aur do, babri masjid tod do...The Liberhan Commission report has been submitted.
Not one hate filled slogan spouted in the past 17 years has filled me with more dread and despondency.
'Hum mandir yahan banayenge'was scrawled everywhere. We guffawed when we spotted the slogan on a public urinal near Andheri station. We were secure in our ridicule of the ridiculous.
A single brick rattled our composure.We argued and fought bitterly with a classmate who urged us to send bricks for the kar seva. He said the brick was a symbol against the dominant pseudo securalism practiced by the state. We said the brick symbolised all that we abhorred. Fear and dread was never in the picture. It was a fight, well actually more of an argument, in the realm of abstraction. We were heady with the power of ideas and constructs.
And then, driving back from someplace in Chembur that sunday evening, my mother and I realised that something was amiss. The roads seemed very still. My mother stepped on the accelerator, we knew that something had happened in Ayodhya.
We came home to see the images on TV. All of us saw the top leaders urge their men, Ek dhakka aur do...The leaders did not step in, not the police, not the army. A stone structure crumbled in a matter of hours.
We lived in Andheri, five minutes away from Jogeshwari. Jogeshwari was burning.I had just begun work in an NGO, and I knew the bylanes, the people who lived in the area that was burning. A structure somewhere had crumbled, lives everywhere were crumbling.
A week later, late in the evening I got a call from a fellow activist who lived in those bylanes."Can you bring your video camera/ still camera/anything and come right away." I had the office video camera at home, I rushed out. My mother urged me to hurry.
I interviewed 17 men in the same mohalla, maybe more but thats the number etched in my brain. They were between the ages of 15 and 50. I would walk into each house, get introduced to the person, I would be offered tea, and the same, very same story would unfold. Of being dragged from the streets while rushing back home, or from within the house, by the police and kept in the lockup for a week. Swollen shoulders, fractured fingers, welts, bruises, I went over these marks with my camera.I so desperately wanted to avert my gaze.But each wound had to be accounted for. A zari worker with broken fingers. A carpenter with an immobile shoulder. A young student with deep welts and shattered confidence.
I had no wounds, I was secure in my hindu, middle class world. The one non descript plastic tape that I held in my hand as I got back late that night had dented the bubble I lived in. I am grateful for that.
I went onto learn how to make images.I became more conscious of the act of switching on the camera. The photograph of the terrified man, his hands begging for mercy, splashed across the dailies during the Gujrat riots led to a precious exchange of mails with a friend and batchmate. She was shaken by that moment when the photographer clicked the photo- the nudity of the moment in full display in our comfortable homes the next day.I said, thank god for the raw wounds put on view while we sat pretty in our drawing rooms.
Its been years, I still dream of gallis burning, sometimes I am being chased, at times I am charging, and at times I stand partially hidden watching.
The stark image of a dome crawling with people remains one that I can not deal with. Even after years of being numbed by all kinds of horror telecast live 24x7.