Monday, April 21, 2008

Koi Bole Ram Ram Koi Khudaye...

She bows her head in reverence as she walks past the temple. There is a hospital adjoining the temple. Her husband is getting treated there. Later in the day, she visits the temple to pay her obeisance. She is a Sikh.
Lord Ganesh is reclining in a corner. People are waiting anxiously for their beloved to get better and healthy. This is the waiting hall of the hospital adjoining the temple. Encased in glass, He observes the people around Him with His tiny wooden eyes. Among the many there is a pair of eyes which seems to be fixed on Him. The pair completes the face of a woman whose cheeks have marks of dried tears. Her head is resting against the wall and her hands are on her lap. The fingers of her hands are touching each other but it’s an incomplete attempt to come together in a prayer. Unblinking and relentless in their plea her eyes stare at Him. It’s a strange communion. And if eyes could have spoken then people would have heard her reciting the Koran. She is a Muslim.
An attendant calls out a name. A throaty voice acknowledges from back of the room. A familiar sound of feet shifting to find their place in slippers, and a crackle of a plastic bag being searched, prelude the slow drag of feet on the floor. He is old and his skin is weather beaten. He moves with a slight bend of his back and holds a plastic bag in one hand. The cotton shirt which he wears hangs from his body and is almost weary of its own existence. There is a small bottle kept in his shirt pocket. The weight of the bottle pulls the shirt further down. But what is there in that bottle? As if to shield it from prying eyes, his hand immediately rises up to clutch at the bottle. The bottle is precious to him. It is far more precious for his son. The bottle contains the holy rose water from the Ajmer Sharif. It was Urs – the Union, last week when he got the rose water. People had thronged the shrine. Devout hands had washed the shrine with rose water. And as if to complete the Union they drank the water which was so fortunate to have cleansed the floors of the shrine. In order to take the water home, people had used handkerchiefs and small towels to soak up the water from the wet floors. The wet cloth was then wrung to extract the water into a bottle. He had done the same. He is a Hindu.
Some hundred kilometers away, a town in central Gujrat is witnessing the murder of a six months pregnant woman. The woman is returning home. Riots have broken out and she is finding it hard to get a safe way through the prevailing chaos. Which route should she take? Her home is just a block away. She takes a right. The street appears to be empty and is a bit hidden so she should be safe. She enters the street and starts running towards the other end. Just one more turn and then across the main road lies her safety. She should be able to make it. She curses under her breath the people who have precipitated this violence. And then curses that moment when she had stepped out from her house to meet her tailor. But her thoughts come to a sudden halt when a man springs in front of her and blocks her way. He is holding a sword. The entire scene is so unreal that the horror of the situation takes some time to register. She takes a few steps back and is about to run when the man yanks her back by her hair and pulls her close to him. She cries for mercy but he chokes her to silence. It’s high time that you people are taught a lesson! Her resistance is no match for his brute force. He invokes the name of his Lord and proceeds to prevail over her where he denies her of her modesty and finally of her life. The man leaves behind the dying woman and walks away carrying the blood smeared sword now thirsty for more. Drops of blood falling on the ground leave behind a trail with one end leading to madness and the other end leading to fate. In her dying moments the woman touches the blood oozing out from her stomach and wets her lips with it. That was the only way that she could have kissed her unborn child. The child is perhaps fortunate to have had a premature end; fortunate because it would have died a thousand times over in its lifetime suffering wounds of rebuke and derision inflicted by hate and malice. The child would have born a Muslim. The Hindu sword saved at least this pain.

The above account is a piece of fiction, but one can’t help reading truth in those lines. At times a panacea, at times an anathema, religion perhaps is the greatest irony today.
A famous ghazal by Sudarshan Faakir comes to my mind -
aaj ke daur mein ae dost ye manzar kyoon hai.
zakhm har sar pe har ik haath mein paththar kyoon hai
jab haqeeqat hai ke har zarre mein tu rehta hai
fir zamin par kahin masjid kahin mandir kyoon hai
apna anjaam to maaloom hai sabko phir bhi
apnee nazron mein har insaan sikandar kyoon hai
zindagi jeene ke qaabil hi nahin ab "Faakir"
warna har aankh mein ashkon ka samandar kyoon hai