Friday, November 28, 2008

The incomprehensible and the uncomprehending

Couldn’t sleep last night. Though I’d heard the news, I didn’t switch on the television until yesterday. I just didn’t want to see. It wasn’t until afternoon that I finally saw. The empty streets, the burning hotels, the blood, the bodies, the funerals, the speculation. There was nothing to do but wait to hear something else.

Couldn’t help thinking of my grandmother. She used to say that not a leaf moves but for the will of god. No wind dares blow, no water dares fall, no tree dares grow but for the will of god. It is hard to deal with, this idea.

It is hard to deal with the idea of a god whose will is terror. Or a god whose allows violence along with all the other things – poetry and passion, stories and films, dance and song, flowers and fashion. It makes no sense.

Many of my friends would say, the idea of god doesn’t make sense. Amongst the many messages I got last night, there was one that said ‘if the world had followed Darwin and Dawkins, and there was no god, we would have been much safer today’. The other messages were more to the point. Some mentioned madness. Most just asked ‘are you ok?’

Yes, I’m safe.

I too sent ‘are you okay’ messages. Scrolling down my phone list and scanning names, I was reminded of the time I had sent out similar messages, when the last blast had happened in Delhi. And before that, when I was in Delhi myself, and the blasts had happened in Bombay, I had sent out such messages. And before that, there had been blasts in Delhi and I had gotten such messages. I had had a cruel thought once – thank god I don’t have close friends in Kashmir or Guwahati. A pointless, frustrated thought. Friends, cities, fear. There’s no containing them. They go everywhere, and you take a little bit of them with you everywhere too.

And everywhere, the same questions: who and why and what for? And throughout, this constant thought in my head: why don’t they get it? There’s an awful pointlessness to these attacks, which I just don’t get. Worse, I am convinced that ‘they’ don’t get it either. Whoever executes these things, I don’t think they fully understand what they’re trying to accomplish.

Terror is one of those words that seems to have exhausted itself. Terror. Terrorist. What does it mean? It means a bomb going off. It means men with rifles. It means people prepared to die so that they are able to kill. And I keep thinking, surely, they can see this – that this is all they are. People who are taking the risk of dying, just so that other people also die. People planning to kill so efficiently that they plant bombs in hospitals, where the dead are likely to be rushed. Which will ensure that more people die.

Random people. They don’t know these people. These people don’t know them. A random date and time, some chosen venues, and then its blood and funerals and fires. And television crews, and grief and more talk of the spirit that will keep the city going, because a spirit cannot be killed.

I don’t know what they want, these terrorists. I don’t know yet about their religion, their top guys, their financiers. But I do know that they’re somewhat dim. Stupid, at some level. They might know how to put together a bomb. They might know how to stay under the radar of international intelligence services. But you’ve got to be dumb not to see that whatever larger plan the terror groups had in mind when planning this madness, it is not going to work.

I don’t think they’re listening but I want to tell these people that if your plan is to make people succumb to your vision of an ideal state, you’re going to fail. If your plan is make people culturally orthodox, you’re going to fail. If your plan is to show off, to show the world how powerful you are and how a whole nation is quavering because of you, you are also going to fail. Because you will, in a few more hours, end up as a helpless corpse, dependent on the mercy of the security forces to be even granted the dignity of a shroud.

If your plan is to do something memorable, then too you will fail. It will not take two days for the headlines to change. Already the news channels have taken to expressing concern about the cancellation of cricket matches. You will be utterly forgotten, except perhaps in the nightmares of the hostages who saw your faces. Because people want cricket, not nightmares.

And if your plan is to make a nation any less democratic through your violent, undemocratic means, you are going to fail.

Can you not read the signs, damn you? Do you not even read the newspapers? If terror could truly change people, then we would not have had a promising voter turnout in Jammu and Kashmir. That was a sign. To me, it signified that people had chosen their destiny. Nobody knows yet what they chose, and whether or not the people of Kashmir really want independence, but right now, they have shown the finger to violence by choosing democracy. They have chosen to say, we’ve had enough of fear and ruthlessness, enough of being spoken for; we want to be heard now.

This isn’t about the spirit of the people. It isn’t about people feeling secure either. I see all this terror and am just exhausted. I am not feeling spirited, not at all. Yet, the only desire I have right now is to be able to get all dressed up, step out of my house, catch a train, walk into a café, chat with friends, make plans, talk about books, watch a good play. And I will. We all will. Like we did after the last blast, and the blast before that one, and the one before.

If the frequency of the blasts is going up, and if there are annoying security checks even at hotels and cinemas and shopping complexes, well, we’ll go through the checks and go on living. There will be music and travel and art and blasphemy and new religions and old philosophies. There will also be territorial wars and faith-based conflict and bias and sycophancy and illegal immigration.

What kind of brainless twit cannot see that people do not change so easily? That no number of blasts can cure people of the desire for normalcy and fun. For beauty and passion and laughter. For money. And also for justice and truth.

These are the things people live for. And often, die for. If you try and take these things away from them, sooner or later, they turn upon you, disown you, destroy you. Or if they cannot do that, they exile themselves. They either leave or die fighting. Sometimes, they take years to make up their minds, even a couple of generations. But at no time in human history have the forces of violence been able to succeed in ruling people too long.

I just wanted to tell you that. Terrorists, whatever your big bosses are telling you, they’re wrong. You’re going to fail on every single count. Because you have not read enough history, or even enough religion. If you did, you could so easily have been the person you really want to be. The person everybody wants to be.

You could have been a martyr, if you joined the army or the police. Because that’s what’s happened, see? People are pouring out on the streets to pay their respects and to touch the dead bodies of the cops who died. Not yours.

You could have been an average young guy standing at VT station, waiting on the platform for his girlfriend to arrive. You could have seen her eyes light up as she got off a train, and you could have been happy. You could have danced!

You could have packed your bags and trotted off to a foreign country, perhaps. You could have sold flowers at a street corner. You could have made enough money to set up a flower shop. You could have learnt the names of all the flowers that have ever bloomed. You could have learnt to tell the difference between mogra, chameli, juhi and nargis with your eyes closed. You could have known how blessed this earth is, if you allow it to be. And you could have even looked forward to sinking into this delicious earth, which gave you a lifetime of fragrance and an impossible riot of colour.

You could have been one hardworking carpenter whose children and parents you have now taken away. You could have been a family man, patiently waiting for a train to go home for Bakr-eid, shiny tinseled fabrics folded neatly into your bags, thinking of the delighted little girls who would fight to sit in your lap and the quiet approval of a wife whose eyes hold the promise of heaven.

You could have been that man. But you are not going to be any of this, because you didn’t trust humanity. Because you didn’t trust in your own god. The one whose will decides how nations will grow and which way the wind will blow.

And guess what?

If your plan is to enter heaven, once again you will fail. Because there is no god – not even a strict, forbidding one – who takes into his bosom such scum who plant bombs in hospitals. Such scum who open fire upon anonymous old couples. Somebody so brainless, or so indiscriminating, that they don’t even stop to find out who they’re killing, and why. My mother says, god does not even reserve the right to forgive. He has said that only those you have hurt have the right to forgive you, and if they do not, then you cannot step into heaven. And nobody in this city is going to forgive you.

Don’t allow yourself the solace of thinking that you’ve done something very macho here. If all you can bring to this world is a death threat, you’re such a loser. A mosquito can do that. It is true that I am helpless against you (and the mosquitoes) or the havoc you cause in intangible, psychological ways that are may do worse things to us in the long run. But it is also true that in the long run, we are all dead.

So while I am alive, I am willing to go on trying to build the sort of world I want to live in. Who knows, if there is a god, then perhaps it is god’s will that my will be pitted against yours. And I think I am going to win.
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