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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 21 New Delhi May 11, 2019

I don’t know anymore, what to make of what

Tuesday 14 May 2019

by Farzana Behram Contractor

All I know is, without exception, everyone seems to be afraid. Afraid of the outcome of the ongoing elections. Fear and uncertainty seem to be the general emotion everywhere. What will happen to our lives if the BJP comes back to power, majority or coalition, it doesn’t matter. Twice as bad? Fact remains that we put our hopes in this party and they let us down. Lies, deceit, pretense... they misled, mistreated, caused confusion, twisted and re-twisted facts, they really did make a mockery of our intelligence.

Governance... did that really happen? Especially in the last three years. The government just seemed to be on a campaign trail, preparing for the elections. All they were doing is planning and plotting, playing all the time. Defending themselves, strategising. PR machinery and IT department in full control, constantly in damage- control mode. That is, when they were not churning out fake news, whipping up Nationalistic fervour, running the Opposition down. No stone was to be left unturned. By hook or by crook, they had to win these elections. Never mind what the world thought or believed. They believe they are the best.

I have two yardsticks with which I judge myself. One, when I sleep at night, do I sleep? Or toss and turn, let the demons of my mind take over. Feel awful about something. And two, when I wake up and go brush my teeth, first thing in the morning, can I look myself in the eye and smile at myself. If I can’t, I try and be honest with myself, face things squarely. If I have to apologise to someone, I do. Forgiving someone or even yourself is a cleanser. And ‘sorry’, simply is a promise that you will not repeat the offensive deed again.

But am I being naïve? Am I expecting something so evolved from a government that really has sown seeds of hatred all around? That turned a blind eye to lynching and a deaf ear to cries of pain and torture. How subtly it was done at first and, so blatantly later on. So, emboldened they got, so brazen. Nothing mattered, absolute power and self-importance paved their bloody path. But you know what —naivete aside, I do believe like most of you, that what goes around, comes around. And heaven and hell are right here, on earth. So, let us stop for a moment and see what we have.

Hindus being led, urged to believe Muslims are bad, they must be done away with. Hurt them, hit them, kill them, wipe them off from the face of the earth. At least let’s throw them out of India. Really! Pray, why? What gives you the right? Are we talking about living beings here or some robots? NRC: Assam, Bengal ... Get ready for bloodshed. If you are Hindus, Sikhs or Buddhists, we accept you. We will issue you citizenship even if you don’t have the necessary papers. The rest can go to hell. Christians included!

And what’s with the Christians. They are such peace-loving, fun-loving people, involved in their own small world, happy-going and what not, what have they done to raise your shackles? And the Dalits ... makes me want to cry, the treatment meted out to them. What have they done to deserve the inhuman atrocities inflicted on them. In this day and age, you differentiate human beings on caste?

Please pause for a moment and reflect on this very sobering thought. You or I, any of us, could have been born a Dalit. Taking birth in a hut or a palace, in a Muslim or Hindu home, is simply a matter of chance. Just think about it. Shouldn’t we should embrace them and all human beings in our fold? Love and respect and cherish one another ... like we did as children, when our friends were from every community. We were so much the richer for that. Christmas, Diwali, Eid, summer holidays, school tours, we looked forward to all this. We shared life and we shared laughter, and we were so happy. We never thought about religion, our parents never veered our thinking in that direction.

Why can’t it be so, again?

New India? I don’t want it. Please give me back my old India. It was loving and secure, so comfy, so carefree. So unfettered. First it was Bombay that went down, it changed its colour and character, no thanks to the riots in the aftermath of the fall of the Babri Masjid, and then bit by bit the North of India. I shudder to think about women and young girls and the rampant rape cases:

Not to stray anymore, let me address the elephant in the room directly. Mr Modi, why did you allow our nation to come to such a pass? I trusted you. I believed you when you made all those promises. Yes, I am a Muslim and I voted for you the last time around. You let me down. You lied. You did not take care of our country. You caused immense human suffering. You were given the opportunity, you failed. Yes, you represented us well abroad and I used to feel proud at first. And then I was disillusioned; there wasn’t any strong foreign policy in place, no real agenda. How was India gaining? It just seemed like personal growth, new friendships for you. Hobnobbing at the highest level must have been rather pleasure-inducing.

Mr Modi, why did you look the other way when poor human beings were being killed, beaten with sticks, with bare hands, lynched to death? For what? Transporting cattle? Suspicion and charges of eating its meat? That’s a crime, you have to die! Does it matter that overnight livelihoods were callously snatched? That there were starving families, children dying at home? So, what if farmers are crying? So, what if they can’t afford to feed their old and ailing cattle? So, what if they just let them loose to run amuck and destroy fields with whatever little they are managing to grow? Mr Modi, read what senior journalist Akar Patel has to say. It’s an eye opener. I want to give up milk, all dairy in fact, after reading what I did. I respect all animals, cows included.

And why did it take you eight days to come out and tell the nation, don’t hurt the Kashmiri students? This was a tepid and lukewarm response to the unfolding tragedy in the wake of the Pulwama attack on our soldiers. Thousands of students, young and frightened, were left to fend for themselves, trying to find ways of going home back to Kashmir, trying to find ways of not getting raped, beaten and killed. It’s horrific. The only way to understand this emotion is put yourself in that situation. Or imagine if your child, just 15 or 16 years old, was in that precarious position. What would you feel?

I would like our Prime Minister to know, I don’t particularly care about development, economic glory, jobs—not in the face of what I am talking about. All I want is a sense of security, of peace and freedom. To know that if I have been wronged justice will be done. I want a sense of togetherness and, dare I say, I want to feel loved in my country, by my colleagues, my fellow beings. I want respect as a citizen. I don’t want to feel threatened and scared, worried to speak my mind. To call a spade a damn spade. I don’t want to feel alienated. I don’t want to look over my shoulder all the time, speak in whispers or worry if I will be labelled unpatriotic, and anti-national.

I don’t have to wear my nationalistic heart on my sleeve, do I? I never did in the past. Yet I know, then as now, I would defend my country’s name in any manner, in any situation. That I am really, truly proud to be an Indian, the ‘old’ Indian, not the new one who looks at another in distrust and judges people solely on the basis of caste and creed.

And yes, I don’t have to be a Paki-basher to prove my credentials. They are our neighbours and that is all. Let them lead their lives and us, ours. Spewing hatred on them, bringing them onto the centre-stage, is giving a non-issue importance. And let’s refrain from saying things like, “We are not saving our nuclear bombs for Diwali.” That’s very irresponsible of you Mr Modi. A war is easy to start but difficult to control. It charts its own course. Look at Afghanistan ... and how can we forget Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Escalated warfare in modern times—and the aftermath is unimaginable.

Not only will India and Pakistan perish, but so will our neighbours too. Let’s keep their safety in mind and perhaps learn from one of them: I’m talking about Bhutan and its peaceful ways. Gross National Happiness is the philosophy which guides that little country. It includes an index which is used to measure the collective happiness and well-being of their population. And it is actually incorporated in their Constitution.

Speaking of which, if humanity or the lack of it, is my biggest grouse. Safeguarding the Constitution of India for me is foremost. It includes safeguarding all our institutions. How can we reduce our Judiciary? If that highest office is compromised, what is left? Supreme Court, the police force, CIA, RAW, Income Tax departments, Reserve Bank, leave them be. Let them be! We have fantastic people in India who, when left to do their jobs, will perform in exemplary fashion.

And our army! I, along with every Indian salute them. The army is ours, it’s an emotion and the soldiers are our heartbeats. Let’s not call them ‘Modiji’s Sena’ for then we belittle them.

Incidentally, this is a very touchy subject for me. I was too little to understand it when we were at war with Pakistan, but I saw my mother die a new death every day, when her first born was at the border. My eldest brother left college to go fight for India. He was commissioned into the Maratha Light Infantry and went on to become a Captain and an ace paratrooper. Also, I am proud to say my husband’s cousin, my most favourite family member, was the late Khushru Rustamji. He was Founder Director General of the Border Security Force (BSF). There is much I learned from him. Yes, I am proud of our army.

So, my friends, think. What do you want as a citizen of India? What are your priorities? What legacy do you want to leave for the children of today? Ask yourself, is it hate or love that wins hearts? If you say money and jobs, I say that will automatically happen ... but first there must be an atmosphere of peace, love, trust, safety and security.

Indians are very resilient. We can deal with poverty and hunger, but not with hate and distrust with a life that is lived in constant fear. Let’s love and look after one another. 


The author is a successful publisher, editor and photographer of Upper Crust (2000) and Dogs and More (2011); she is also the curator of India’s first and finest food exhibition, the Upper Crust Food and Wine Show (2003) and Dog A’Fair (2008), the country’s first pet event. She married renowned journalist Behram Contractor aka Busybee, with whom she helped launch Mumbai’s much respected daily, The Afternoon Despatch and Courier (1985).

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