AN INDIAN ELEGY

A well of thoughts, dried up. A stream of consciousness, scarred. A side of psyche, bruised. Mind keeps sinking into the sea of numbness. Is it a state of absolute paranoia? Is it fear? Is it a feeling of vulnerability? I don’t know. My heart is ash. My feelings are frozen. My eyes are dead. My thoughts are cold. Nothing stirs in me. Nothing surprises me. I expect the worst. Human beings stink.
Last few days weigh heavy on the soul. The images of a deadly strike resurface on the retina, every now and then. Images of blood on the street, of the dead and the dying, of disembodied limbs, of heartbreak hotels with many lives holed up inside, of grenades and gunpowder, of booming guns, of raining bullets, of billowing smoke, of smouldering eyes, souls.
Scenes from a city under siege — a city of dreams. All over the country, people longed for Bombay. And for a couple of days, the people of Bombay were longing for their Bombay. The irony of it all couldn’t have escaped me. Many, with years of love and longing in and for Bombay, saw their city being held hostage to the agents of terror, to the merciless merchants of death, and were willing to do anything to reclaim the city. Many brave Indian men added glorious chapters in the history of heroism. I pay a silent, tearful homage to all of them who died, fighting valiantly, thinking little of their own survival and more of those who were caught in the crossfire.
The dying swell and heave in hospitals and alone in lonely rooms. Those ridden with excruciating pain writhe in courage and terror in private places or in hospital wards or amongst friends and family who look at them with fear in their eyes as they slowly disappear from the world, limb by limb, devoured by an invisible realm that encroaches on this one. The victims continue to writhe in pain while bureaucrats turn their files into endless corridors of cold facts.
They came laced with stacks of arms, ammunitions to kill. Indiscriminately. Men. Women. Children. Hindus. Muslims. Christians. Jews. Black. White. Kill without fear or favour. Kill. Kill. Kill. Even before news of ‘India’s 9/11” were flashed on television, I had, on the evening of September 26, laid my hands on Ben Okri’s In Arcadia. (I must confess I had read little of Okri before this one. I had been wanting to pick his tomes for an unusually long time, but couldn’t ever do so. Blame it partly on my sluggishness and partly on the business of being busy. I sooo hate being busy, always feel like having all the time in the world to do anything, to do everything — listen to a few more songs, read a few more books, watch a few more movies, meet a few more people, do a little more of this, do a little more of that).
So there I was, sated in my own world, happy that I would be reading something new, that I had eventually managed to zero in on Okri who was finally on my bedside table, along with Stephen King (Duma Key), John le Carre (A Most Wanted Man), John Updike (Terrorist), Haruki Murakami (Kafka On the Shore) and Sebastian Barry (The Secret Scripture), among others. Little did I know that that very night the worlds of soooo many people would fall apart, that the tragedy would see so much devastation, so many deaths, cause so much trauma, engender so much anguish. It was, by all accounts, an attack right in our neighborhood, a loud knock of terror on our doorstep. A strike at the heart of a city that embodies the idea of India.
Nightmare stories on the news; nightmare stories wandering around in broad daylight. Our sleep clogged with horrors. Our waking hours crowded with despair. Death, decay, and destruction have taken over the air we breathe. We breathe in death, and breathe our neurosis.
As the news unfolded, I, besides shedding tears at the tragedy, also accompanied Okri to Arcadia: while I was very much in the real world with Bombay (I prefer to call the city thus, politics over names be damned!) writhing in me like the phantom pain of an amputee, I was also simultaneously in the grip of a profound and enchanting world which Okri laid bare with fantastic finesse. So my world, for a few days, became a mix of reality and fiction: I was not running away from reality, and yet I was trying to find an escape route to Arcadia. What the eyes saw was reality and yet it seemed to be sooo stranger and fiercer than fiction. As I was trying to make sense of what was happening in the great Indian city, Okri tumbled out of Arcadia and got mingled with the verbal mess that was floating around me: joining in the din of the discussions in studios, mindless ranting, panic, aggression et al. In Okri’s words (which I have presented to you in bold, with a few distortions when required), I could hear the echoes of all-is-not-well-with-the-world, of things-falling-apart and centre-left-too-paralysed-to-hold. May be I had picked the book to get away from my miserable attempts at propping up falling lives, away from the dehydrating boredom of the daily round in this inferno that we call the modern world.
Okri echoed all things that ail us, the symptoms of many of our maladies. No one seems to know when and how shall we find their remedies! Not even our politicians, the folks we entrust the destiny of our beloved nation with. Seems like nothing less than a revolution will do. We can’t continue to die like this. And if heads don’t roll now, we would roll with the behemoth of our begotten grief and crush all delusions of grandeur and invincibility and the castles of rock-hard indifference, insensitivity and apathy. I was and am angry with the way things are happening in the country I love. And my anger knows no limit when innocent lives are lost, when trails of death and destruction are unleashed in streets with such regularity.
And therefore I was not surprised when, in the aftermath of the attacks, the anger and resentment against Pak and, by default, Muslims soared. A fellow scribe reacted thus: Behenchod (Sisterfucker) Muslims. Another said: “All Muslims are murderers.’’ Yet another said: ‘’All Muslims are terrorists. They have no right to live in India.” I, a Muslim, listened. And yet, it was for the first time, I didn’t feel offended. Not the least. I understood. When anger knows no ebbing, it finds out its easy outlets, in words and gestures, in ferocious phrases, in rancid expressions. Many Muslims also fell victim to the terrorists’ random fire. But who do the Muslims curse? This brings us to the vital point: Are we right to associate terrorism with a particular religion? As for the generalisation, it is after all part of a bigger malaise. But no one has the time and patience to trace the roots of that malaise: Enough is enough. While we must do anything to ensure that those behind the attack on our beloved city are not spared, we must also remember that just as a bit of human spirit dies with every dastardly act that the terrorists perpetrate, a bit of India also dies when we go against the very foundations of its multiplicity (much like the multitude of Bombay, India’s own melting pot, its cultural mosaic), plurality and tolerance.
We may be a Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Christian or a Jew. We may be a believer or a non-believer. An atheist or an agnostic. A Punjabi, Bengali or a Malyali. But shouldn’t we address ourselves as Indians? Shouldn’t we be happy with this identity alone? Should we need any other? Isn’t it true that in the victory of any one of us lies the victory of all of us? And in the defeat of any one of us lies our collective defeat?
Can we stop India being forced to die, bit by bit?

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