Communal and us? Radhe Shyam Radhe Shyam
S P Singh
In its shriller-than-the-next-channel coverage of Mumbai blasts, each TV channel intermittently focused on people whose attire denoted their faith. It seemed de rigueur for anyone with a white Muslim cap to spout rabid nationalism for the benefit of TV cameras in terms shriller than anyone else’s.
“Jin logon ne kiya hai, jahannum mein jayenge,” said an old man with a religion-denoting beard. “Aap ka matlab hai unhe jahannum mein bhej dena chahiye?” the TV reporter seemed to be prodding the man, interpreting less and supplying more. You had to see the look on the man’s face to understand his horror. My God! he had done much less than expected! Predicting hell as destination was way below par, they had to be sent to hell. The man with the silver beard was trembling. “Jee han, jaldi se jaldi,” he almost gushed.
Allah was merciful. He was able to grab the mike and apply the corrective. The twenty-something petite mike-carrying shrieking reporter was all smiles now. The man in the studio was happy. India’s secularism had won another byte.
If you are a Salim or an Ahmed, you already know this. Tell your parentage. A reference to Bharat Mata or Mera Desh Mahan is mandatory for a few days if a few bombs have gone off anywhere across the country. Don’t leave your patriotism reside in your hearts. What’s it doing there, you nincompoops? Wear it on your sleeve, spew it around, sport a Deshbhagat’s t-shirt or strut around wearing a Jai Bharat baseball cap.
I know the feeling pretty well. I landed the job at The Press Trust of India in Delhi in 1991 and wore a turban. Another Sikh batch mate took care to snip his hair, shave off the beard and sport a cigarette between his lips a week before joining. That left just me. “Why are Sikhs killing the Hindus everyday in Punjab?” The innocence of the queries could have been amusing, were the gravity of their ignorance not so serious.
Mumbai 2006 was no different.
“Possibility of SIMI behind blasts,” the game started very innocently. May be Lashkar, added the next channel. Every channel had jumped over NDTV, so NDTV jumped higher than anyone. “Govt sources said Pakistan hand possible,” it reported claiming exclusive information. Govt sources? You mean there are people out there in the government of India who know that Pakistan is blowing up trains in Delhi but are not even willing to tell their own name? And the channel is not willing to reveal that either?
By now, Lashkar has condemned the blasts, SIMI has denied any role or link and condemned the blasts thoroughly, and the Mumbai police chief Pasricha has added that even politicians’ role was to be investigated. Lashkar, SIMI, Pakistan, politicians. Usual suspects all. Meanwhile, no one had told channels to shut up. So the game was continuing. ‘Mumbai is resilient’ became ‘Mumbai is not susceptible to communal violence.’ Everyone, please believe that. Next, you can also believe that Gujarat is the paragon of communal harmony. Anything else will be anti-national and an attack on pride of Gujarat.
In Delhi, my newly clean shaved friend had dropped ‘Singh’ from his name. Now my friends in Mumbai have gone in for gender-neutral name. ‘Seema’ is safer, a friend told me why he had named his daughter so. “‘Salma’ could some day put her in danger,” he explained. “So why ‘Seema’? Why not Radhika? Tell a lie, why be ambiguous?” I asked. He smiled. “Clearly, my dear friend, you do not have children. Ambiguity is what we looked for. ‘Radhika’ too is dangerous. ‘Seema’ can be Salim’s daughter or Radhe Shyam’s. Radhika is definitely Radhe Shyam’s,” I was being educated.
He is right. But he is wrong about my children. I am a father to Salmas, Seemas and even Radhikas. And my land is susceptible. And I am doomed to lose my children.
Someone please do something.
“They are looking into the debris at Matunga, at Jogeshwari, at all the blast sites,” the TV channels assure me. CCTVs are being installed. India Gate has been handed over to the army. “Did you notice that no party called for a bandh after the blasts?” an elitist TV channel noticed a novelty. The BJP promptly called a bandh.
Toll rises: Talks with Pakistan to be delayed. End of peace process. CBMs fail to impact conflict-resolution. One more blast in Delhi and we will hear results of SMS polls on TV channels. Should India attack Pakistan tonight? 88 per cent say Yes. 12 per cent are anti-nationals.
You kill chances of peace with a neighbour which is the only country where you don’t have to learn a new language, or new songs, or new movies or new music; where even the cycle-puncture mending man hangs the tyre atop the tree top the same way as you do. And then claim that we will defeat terrorism!
Idiots in the idiot box.
And idiots outside it too.
Every child in India has always wanted to grow up as a doctor or an engineer. Now they want to become computer engineers or Sachin Tendulkars. Our mothers still haven’t started giving birth to babies who want to kill people travelling to offices hanging by the coach straps.
Unless of course someone is killing the mothers, or their sons or brothers, or husbands.
Don’t look into the debris. Look where the violence is coming from. It never comes from across the border, or from a SIMI office, or a madrasa. It comes from our failure to listen to cries of mothers losing their sons in distant valleys, from our failure to understand why young strapping sardars were dropping ‘Singh’ from their names and shaving off their heads, from why a Salma or a Radhika felt less secure than a ‘Seema’.
And from our smug satisfaction when the frail old man with a white cap says as a matter of duty that perpetrators must be sent to hell. Next time he will leave the white cap home, and shave off the beard. Ambiguity helps.
Even in dangerous Mumbai trains.
Just drop ‘Ali’ or ‘Kumar’ from your names. Sometimes it takes less than a 5,000-year-old civilization to trip. Sometimes it just takes a clutch of TV channels.
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