‘Don’t lose faith in India’ were the dying words of my father when he breathed his last almost a quarter century ago. He was 80+. He was the descendant of an indentured labourer who had left his home land in the late XIX century. The reasons for his departure are as picturesque as your imagination would let you believe. Whatever they be, they compelled a man to leave everything and accept being enslaved and bear a number. His was 354495. He managed to secure his freedom and build life once again with determination and success. I am proof of that. Forgive this aside but it needed to be said.
Papa died a few days before the demolition of the Babri Masjid. I am grateful for that small mercy as it would have broken his heart and maybe who knows shaken his faith, the very faith that I consider a legacy. Had I remained ensconced in my comfortable, ordinary and insipid life, it perhaps would have been easier to hold on to that faith, but I chose to walk the untrodden path that questioned that faith far too many times and needed me to hold on to it drawing on shreds of logic and passion. But hold on I did as I could not forget the sacrifices my parents made for the country they loved unquestionably. My mom was even willing to sacrifice motherhood to the alter of freedom. She chose to give me life in a free India thus making its freedom sine qua non to my very essence.
I grew up on foreign shores but the love for India was lovingly woven into the fabric of my heart and soul by my two love stricken parents. The image of India that is seared in my heart is one of a land of tolerance, understanding and humanity. My parents never failed to teach me to respect the culture and values of the countries I grew up in and to me Indianness meant all embracing. I was proud of my heritage.
For the past years I have slowly had my faith put to the test. I held on to it. When the going was too tough I shut my eyes and remembered my parents or looked deep into the eyes of a very deprived kid and knew I had to carry on just for that child.
We humans are strange bods! We have the capability of getting inured to things and even stop seeing them. I guess that happened to me too as I saw a beggar child, read about a rape or a killing and turned to my fragile coping strategies. But recent events have shook me to the core, as all the values that made India what she is, seem to have been hijacked and are being mercilessly destroyed.
Where is my tolerant land?
Today you are killed because someone suspects you of eating something that ‘their’ faith finds offensive. Today a baby can be burnt alive because someone in her family did not do something another asked him to do before she was even born. You can have your face blackened for reading the wrong book, seeing the wrong film; you can be harassed for the clothes you wear, the drink you consume, the game you watch and so on. Intolerance is the flavour of the day and you better get used to it. Your life has been hijacked.
So where to you go to keep the wavering flame of your faith alive? The usual coping strategies seem to be floundering. New ones need to be sought if you do not want to live your life in fear. One option is to be fatalist and we Indians are privileged as we have karma to explain what cannot be. But what is the karma of a two year old that is brutally gang raped? Another option is to hope that someone among those who steer the country will intervene and say: ENOUGH but sadly that too seems to be a chimera.
You look helpless and almost hopeless for some ray of hope as you surreptitiously find yourself reading what you wrote twice over lest it upsets someone, something you never did before in a land where freedom was your right. Alas today freedom takes on a whole new meaning with far too many caveats. You want to scream, to rant, to rave, to shout: STOP.
We are tired of the intolerance we see. We are fed up of the political games that surround every occurrence and never address the situation. After seven decades of Independence there are still 5000 children who die every day for want of clean water and adequate food, child labour and abuse flourishes, women are still second class citizens and millions are deprived of basic dignity.
But what I would want to say to those who hold us to ransom today is that you cannot kill the spirit of India. What your aberrations are doing is waking up the deadened consciences of far too many who cannot keep mute anymore. There is an anger slowly brewing, an anger that is breaking the seemingly impregnable walls of comfort and finding its voice.
India is a blessed land. Let us not for get that, and yes Papa, I for one will not lose faith in India till my last breath.