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.
Sixteen years ago, on this very day my father breathed his last. Each year this day I remember him. If not of him, there may not have been project why as he is the one who instilled in me the passion and compassion needed to steer such a venture.
Each year this day I remember him, yet each day I see him live in the hope and smiles of the little eyes that greet me as I walk into my office. For Ram was all about hope and belief.
Is dying words to one of his dearest friend were: have faith in India.
As I remember him today war rages in Mumbai, hundreds of innocent souls have died and the lives of many have been irreversibly transformed by the today’s foe: terrorism. Yet as I remember him , dying words refuse to pale; on the contrary they seem louder than ever.
All screams to the contrary: the prevalent terror attack, the empty and flawed babble of the powers that be, the hate filled reactions of the so called educated, the insidious feeling of hope lost and more of the same. And yet as I remember the one that gave me life, I am filled with renewed commitment to the cause I defend. I am convinced that somehow the tiny effort that goes by the name of project why is a step in the right direction, that of hope.
Nothing can destroy the spirit of a nation. Nothing should be allowed to do so. And the spirit lives in the humblest of souls, the ones we chose to ignore. For the past three days everyone – I mean every one who could afford to do so – was glued to TV screens watching operation Mumbai. But there were millions who went about their lives without a fuss. They did so with the rare dignity and courage that often goes unnoticed. And yet they represent the India one needs to have faith in, the backbone that allows each one of us to stand, the ones we have not only forsaken but betrayed.
I did send messages inquiring about the well being of the few friends I have in Mumbai. This is what one of them wrote back:
We all went out for dinner last night to Taj Land’s End in Bandra. Everyone else I called refused to go out. The hotel was stunned to hear us ask for reservation. When we went there – the police cordon started 50 meters outside the hotel. and they said – the hotel was closed…none of the restaurants were open. We called the restaurant – they confirmed our booking..then we were asked to leave our car at the police cordon and walk. when we went to the restaurant we learnt – we were the first customers at any taj restaurant since the attack.we popped champagne. and we toasted Taj. for staying open for business after all the mayhem, and despite having no customers and of course we toasted Bombay. Even if it was one family out on the streets of Mumbai – we were there and no terrorist or army or police or calamity can keep us down!
Today I remember Ram and today I have faith in India!
I went to sleep on Tuesday in a world that seemed well, barring the normal hitches and glitches that one has come to accept as part of the deal of living in today’s day and age: a school girl crushed under a bus, traffic snarls leading to incidents of road rage, noisy election drama replete with empty promises… one could have said all is well in the kingdom of…
Morning dawned and I went about my usual chores. I settled in front of my computer to take on another day. A few minutes later a skype call from my daughter living in London shook me out of my comfort bubble: Mumbai was under attack and this was not your isolated crude bomb that blasts in some innocuous area and kills a handful of innocent souls, but a coordinated attack that would seem more real in reel life! Swanky hotels, gun battles, hostages, indiscriminate firing, encounters, chases on high seas, assaults and all that makes a good pot boiler script. It went on through the night, the day and the night again and was for real: Mumbai, India’s commercial capital was under attack!
While the battle raged on, and Mumbai smoldered in more ways than one, a bunch of children in perhaps one of the most deprived slum of India’s capital city were busy watching a street magician as he conjured one act after the other. These were children from all faith, caste or creed linked by one simple reality: poverty. Like all children they have dreams and like all children they dream big, still unaware of the harsh fact that dreams come at a price they may never be able to pay. Like the magician they can still conjure their dreams, fuelled by what they see around them on or the screen of the small TV that is the pride of every slum home.
They will one day grow up, and most of them will accept reality and learn to survive; some may drown their broken dreams in easily available hooch, others may vent their frustration on their loved ones. But as I look at these children I wonder how many will be tempted to take the wrong turn and seek quick gratification by resorting to petty crime and how many will fall prey to predators seeking young minds and bodies to perpetrate their heinous agendas.
The pictures of the young men responsible for the horror in Mumbai are chilling. They are of your regular kid next door, the branded jean and tshirt. The kind you would smile at. And yet they are the ones willing to lay their lives on the block for the cause they espouse.
How many of my kids could turn to this if no one was there to guide them, soothe them, mentor them and above all ensure that they get some of their hijacked childhood back. The plight of the slum kid is no bed of roses: beaten at home, caned at school, riled by his peers, rejected by others, sometimes hungry for food, for love, for understanding he lives a lonely life and sees his dreams crash one after the other. How hurt and humiliated do you have to become to cross the line. I do not know, but the fact is that some if not many do.
Once again we are faced with the question that needs to be asked but that no one is quite willing to, let alone answer. Who is responsible?
Some of the terrorists will be caught. They may even be tried and punished. But are they the true perpetrators? And come to think about it who are the real culprits: the predators lurking with their indoctrination spiel or a fractured society where dreams of some can never be fulfilled, where hate and animosity are easily ignited and stoked?
Disturbing questions that nevertheless demand urgent and honest answers.
Little Prakash is not being punished. Far from that. He is just spending his daily 20 minutes in the sun, part of his treatment the rickets he acquired because he lived a huge part of his tiny life in the dark.
Every time I look at him as he treats me either to his lopsided smile or to his rather cross look, my heart goes out to him. Where he should have by now been hopping, jumping and babbling, Prakash can barely stand though he is well over two. He only cut his first tooth a few weeks back.
Prakash has been a student of pwhy for more than half his life. For many months he simply sat propped up by the wall and barely interacted with others. It is only now that he has begun joining his pals and participating in some of the activities. But the road is long and the future uncertain. We do not know whether little Prakash will be able to one day catch up with all his pals. We only know that we will do everything we can to make sure that the he does.
A few days back a mail dropped in my inbox. It was from a young lady who loves in the US and who has been a staunch supporter of pwhy. I have never met her in person but a couple of years ago when we were going through one of our dark moments she and her friends got together and organised a super raffle for us aptly called two-to-tango!
More than what was collected, it was the love and support they showered me that overwhelmed me. Sonal is now a married lady ans till lives in the US. Last week, the first snow in her city made her think of the pwhy children and she wrote wanting to send them warm clothes. I gently convinced her that it would make mores sense if I bought them here as postage would be prohibitive. Sonal agreed but with a small request: if you could have them gift wrapped, I would feel really happy. a little something extra….As it is, it pains me that I cannot be with the kids there and that I have to live so far away from my home…..but if I know that they enjoyed receiving them, and see their happy faces in the pics, I would feel like I can enjoy my holidays this year! 🙂
We did just that. And the packets were distributed on Sonal’s birthday and the children made a big thank you banner for her. The pictures were duly sent to her. This is and always will be my best birthday gift she simply wrote back.
What truly touched me in this roadshow as Sonal called it was the fact that she insisted that the gifts be wrapped as to her that made it that more special particularly for children who rarely receive gifts.
As I was still basking in the warmth of this wonderful gesture another mail dropped by. Young Harriet who came to spend a few days with us last month wanted to know how she could send some of the money she had collected for us. She has also informed me that she was busy planning a cake sale in her school and had also asked all her friends and family to give a donation to pwhy instead of the usual Xmas gifts!
Sonal and Harriet, two wonderful souls that make you believe that all is well in the world.