Monday, January 09, 2006

An astonishing incident: Communalism on the countryside... [Part-II]

Deeply hurt I went to the people I had to meet as part of my assignment. But I was demoralised and did all this without my heart into it. I hastily finished all the work in just a few hours without going into long sessions of interviews with politicians, workers and local media men.

I asked the driver to take me back. Barely had we set off and from the side of the railway station went to the other side of the town that was the way out, the driver exclaimed..probably it was Baap Re or Maar Daala [exclamation].

This was followed by, 'Arrey sahab...yeh kahaaN le aaye..dekha! yahan to poora Pakistan bana rakha hai...'.[Where have we come, they have made a Pakistan here]. He was obviously pointing towards the row of houses, mostly pained green, the minarets, domes and the people looked Muslim.

 This was the second shock. Not as harsh as the first one but nonetheless a shock that unsettled me. As the town was not too far, just a few hours of journey away, so I had no formal introduction with the driver. On my way to the town I had slept in the taxi for the couple of hours and reached there in the wee hours.

If we had a meal together he might have guessed about my religion. I had a book which I was reading in the early morning and so there was no way he could have felt that I was 'The Other'. He hadn't asked my name

Why should have he bothered, it was a routine job for him and I was used to the comments "You don't look like a Muslim" from childhood. The difference in Hindi-Hindustani and Urdu is not as discernible to everybody. 

It was a five hour journey and by evening, I reached home. In the meantime, he told me so many things. Of course, he didn't ask me about my name even once. He said that he lived in a Muslim ghetto in the old part of the town. 

And he took pride in the fact that he owned a Giant Wheel [merry go-round or Hindola]. This was his side business. During the peak months when the fetes and fairs were organised he earned lot of money with his Ferris Wheel.

In rest of the months, he worked as taxi driver. The job of taxi driver was harsh, he said, you have to work for long hours and on occasions no sleep for 36 hrs or 40 hrs at a stretch. But the gleam in his eyes was unmistakeable when he talked about the Giant Wheel which when installed went up to 51 ft in height.

In fact, I had never given a thought that there are men who can earn good money through swings and merry go-rounds. He dropped me at the home and asked me to write my name on the slip. I wrote it in English and he asked me to write in Devanagri also, I wrote and he casually kept it in the pocket.

The Pakistan comment was not as harsh compared to the previous statement. One is used to 'Pakistan comment' since childhood. I wondered that if after reaching his house and taking out the slip he might feel slight remorse on noticing that I was a Muslim. 

Instead of signature, I wrote my complete name. This is necessary as it approves the distance travelled. Unless I do sign, his bill would not be cleared, as it may be construed that he went elsewhere also and drove in excess, to make money, by fooling the owner.

So I wrote my name, verifying the kilometers and places I had gone to, and handed him the paper. He might think of being more careful in future and not to take any one as a Muslim or Hindu on the basis of mere looks. It took me a few days to come out of the shock this short journey had given me.

I told many of my friends, mostly Hindus, about the incident. This made me feel lighter, I don't know why. There was a long period of introspection. We can't force any one against his will to like or dislike a community but then it is in our hands to introspect and mend our ways.

I am sure we must share part of the blame, Kuchh ghaltiyan to hamari bhi hongi warna hamse itni nafrat ki koi wajeh to hogi......READ THE FIRST PART OF THIS SERIES HERE