Sunday, July 27, 2008

It is time...

18 blasts ripped through the city of Ahmedabad yesterday, killing 30 people (the last toll that I saw). I switch to a "Live WebCast" of the breaking news on and I have a reporter who is insistent that the terrorists have failed in their objectives. The city he says is completely at peace and the hopes of communal incitement by the terrorists a lost cause. We even get a shot of a few people on the street talking about a variety of things, everything except what the reporter rounds up the reports with. The reporter winds up saying something to the effect of the 'spirit' of the city (Oh! How I hate that word) being indomitable and the general feeling of 'bhaichaara' amongst the citizens of Ahmedabad of which his recent interviewees had given no trace of. So you see everything is just perfect. Tomorrow everyone will get back to their jobs and we'll get back to the great nation that India was, is and will continue to be. So darn perfect!

You've got to be kidding me! This is Gujarat, where I've spent 20 formative years of my life. I know that here the Hindu and Muslim communities here are about as well-mixed as oil and water. It's like sitting on a barrels of petrol and smoking. There's only time till the butt is stubbed. Incessant rumours and whispers fester and breed in the two different cocoons, and have of late assumed violent incarnations. There seems to a sort of glee in news channels all around reporting and re-reporting that it is BJP ruled states that this group called the Indian Mujahideen is targeting. Well, they were the party with a indirect but prominent anti-Muslim stand, so it's only fair that they should bear the brunt, right?

What I can't figure out for the life of me is that how does it matter. Why should people have to bear the brunt of having to choose between a communal and a corrupt government? Is there no one who has the courage to say that there is an urgent need to accept the existence of a problem and get together to work towards a solution. Where is all this hatred coming from? One half of our politicians is firmly engaged in rampant hate mongering while the other fattens itself on dedicated vote-banks too yellow livered to bring its support base to task. Who are these people anyway, the Indian Mujahideen? They create perfect conditions for "I told you so" and "We didn't start it but we're going to end it!" types of discussions in neighbourhood chat sessions feeding the slavering mad dogs of violent fundamentalism. They claim they are here to fight oppression, to wreak vengeance for past deeds and such gobbledegook while all they do is cause brutal and meaningless damage to the essence of India.

Which brings us to a more important question - What is the essence of India? It's not about singing Vande Mataram, shunning all foreign 'moral corruption' and hating Pakistan as the right would want us to believe. It's not about quoting every dialogue and scene from RDB and then coolly submitting that false medical bill to your company ("It's the only way of life here in India" is a much too easily offered excuse) and a few minutes later whining about the 'insane' levels of corruption in India!

I was in Sarnath a few months ago and happened to go to the museum (You know the old dusty places where they keep boring bits of history) there. The central exhibit quite naturally was that of the Sarnath lion capital emblem. I initially thought that it was a replica of the original, in such a good state of polish the tremendously old stone carving was! When I walked around it to see the effects of time on the other side of the emblem only then could I believe it was the real thing. What seemed even more apt in it surviving the ravages of time was that the values that the symbol represented (though much denigrated by its current owners) are as eternal as the man who had created it. There is no alternative to truth and peace and that is what we as Indians knew well enough as far as 200 odd B.C to be able to create an edict out of it. There were wise men before that too and have continued in an incessant stream who have continued to preach these values of truth, assimilation and acceptance. That is what I believe to be the soul of our country.

The last embodiment of that spirit that has survived through the ages was in the form of a simple but highly intelligent man from Porbandar. He knew that all revolutions of the past had eventually became nothing more than sorry sagas of blood lust, rape and revenge. So he forged this nation out of a million regionalities using the searing light of non-violence and awakening the guilt in his oppressors. Some fools persist in calling him a coward but what he had done was to show us an evolution, a revolution where the wheel does not end up back in the same dark place. He had shown how beautiful the future might be if we realized the fact that honesty and tolerance are not optional, they are the only absolutes.

India was supposed to the bright new future of humanity from then on. A nation that has consistently defied its' critics who predicted its' inevitable collapse yet never maximised on its' potential. But then, that is the secret of our history. Conquerors came but were conquered themselves being unable to turn their back to her delectable variety of lifestyles and chose to call her home. We will never burn out because we have always believed in the principles of a slow flame and constant stirring of whichever new flavour was added to our cooking pots. The sun did eventually set on the supposedly perfect British Empire and China can build a million snazzy flyovers and host 10,000 Olympics before it has what India was born with. The power to assimilate and to move forward ever so gracefully, like a wise old elephant. The basic understanding that people need not be carbon copies of each other to be able to live together and that too without the fear of an omnipresent iron hand above them.

Incidents like the Babri Masjid demolition, the Godhra train incident and yesterday's events eat away like cancer into that magnificent vision of India. Isn't it time that someone stepped up to the mantle and reminded everybody of what being an Indian means? We may have forgotten and as is most likely may not have known at all how to define a voluminous concept as India. Maybe we should stop trying to encapsulate India into a phrase and appreciate its randomness. It is important to understand that being an Indian is more about subscribing to a philosophy than to a nationality. India is a unfulfilled hope, an incomplete promise, a vision of how all human beings will eventually live. Can we just watch it passively being ripped into shreds by economic, social or religious strife? Isn't it high time that we squared up for this incredible adventure?