Tag Archives: communal harmony

An old man and a terrorist

For good or bad, there some incidents in life that get lodged in the corner of mind.

One such incident took place about three years back – over the course of thirty minutes.

Having recently completed a course in journalism I returned to my home Delhi to join a media house – full of passion and ideals. One day I left home earlier than usual to cover a story that fitted my idealistic bill and hailed an auto to take me to my desired destination.

In the short time that I had not lived in Delhi a lot had changed. The metro was being constructed near my place, the roads were filled with debris and pot-holes and the traffic was a royal pain on that stretch.

Add to the mix temperatures of over 42 degree centigrade and the traffic really heated things up – literally and otherwise.

The harsh sun and fumes from the surrounding vehicles, which heated up the open egg-shaped autorickshaw rather quickly, frenzied the aged driver. He fretted and complained about the city, the so-called development, cursed the metro that threatened his livelihood, the government, bureaucrats and more.

Worried about getting late for my meeting I entertained the man with an occasional smile or frown, as the situation demanded, and threw in “hmmms” and “haans” after strategic intervals.

The man educated me about a lot of things – how the metro will affect the city, how government policies are misused and by whom, what development means for the different strata of the society and how security of the country needs policies that the government in not ready implement.

Needless to say by this time I had started paying attention for the simple reason that he was giving me perspectives that seemed fresh. I did not agree with a lot that he said but there were things I couldn’t brush off both because I hadn’t, and probably won’t, face those problems.

But what really made me sit up was when he started talking about the army and security. The frail, small old man literally trembled with rage and shook his fist angrily as he spoke about Ajmal Kasab being treated with biryani.

“Government ke paas gudda nai hai. Yeh buddhon ko bitha rakha hai upar, woh mujh jaise budhe kya bacheyenge desh ko? (The government doesn’t have guts. They have placed these old people at the top, how can those men who are as old as me protect the country?” his rhetoric question seemed to be directed to himself.

I looked into his red eyes in the rear-view mirror as his pitch rose with the intensity of his dialogue. “Desh ko jawan khoon ki zaroorat hai. De do bandhook unke haathon mein aur chhoot de do unhe. Border par jayen aur uda de sab sale atankwadiyon ko…dhain dhain dhain (The country needs young blood. Give them arms and give them the freedom to shoot. Let them go to border and shoot all the bastards (terrorists),” he almost screamed.

He told me it was his firm belief that the country can’t be led by men “jinke paon kabar mein latak rahein hain” (who have one leg in the coffin).

While I have heard many people talk about the future of the country (and the world), the economy and sometimes even the burden of world peace resting on the shoulders of the young, never had anyone displayed such blood-bathed faith in my lot.

It scared me. It even inspired me. While I have never been able to (nor tried to) justify war, I know it is a necessary evil simply because human greed has no end. And if a war must be fought, then the young probably have the energy and the passion to execute it best.

But the anger and almost emotional belief that I saw in the mirror scared me. The passion with which he talked about the need to just kill “them” and not spare their lives just to give them a royal treatment in our jails fascinated me. The way his body shook with rage made me think this was personal.

I saw him look at me in the mirror and his eyes softened. Maybe he saw the shock in my eyes as he talked about shooting the people who threatened our land.

By this time I had reached my destination and the old may turned to face me and smiled.

“Bete mein aapko ek baat bata doon? Mera naam Abdullah hai. Mein musallman hoon. Bahut logon se suna hai saare musallman Pakistani hai, sab atankwadi hai. Mera mana bas ek cheez hai, koi bhi mere desh ke upar aankh utha kar dekhe toh woh mera dushman hai. Chahe woh kisi bhi kaum ka ho (Daughter, can I tell you something? My name is Abdullah. I am a Muslim. I’ve heard many people say all the Muslims are Pakistani, they are all terrorists. I believe in only one thing, if anyone threatens my country he is my enemy no matter which religion he belongs to),” he said softly while fishing out his white skull-cap.

Wrapped safely in the soft material of his cap was an old, worn picture, as if it was handled every few hours. He gave me the picture. A young man, probably in his mid-20s posed in the khaki uniform of a jawan.

“Mera beta tha. Kargil mein maara gaya. Maine isi saal apne sabse chote bete ko bhi army mein daal diya hai. Bas yahi umeed hai apne desh ke liye kuch kare chahe usmein uski bhi jaan chali jaaye (My son. He died in Kargil. This year I have enrolled my youngest son in the army as well. I just hope he does something for his country even if it gets him killed as well),” he closed his moist eyes.

I handed him his son’s picture along with the auto fare and a 20 extra. Smilingly he handed back the extra money. Pointing at a near-by mosque he said, “Kuch der mein namaaz ka waqt ho jaayega. Aaj yahin aa kar padh loonga. Tumhara kaam kab tak khatam hoga? Kahogi toh intezaar kar loonga. (It will be time for namaaz soon. Today I’ll read my prayers here. By when will you leave? I could wait for you if you want.)”

I told him not to wait. There were few autos to be found in that area because there were fewer customers around.

He drove off, maybe to find another listener. And I never saw that wrinkled face again.

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Legends of the land of eighteen tides

People who have read Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tides can be divided into two groups — those whose desire to go to the Sunderbans is fuelled and those who are either going or have gone there. I haven’t met a third kind till now.

Ramapad Mandal works on completing the statue of his ‘Ma’

And I can check both these boxes.

The Royal Bengal Tiger’s abode is full of vignettes — tales of death, accounts of pain, and narratives of miraculous escapes from the jaws of death. And lurking in the corners are myths and legends.
One such legend left me spellbound. I had found it buried in the folds of The Hungry Tide much before I encountered it in Sunderbans — the miracles of Bon Bibi.
In preparation of the festival dedicated to the Goddess, Ramapad Mandal, a fisherman by profession and idol-maker by choice, delicately carved out the features of the Goddess. “Ma amader rokhha kore (Ma protects all of us)”, he said.
This deity has a legend that no villager would deny. “If one falls in danger all he has to do is call for Ma and she would be there. I have faced tigers but they have never touched me,” Mandal continued.
Bon Bibi, folklores have it, was sent by Allah to protect the Sunderbans, while also making it habitable for human. Bon Bibi and her brother Shah Jongoli came all the way form the holy city of Medina to do the bidding of God.
The siblings shared the duties and while Bon Bibi took on the mantle of protecting the people, Shah Jongoli lived in the forests to fight the much-feared demon king Dokkhin Rai who took on the form of a tiger to kill humans.

Unfinished statue of Bon Bibi — the Goddess of Sunderbans

The ‘Lady of the Forests,’ or Bon Bibi, and Shah Jongoli fought off Dokkhin Rai, forbidding him from killing people and gave him his own space — the forests — to reside in and rule over.

Chiselling with great concentration, Ramapad — who looks 65 and is 40 — goes on to tell us how human greed threatened to destroy peace.
“Greed knows no bounds. Once, this man named Dhona went into the forests to make a fortune from honey. He took on board a young boy named Dukhey (meaning sorrowful). In the forests Dhona came to an agreement with Dokkhin Rai to exchange Dukhey for treasures troves of honey and Dukhey was left behind for the tiger-demon. But, just in the moment of danger Dukhey called for Ma and was rescued.”
Ramapad’s sun-baked face creased into a gentle smile as he moulded the clay and said, “You must not disregard this. It is not fiction, it is a true story. Everyone here knows it.”
The legends hint at different socio-religious parameters in the area. The Goddess has an Islamic origin, but the idol reminds one of the Hindu deity Durga. The rituals have Hindu undertones but always start with the name of Allah. The tales have also been a secularising force in this land of eighteen tides
The legends also mark a clear distinction between the wild and the inhabited land.
“The jungles are the tigers’ domain. When we step in there we must be careful,” Mandal concluded.