|(Image taken from the net for Representational purposes only)|
“I feel sad about the mother of Junaid,” I say. My friends listen, all three of them, who have come to my room to play carrom. On the wall, which is my hall of fame with all those glossy posters of Michael Jackson, Kamal Haasan, Ben Jonson (yes the same Canadian sprinter who had gone down in the dope case), Monica Seles (the screaming tennis player), good old Bubka (the pole-vaulter) and so on (you guessed right, I do not have any cricket stars in them for I do not play cricket. Nor do I play foot ball. Then you may ask do I play tennis, to which I would say ‘no’ but I like them because during the good old days of Doordarshan where you had nothing much to choose from, these people were morale lifters, forget the dope cases, didn't those brimming muscles of his make you feel good about yourself for no reason? I should say, I liked catching the occasional glimpses of Mohinder Amarnath and beef chewing West Indians, especially Vivian Richards who had given a girl to a woman in the celebrity world of India upon her request) recently I had added the pictures of a few Indian gods and goddesses including Hanuman, the mighty monkey from southern part of the country who though quite powerful was conveniently given a subordinate position (complete with protruding jaws, a tail and blind faith) in the mythology and ironically elevated as an independent god with autonomous divinities, negotiation powers, thousand names, a trident, a colour and some kind of power of aesthetics criticism, which makes him or his followers the right judges of the country’s aesthetic production.
Are you curious to know why I have added these pictures among the international faces (which are already fading in the posters as well as in the collective sporting memory of the world)? That is the only way to survive for a person like me, jobless, helping people to fill in application forms and write affidavits or complaints for legal purpose. Stationed in one of the shacks, which look permanent than the multi-storied place of the Bombanis, as they have been there since the establishment of the District Court sometime in 1960s, I have been doing this job for how many years I do not know. Even I do not remember how I landed up with this job. I remember going to a friend who used to do this job to borrow books as he used to be an avid reader and it must have been one of those days that he had asked me to help him out in finishing some pending paper works. I can say this much: it became a habit, then a job and today my friend had gone to some gulf countries and I the vendor work here as the shack is mine now for, exactly twenty two years since I first went collect books from my friend.
As a bachelor and with no family around to be supported (they are all doing well in the village) I am not that greedy type who would work on Saturdays and Sundays. I rather sit at my one room apartment playing carrom with friends or occasionally visited by the clerks of some advocates who especially handle divorce cases. These clerks come with some rudimentary sketches of plots, conspiracies, juicy indications of some extramarital affairs and so on and my job is to make it a pretty lengthy affidavit which could be submitted to court so that the party would be granted divorce or given maintenance or children’s custody. I write it well because it gives me a lot of scope to improvise on the issues; I could make a black eye given to a wife by a drunken husband really look horrifyingly sore. I could even make a phone call of a husband to a woman acquaintance look like a sleazy invitation to an erotic rendezvous. Sometimes, into the second decade of my career as an affidavit writer I thought of migrating to the tinsel town so that I could become a screen play writer for those thrillers that run in multiplexes as morning show and in the C-class theatres as regular show. Then I left it there; this place has a strong grip on me and the cases are too alluring to leave.
I have transgressed enough. Now let me tell you about my friends briefly. They are also of my age and their names are Raju, Lucky and Harjeet. They all have surnames and expanded first names that not only show their family inheritance but also the muscles that they have carefully cultivated in the local gyms in their twenties and thirties.
Raju is into properties and operates quite neatly without an office. He used to have one a few years back which he closed down when one day he triumphantly declared that he had sold all the available flats in the area. Property dealing is an itinerant business. Some muscle men with muscles running all through the system acquire land from farmers and start building multi-storied housing complexes with fancy names like ‘Sea View Apartments’, ‘Paradise Apartments’ ‘Shubh Labh Apartments’, ‘Lake View Apartments’ and so on. These are just names because in our part of the world where water comes in tanker tractors the names of the apartments are just conceptual. It is associative in feeling. In the peak of summer, you live on the fourteenth floor of the Sea View Apartment and you don’t feel the heat of the summer, instead you feel the sea breezing wafting around and soothing you. There are two reasons for this; one, you have a split AC where you stand, blasting cold air on your face and second thing, you have paid quite a lot with your life (life’s earning, that is the parlance) and it comes natural for you to feel that sea breeze, if you don’t you are just a fool. After all the school bus comes into the compound and there is a children park, a joggers track and a 24x 7 provision shop (run by one of the poor relatives of the builder and she would in due course of time buy a few properties around). You are happy.
“These days, why do you need an office?” Raju asks and while striking at the red with his tough fingers he continues, “You need a smart phone with a 4G connection and a bundle of visiting cards. Yaar, after this thing called whatsapp, you don’t need visiting cards also. You can do any business. Our new government is great yaar.”
There I differ and want to say that it is not a new government. It is a continuity of history. It is the course of economics, where global economics merges with the local aspirations. But I keep quiet. I want my Saturdays and Sundays rather argument free.
Lucky, as his name suggests is a lucky guy. Coming from a land owning farmer family, he has an Enfield Bullet motor cycle, a Scorpio SUV (before that he had a Maruti Gypsy with extra large tyres) and an open Jeep complete with a full blast sound system, a crash guard (bumper) covered with some kind of rope, a number plate that is deceptive and could make someone think that it belongs to the army of the country and at its back a couple of lathis (bamboo sticks) and hockey sticks. Lucky often moves around in this Jeep. He does not attack anyone. Luckily there are no police cases against him in all these forty two years of his life on this earth.
“These are just preventive, brother,” Lucky says. When you blast music in the sound system and drive around with some mistuning of the exhaust pipe, sport a pair of Ray-Ban shades and three days old stubble, none would dare to rub you wrongly,” Lucky laughs. I know that Lucky means it because he is a guy who earns a lot of money by doing nothing. “Money comes yaar. When you have these things with you, there are people who cannot sport them the way I do, out of fear, shame or name. So they want people like us to give them a cover. My only condition is only this. I can front them but no violence. I have a family name to protect,” Lucky suddenly becomes pensive.
Whenever I look at Lucky, I feel that he is a guy who has just come out from one of those gangster movies and provincial movies produced by that director famous for his bad-land movies. But Harjeet is none of the above. He is the quintessential family man with his safe and secure job in a fertiliser company and he has an office in the next town with four staff working under him. A god fearing man with a turban Harjeet constantly talks about life as if it were something that could be enhanced with fertilisers.
“Yaarr, children are like plants. If we don’t put the urea in the right proportion, they would overgrow but do not yield, then they become a liability. What is a crop that yields nothing? You could boast that you have hundred acres of paddy but if they yield is only 30:70, what’s the use? So giving children good education is important but where is more important than what. That’s why I sent them to Agro Public School. These Little Prince, Jesus and Peter and Gunmeshwar Mission public schools are just like weeds. The government should weed them out. It will destroy the crop,” Harjeet says.
We don’t have any reason to complain for Harjeet comes with a tiffin box full of snacks and a bottle full of raw mango squash, which is known as panna in our parts.
But when I say, “I feel sad about the mother of Junaid,” they just freeze. They look at me unconvinced. What did you say, they seem to ask so I repeat. “I feel sad about the mother of Junaid.”
For some time there is silence in the room. It feels like a befitting mourning for the death of poor Junaid, a sixteen year old boy. He was coming back from another city after making some festival purchases. The only wrong thing, if at all that was a wrong thing to do (I look at Harjeet’s turban and the Ray-Ban shades hanging from Lucky’s pocket and Raju’s gamcha (stole) and the yellow and red thread that is there around all their wrists) was that Junaid was wearing a skull cap. He was in a train to his village, which is a few kilometres north from our town, and he and his friends were very happy to have made those purchases. A burqa each for their mothers, a churidar each for their sisters, a prayer mat each for their fathers and uncles (yes, a few skull caps too), and a lot of sweets.
Junaid was any other sixteen year old boy from a small village. He could have been myself had it been three and a half decades back. He could have been Raju or Lucky. Similar aspirations, similar happiness, similar abandonment and hopes. Junaid is faceless like me, Raju and Lucky and Harjeet. Oh, we could argue that we have a face because we have a facebook account. Does a facebook account give us a face, seriously? Does that matter at all? Okay, let us see it in this way. When you have a facebook account and you have a face, what would happen when you log out of it and go to sleep? Do you cease to have a face? Do you cease to exist? What about those people who do not have a facebook or twitter account? Don’t they count as human beings? Junaid must have had a facebook account. I did not know him. (I ask Raju, Lucky and Harjeet whether they by any chance had Junaid in their facebook friends’ list. No is the answer). That means Junaid was a person with or without a facebook account. At least he had a face within his family and friends’ circle. Who knew he would not have become the Prime Minister of our country who used to sell tea in the railway stations?
What was the wrong thing Junaid did? He wore a skull cap. He was smiling. Wearing a skull cap is a bad thing, first of all and on that you smile? What an arrogance. All those skull cap wearing people in this country should have a sad face. They should look down as if they live in shame. They should walk around as shadows as if their physical body is the real shadow and the shadows that they cast the real bodies. They should pay for what their alleged ancestors had allegedly done. Is that so? If you see a skull cap wearing person suddenly you see him eating beef? Come on, friends. A sixteen year old boy who is going with his body like a shadow suddenly felt that he should retrieve his body from the shadow because it was a festival day and he should add some sunshine to his face. So you would lynch him? Really?
Yes, yesterday I had a dream, are you listening? Yesterday I had a dream. I was strangulated by a group of plants. I recognised them. “What were they?” Harjeet asks spontaneously. Man, I say, it was a dream but I recognised them. They were potato plants, spinach, cabbages, carrots, cauliflowers, turnips, radishes, onions, peas and so on. They were tying me with their tender leaves, roots and tendrils. Tender? Not tender, they look tender but when they attack they are quite strong. They choke you and thrash you. However you plead, they just don’t leave you. There were so many other plants encouraging them to strangulate me. They were calling out ‘Kill him, kill him. He eats us. He kills us and eats us. Kill him.” In the dream, I called out ‘Murder, Murder. But nobody was there to hear me out. There were no witnesses, you know. I could see I am lying dead on my bed. But friends, it was just a dream. But in dream, you see everything looks so real,” I say.
“I think you have taken this news to your heart, leave it yaar,” Raju says and subconsciously he pushes the threads in his right wrist with his left palm to take a strike. But I found that gesture quite threatening but I keep quiet.
“Was that death so important to you? How does that mother matter to you?” Harjeet asks. Lucky is silent and is pensive.
“Because, because Junaid was not expecting this when he got into the train,” I say.
“All deaths are unexpected, a sort of accident,” says Lucky. He sounds profound for a moment and in the next he spreads himself as shallow as usual. “Why can’t it be treated as an accident?”
“No lucky, how could it be treated as an accident? All accidents are unexpected, I agree. But when we travel in a public transport our chance of accident is less than one per cent, right?” I say and Harjeet and Raju look at me. They seem to like the word ‘per cent’ a lot. “When you are in your own vehicle and when you are driving, you know the chance of accident is, say five per cent. But when you go out of your home, in your vehicle or others’ vehicle or in a public conveyance, you are not expecting an accident even by zero per cent. That’s the beauty of life. You know you will die but you are sure you don’t. Accidents and deaths occur to others, not to us. Don’t you think that’s what you and I think about life? The most interesting thing is that we don’t think about it all. Junaid was definitely not thinking about his death when he boarded the train. Nor was he thinking about a possible lynching by the mob. Was his mother waiting his body to come back or his shadow? I am sad for her because this time his body came back and that body was incapable of casting any shadows,” I sigh.
There is silence. Raju keeps winning the black and white coins. Lucky somehow lost his interest in the game. Harjeet is enthusiastic as always but his aim is not to strike the smaller coins. He wants to get the big. The big crop of red. But to get the right crop circumstances and climate should be feasible. Here, I have dampened the climate and circumstances are spoilt by Raju’s aggressive game. Lucky takes the powder and shakes it on to the board before he takes the aim. While striking he asks, “It was good that he was murdered eventually,” Lucky says and with that he strikes and strikes the edge of the board without touching any coin and the sound reminds everyone of the cracking of a skull or a bone. I shudder.
“If he was spared, he would live with the trauma. And he would become the breeding ground for terrorists,” Lucky said without caring much about what he said.
“What did you say?” I ask, “That was quite unfortunate, Lucky. How could a spared man become the enemy of the state? He would be thankful to the attackers for sparing him. He would perhaps, never would like to cross roads with them. He would avoid them and would push himself further into his shadow. Don’t you think that it has been happening with all those people who have been attacked and left to their own devices to survive? But there are instances where people refuse to succumb to the attacks. The keep coming, defying death. From the blood of the dead ones they beget hundreds of radicals who would defy the state. You may be right. But remember, a living Junaid was just a smile but a dead Junaid is a frown. A living Junaid would have lived his inconspicuous life and died. But look at the dead Junaid, he is more dangerous than the living ones,” I say.
“What do you preach, sir?” Raju has contempt in his words.
“I don’t preach,” I say. “No state would survive by killing its innocent people. When innocence is violated that turns into uncontainable violence. When dignity is vandalized that turns into open wounds. When silence is attacked, that turns into screams. Look around. A bottle that you throw after drinking beer is harmless and even it is a treasure to a rag picker. A bottle of kerosene is poor man’s fuel. When you break the beer bottle at the poor one’s head, they procure bottle from the garbage and pour kerosene into it and throw it at you as a Molotov cocktail. A piece of rubble has memories and they lie silent on the earth. A piece of rock has histories of eons etched in them. Still they lie silently on the earth. But in poor, deprived and oppressed man’s hands they become powerful weapons. Our batons, guns, tanks, shells, surveillance, rapes, encounters, detentions, condemnations, hanging and none of the kind would stand a chance before these insignificant stones and rubbles. You break their cities and dreams. They use the same rubble to attack. When a dream hurts you it hurts you grievously than a weapon does. Do you think that each lynching case would be laid to rest forever as an aberration in the history? The spectres would come to haunt us. We are living on the graves of our ancestors. They are our protectors. But you know, ghosts are of the same league for they do not have hierarchies and castes. Ghosts unite against their common enemy; the deprivation of life. Those who have deprived life to the people would be seen as the common enemies of the ghosts of the deprived. Once possessed by these ghosts, there would be no stopping. If each grain of rice has the name of the one who would be fed by it, then each stone and rubble has name of the attacker and the attacked etched on it. It is like Brahmastra of the epics; it would search for the enemy till he is vanquished. Do we need to wait for that to happen?” I stop.
I see the face of Harjeet shining when I mention the word rice. But then as he understands that my idea is not about lecturing on rice, he goes back to the red coin which Raju has not yet pushed into the hole.
We are all silent. Nobody knows what to talk further. My friends are good souls. Raju has different ideas about politics and economics. But alone he is a good man. He cares for his three daughters. Lucky, the occasional melancholic is very rich and he does not feel the need for attacking anyone. He believes in the philosophy of threat and persuasion without causing damage to the life and property of the others. In the state affairs it is called diplomacy. Lucky is married and has a child. He does not talk anything about them. Harjeet is a family man and a good group leader, who sells fertilizers for his company and makes a good profit out of it. Harjeet wife’s name is also Harjeet. She too is a good woman. He has two children, whom I have seen though I cannot distinguish between Manpreet and Manmeet. They call me uncle and I am very happy for that.
When all of us are such pious creatures on this earth who are doing this lynching business? Who are those people who deprive the mothers of their Junaids and Aklaqs? I look at my friends’ faces. None of them would do. Then who else would?
What is it?
The face-fuls and the faithfuls.
United, we lose our face and faith.
We become a crowd.
We lynch Junaid.....
Until we get lynched elsewhere.