameless/faceless - was the reason why I could never personally be moved. Generally I would surf through the other news, robbery, accidents, and editor’s columns. I never followed up to check if the rape in question generated more than an occasional stir in the neighborhood.

Those were ignorant years too. Being a Gujarati and brought up in a comparatively liberal minded city like Ahmedabad, and living in a society where women security is thankfully a much smaller menace than 800-k gorillas like road issues, electricity issues and Narendra Modi’s efficiency as a chief minister (Smaller too when compared with places like Delhi), reading occasional news of rape never quite generated the amount of concern they should have. Hindi film industry would have a role to play too, showing stalking, forcing and lecturing a woman on her virginity as heroic and ‘signs of a real man’, corrupting generations in the society where the mere news of having an active sexual relationship with a boy-friend would make the girl squirm with humiliation (along with her parents). I was living a paradoxical life where reading books, politics and social issues were no less important for me than studies, television and a decent job.

The news of the 23-year old brave heart, somehow, hit me hard. Was it something that news channels never let up on, forcing the daily updates through live tickers at the bottom? Was it Arnab Goswami-rapidly grilling guests on news hour with movements of his head that reminded you of Amir Khan in “Ghajni”? Was it the protests-something which I saw last year following Anna’s vigilantes on corruption? But how come it never hit me the way this “news” did?

I think again. The reason was somewhat obvious - something in my face.
The girl’s family had moved to Delhi (a big city) from a smaller one. This was something which families of my parents did too - settling in Ahmedabad from Saurashtra and North Gujarat respectively. The socio-economic platform provided to that girl was modest - something which I had to live with too. Her parents did not have a business raking in money (her father worked as a loader in some airport in Delhi), something which my parents too suffered from. My parents had a business of soft toys- enough to pay the bills but not much more than that. Just like me, the girl had to carve her ascent in the society by completing further studies and getting a job. She was learning physiotherapy, while I had to complete B. Tech. and get a job as an IT professional, something which was unheard of in my family or community till my time. Like me, the girl was perhaps that one hope - one shot at a better future for her family. An aspiring young Indian, working her way up through India’s newly formed middle class - just like me.

She was coming back from watching a movie at a reasonably late time of night, something I used to do during the initial year of my job in Chennai (Satyam theatre near Anna Salai was the usual one) and later on when I had moved to Bangalore, working as an employee in Hewlett-Packard.

I followed the news of her horrible fate on that day - 16th December, I watched with terror in my heart as one news flash after another revealed what her body had gone through. “Don’t let her die” - I prayed to god. This continued for the next 10-12 days. Every day I would come back from office, and instead of going through the usual routing of watching English movie channels-would start news channel which a hope that she was still fighting, still alive. “God, please don’t let her die” - I would look towards heaven and pray. If she lived, my hope lived, as did the hopes of her better future.

Saturday the 29th was like any other day. Just like usual for a week-end, I had woken up at 9 AM, going to the local market for buying bread and other items, and later starting the day with watching movies. I had started with “Atithi tum kab jaoge” followed by “Rock On!!!”. For some reason, I had not started watching news, which I did at around 2 PM and got the shock of my life - the girl had died.

I was numb with shock. “But I did pray to you right???” - I asked looking towards the picture of god. There was a frantic surfing through the news channels, hoping to vent my anger through the collective anger on the streets, television studios, Arnab Goswami, news reporters. Somewhere, somehow, hoping to hear people blasting the police, the government for what happened - occasionally I would increase the volume of my TV if I found something resembling the anger inside myself, the anger which somehow hoped to shake the world with my bare hands. Facebook, Twitter and Google became shoulders for me to cry on, posting messages of anger and sharing those which were the same. I had perhaps gone through almost every blog on women security in the next few days. I stayed alone in my apartment, which were both a blessing and a curse when I was in such a mood.

Time passed, more details regarding the girl emerged, which only increased my pain. Hearing about her and finally knowing her as a person, made it worse, as it resulted in “what if” questions. What if she had picked another bus, what if they had just let her live after the rape instead of ripping her organs, what if the boy had found a way to stop them, what if she had survived with the treatment she received in the hospital? Every time the news channels showed something related to her personal life, the pain would increase.

The sane part in my mind said - “These questions are never blesses with answers”, “If she weren’t the victim, another girl might have”, “The society needs such dramatic example to be shaken”, “I had nothing to do with her death”, “She is just one of countless other unfortunate ones, at least she had the fortune of having her rapists caught”, “She will be remembered by the country, unlike others”. But then the bottom-line would hit my mind like a bucket of cold water - “She is no more. She died through no fault of her own.”, and I would look towards a picture of god with tears in my eyes - “But I did pray to you right?”

Days go by, there is now a quiet determination - “I wouldn’t let any bastard misbehave with a girl in front of my eyes from now on”, “I would make sure my voice is heard through taking part in as many protests as possible”. Somehow, news items now about a rape would hold a different meaning to me - now they are the ones with a face I never had the fortune of knowing. I would avidly surf through for any good news for rape victims across the country; I came to know about a few which I had never known before - the Suryaneli case, the Patiala case, case of a girl in Bihar who was raped by the very person supposed to protect her. Some of those cases showed progress, and my pain eased a little. “Keep praying to god, maybe he will reduce the pain of her family, keep her happy wherever she is now”, and I would keep praying whenever I felt like it.

I started hoping I had a sister, or a female friend/wife/daughter, whose hands I can hold and promise - “I will never let anything bad happen to you, I will always be there with you, for you.” - A way to ease my guilt by protecting someone. I would repeatedly call my father, tell him of the story and ask him for a way to ease my pain. I still do. I would keep thinking of my mother, and hope she was with me.

I hear the interview of the girl’s friend on a TV channel, and the pain increases. “God, how could a bunch of humans turn into blood-thirsty monsters?” - would be my question. “Maybe I feel like this as I have seen such news for the first time, the pain will ease up with time”, I tell myself. The pain should ease with a hope, some hope, from somewhere.

Now there is a quiet determination, to prevent crime against women whichever way I can, there is an anguish because I could have done nothing to save my unknown sister on that fateful day, and there is a fierce effort, to rally others with me, to use their vote for women’s issues whenever next election comes around. Perhaps the guilt would be less if she had lived. But never mind, I have my other duties too. OK, the judiciary might still surprise me, by hanging the 6-accused. Oh, I forgot about the juvenile (anger joins the pain inside me.). I desperately hope I can see that our brave heart “Damini” is happy, wherever she is…

My search for that one hope continues…

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I knew finally what is "Love"

Saturday-16-05-2010. A thoroughly unremarkable day for many...but for mine, it wasn't.

I read a book, first reluctantly, then avidly and finally...tearfully...

It's "I too had a Love Story" from Ravinder Singh, if you know, what's love and what's to be happy about it...

Detailed review follows tomorrow...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Hmm...just a little wait more...

Hey folks, sorry for the inactivity, basically just getting a bit busy with Real (and Love) life commitments...be there soon, my post after a long time...

Monday, June 8, 2009

Aussies come crashing down to earth

Yupppy, seems T20 is destined to hurt Australia's pride everytime it happens. Well, I got a gut feeling that Aussies won't be able to survive this pressure and it was proved by the Sri lankans. Lucky or not, brave Lankans deserve five stars and a standing ovation.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Having a quiet Vacation

Hello folks...I'm just about enjoying my self in Diwali holidays. Just chilling out till the convocation in my university. Will be back with a bang with the 4th Test between India & Australia kicking off on Thursday.