December 06, 2005

Firm and unshakeable

I wanted to wait till more or less the same time of day that I heard about it, to write this. No real reason, I suppose, except to wonder idly whether I would feel the same mixture of bewilderment and anger that I did then.

We sat at the dining table, around a shortwave radio. In 1992, as we had in 1975 and 1977, we turned to BBC to tell us the significant news about our own country. Like millions of others around the country, we knew AIR would fail us in our need to know, and that BBC would not. The irony there is striking by itself. But of course on that day in 1992, as in 1975 and 1977, we were not remotely interested in the irony.

Instead, I remember my open-mouthed amazement. Was I really hearing what I was? Was it possible that in the late 20th Century, a couple of hundred thousand men were swarming onto a mosque and breaking it down stone by stone, and that this was being hailed as an act of national honour? My honour?

You want to know what that obscene event changed forever? Bear with me.

In 1979, I ran for President of my college Student Union. (I got 17 votes out of about 2000 cast, but that debacle is not my point). The winner was a tall, athletic classmate with a genial smile. His name? Humayun Khan.

Not once in the years I knew him, and certainly never in the weeks he ran his campaign, did anyone make the connection between his name and a religion. (Any religion). This was secularism in the best way: religion was simply irrelevant to the relationships we formed, and certainly to the way we voted.

That is what that obscene event has changed forever.

For today, I know that you, reading my friend Humayun's name a few seconds ago, have already noted to yourself what his religion probably is. To my continuing shame, I know I think that. It remains utterly irrelevant to how I remember Humayun, but I think it. I know that if we held that election today, people will bring up the respective religions of the respective candidates and whisper insinuations about.

That is what that obscene event has done to us, to my country. My country.

But you know what? This is indeed my country. I have a stake in it that's just as firm and unshakeable as anybody else's here; and far more firm and unshakeable, I believe, than people who find national honour in vandalism. A hell of a lot of us have that stake. We're not about to give it up, we're not going away. We will fight for what this country is about every bit as passionately as anyone else. More.

And sometimes I think, maybe that resolve is what that obscene event has really brought about. There are silver linings, after all.


Anonymous said...

The tomb of Jahangir Khan lies seven kilometres outside the old city of Lahore, a short trip to the North-West across the River Ravi. At the time of its creation after Jahangir's death in 1627, it was reputedly a match for the Taj Mahal itself, until it was stripped of
its glory by the Sikh emperor, Ranjit Singh, who used the materials to
embellish the Golden Temple at Amritsar. All that now remains are four minarets at its corners, and a collection of marble edifices set in several acres of peaceful gardens...

So, do we bring down the Golden Temple? - which, going by the article is the result of undoing a splendid tomb.

An act of vandalism, I'd say.

Is there a common thread of argument between this and the Babri Masjid
issue? - I'd have to say YES on that count as well.


Kartik said...

I think my namesake is confused - the issue here is not what to demolish and what not -

And if you're of that opinion, then God only help you (pun intended) ...

But Dilip, honestly, I think there have been issues with religion even before the Babri Masjid demolition took place in our country, to be entirely fair - but definitely, a start should be made from somewhere to stop these mindless events.

And I'm sure there are *justifications* aplenty whichever side you are one (my words will no doubt be vindicated by the comments to follow on this and previous posts), but the simple truth of the matter is -

Nowhere is the killing of innocents in connection with this, or any other event, justified. Ever.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Karthik, so if there's this common thread, what's the point? The idea of pulling down the Golden Temple is as repulsive to me, if that's what you're getting at.

My point is this much: there is no redeemed honour in demolishing a mosque.

Kraktik, even if there had been religious issues before (I hardly mean to say we lived in a harmonious paradise before 1992), this one event has left a pernicious legacy. Now we invariably slot people by religion (which we determine from their names). I think that's sad and dangerous.

Anonymous said...


The moment you bring in such thing called "my country" with any degree of pride/ownership, you are sowing the seeds of some form of tribal identity, which is ultimately the basis of ugly manifestations like jingoism, fasscism, etc. "My country" automatically creates the "other", which is all other countries. If you had said "my world," it would have been in general agreement with what I think (perhaps mistakenly) is you worldview.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Anonymous, this is my country in the sense that I have a passport from this country. To me, that's all.

There have been plenty of times since '92 when I've been told that because I have the name I do, I have "loyalties" to some other country, or that I do not belong here, or that this country belongs to some others but not to me.

I'm saying just this much: this is my country too. OF course I believe this world belongs to me too, but given such things as passports, it is an (unfortunate) reality that I cannot easily go live anywhere else in the world.

wise donkey said...

is this the price of democracy i sometimes ask myself, these "spontaneous responses".

political parties directly or indirectly ignite these incidents as a show of strength.

The riots on a big scale or like burning of some girls in Tamilnadu after a judgement on Jaya on a "small scale".

But its not the price of democracy, its the price of having a slow untransparent legal system.

If the Delhi rioters had been punished, do you think the Mumbai riots would have occured?

Crimes occur because criminals know they will be long dead when the law wakes up.

and coming back to the post, I think now the people have realised that there are no more "good" and "bad" political parties. And to a certain extent performance matters. And India is Shining not when there is an ad on TV, but when we the voters feel the difference. Now have the parties got the message?

Shinu Mathew said...

Good stuff here. You guys are really concerned about the religious divide among us and the way we identify one with his name et al. But nowadays there is another dangerous divide is shaping up in Mumbai (specifically). The Grant Medical Collage(JJ hosp) incident and the Me-first aproach of two warring cousines made life of non-maharashtrians a hell. Now if I am to introduce myself with my name, suddenly there is a hostile look like, "Oh you are a Madrasi. Very soon you all will be kicked out" or someone even said it loudly when a scuffle occured between two guys on a local train. And these two cousines are inciting poor and middle class people to harass non-maharashtrians and make them believe that there will be no repurcussions.As Dilips Sir said, (he was my immediate boss at a time), I have an Indian Passport and hence I am Indian and my loyalty doesn't belong anywhere else, I have a right to travel and stay anywhere in India. If some goons and thugs are to decide who should travel where and not, where are we heading?
Last heard, the unruly mob called Shivsena issued a warning to the DEAN of the collage to expel those nine non-maharashtrians from the collage. Then what about the equally giulty Marathi students? This is why I chose to call it dangerous