I wish I could see the enemy as Muslim…makes it easy to segregate and focus on someone. But I cannot. And I do not say this merely because I want to score brownie points. The time for me being diplomatic is long past.
When I ‘think’ Muslim, I come up with a bus driver who drove me as a 19 year old from Lucknow to what I believed was Fatehpur and which turned out after 5 gruelling hours to be the wrong hamlet. He saw my apprehension and made me sit in the long-ago emptied bus while he made the conductor make inquiries. Then he told me to stay put and made me sit on the front seat where he could keep an eye on me. We drove back to Lucknow, night falling fast. A youngster sat next and did what idiots that age do...he sang some miserable Hindi love songs and sat so close that I could smell his hair oil. The bus driver threw him off the bus and made a very elderly gentleman sit next to me, who coughed in my ear nonstop but it was infinitely more reassuring! The bus driver was Muslim…he wore the white skullcap and white kurta-pyjama. I can see him very clearly in my mind’s eye two decades later! He dropped me very close to my grandmother’s house with strict instructions to go straight home! He knew I was Hindu. I never thanked him in my relief and I know he most probably is dead as he was old then. I wish I could meet him. He believed himself responsible for a young girl who had strayed from home. That is a big debt which I lug around.
The second one who comes to mind is a colleague of my jijaji who was in the Indian Air Force. They were posted in Baroda and the communal riots were deadly. The colleague was Muslim and was asked to remove his name tag by friends. He was livid and did not do so. Baroda was burning…my jijaji would try and accompany him always. That Muslim was in the Armed Forces and it was enough!
When I think ‘muslim’, I am reminded of my son’s best pal in a former school...Ali. Ali and Sangram were inseparable. Ali’s mother fed Sangram so many times that I lost count. I know that if ever Sangram was in trouble and near them, they would enfold him like I would Ali! I have no doubt in my mind…these two even looked alike!
When I think “Muslim”, I see a gentle classmate Shahgoofta, I see another who would cry on my shoulder as she did not want to get married and the D-day was approaching fast. I remember the long talks and her desperation to study further.
In Mumbai, I was driven about by Khan for 4 months, a hotheaded fellow whom I clicked with instantly and we would chatter non-stop on the 3 hr long journeys. Now Khan is most opinionated and has something to say on every topic. He answered all my questions that I put to him with no hesitation…we discussed religion among many other topics. I would ask my husband to send me only Khan specially if I had to travel alone and return at night. I trust the guy.
I was in the 4th grade or maybe 5th, when I read about Abdul Hamid during our Hindi lessons…and since I had never heard of him, his story held me spellbound when the lesson finished with “woh veergathi ko prapt huay”, I cried. I wanted him to live and kill some more enemy soldiers. It never struck me that Abdul Hamid was Muslim…he was a true hero and he won the highest award there is for bravery. We would play act at home and march around yelling ‘Company Quarter Master Havildar Abdul Hamid ki Jai” for days after this lesson. And I still get gooseflesh when I narrate his story to my son.
The enemy for me is who threatens the safety of me and my countrymen. That is why I feel that we all need to do a stint in the army…all of us, for about a year. All this mistrust will vanish if we defend our country side by side. It will become a non issue…ask any fauji…his comrade is his comrade and the hell with religion and politics. When one faces enemy fire together, see how fast the non essentials fall away from lives!