The Communal Conversation

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I really can’t forget that evening, cool breeze and gratifying petrichor oozing out of the hungry soil. I felt euphoric, my hair seemed to perform some brilliant salsa number but yes, as told, it was evening and was getting darker every minute. I couldn’t afford to drench myself in the drizzle. “I have to rush to home!” I said to myself. My exhilaration had to be self-guarded. I waved hands to every auto rickshaw that came my way but they were over stacked with people squeezing in close together. Getting into such an auto rickshaw would have been only a reason for discomfort and displeasure. Alas! I waited and waited. The same evening draught was getting irritable. After like ten minutes or so I managed to get a not-so-crowded auto rickshaw. I sighed with relief. As I took a seat I heard the auto rickshaw driver and the man sitting next to him engrossed in some petty conversation. I was least interested to hear to them. I looked outside the auto and made every possible attempt to breathe in the cold and moist air. All of a sudden I heard a loud uproar of laughter by the two, the auto rickshaw driver and the passenger next to him. They seemed to enjoy the ride much more than I was enjoying the weather. Notoriously, I drew my attention to their dialogue. Not that I find eaves dropping irresistible but I somehow felt their conversation was more interesting than what I had indulged in.

I reaffirmed myself that I will be able to rejoice the marvel of the nature some other time but I surely won’t meet these fellows again, probably. I pulled all my antennas together and started listening to them without making them least uncomfortable. They were discussing the regular Santa Banta jokes, the crowded roads in Patna, the BJP-Congress tiff. I started to become disinterested but all of a sudden they became serious in their talk.

The driver said, “In my state, Kolkata, the police is always on its toes and they do not intend to harass the common people. But here, Sir, what do I tell you! The scenario is pitiable. These guardians of law make the lives of rickshaw walas and auto drivers wretched. They won’t co-operate with us, ever, like when there is any massive traffic jam or when we plan to go for a strike but will always expect a free ride, as if they are our family bridegroom.”

The fellow passenger chuckled and so did all of us sitting at the back. Everyone in the auto was quiet and was awaiting a response from the other man.

The passenger said, “I understand your feelings but you know it’s not their fault. We, the Biharis, are sturdy by nature and crude too. That’s there in our genes. We are born with it. It’s not that we don’t understand or sympathize, we just don’t know how to express our concerns but yes, I know Bengalis are cowards and they follow everything because they lack the brawn to disagree.”       

At this the auto driver became uncomfortable and exclaimed, “Sir, do you call discharging of duties as an act of cowardice? If yes, then I think Biharis think differently than we Bengalis. What do you have to say about the mess that’s all around this place? Well, have you seen the condition of that over bridge near Yarpur Gumti, Mithapur? I have seen people peeing in public there and spitting too. They chew beetle and ghutka and spit on the poles of the over bridge. The state government had also planted tablets with images of various gods and goddesses some time back; yet it didn’t prevent people to spit on those images too. At last, the images had to be taken off to spare the disgrace to god. You simply can’t cross that place without either putting your handkerchief around your nose or holding your breath.”

The passenger turned unnerved and the conversation was to grow a lot interesting. I was not ready to miss the rebuttal so I prepared myself to be driven a little further than my destination if need be.

The passenger abruptly articulated, “What are you saying bhaiya ji? I agree there is a lot of garbage all around the town but you are not justified to say that we people spit on the images of our deities. Probably the Muslims must have done it. We love our gods and worship them. How can we even think of doing it? It is a sin for us. These Muslims, they are responsible for it. Just because the images were of Hindu gods they must have done it. They dislike our Gods, they mock at our faith. They have to do everything that we don’t believe in. At times, I feel they derive some pleasure in doing the opposite of what we do. These Muslims should not be allowed in Bihar. They are bringing a wrong name to the state.”

I saw a co-passenger sitting next to me in full agreement with the man. I was clueless as to why were they talking so ill about a different religion. Unlike other days, I felt ashamed to be a Hindu. Not that I don’t love my gods or the rituals but I was never taught the hatred that these men meant for Islam and the people practicing the religion. I was ashamed because the men of my community were insanely criticizing Muslims. The common place tête-à-tête was digressing towards communalism. However, I was all the more eager to hear from my driver. I was waiting for him to either take the side of the Hindu fanatic or disagree with him on humanitarian grounds.

The driver echoed on a higher pitch, “You are just saying anything you like. Why will Muslims do that? We, the Muslims, love our religion, just like you do or may be more but no less by any means. We are not like you Hindus who blame us for anything wrong that happens with you. We respect every religious sentiment unlike you. No one belonging to my community will ever do that. Our Quran-e-Sharif doesn’t preach us to contempt other religions.”

To all of our surprise the driver was a Muslim, the sect that was blamed. The chit-chat that had begun with Santa Banta jokes had become awful and an occasion for yet another blame game.

The concerned passenger snapped in, “Hey listen, why will a Hindu spit on the images of their own Gods? You people do it and now you are blaming on to us.”

The driver declared, “Why will you not do it? You people have so many gods and goddesses; the Hindus not believing in the Gods whose images were put there must have spat. You people must not be aware of all the numerous gods that you have.” He smirked with sarcasm.

The man-to-man talk became a venomous discussion between the representatives of two hostile factions of the society. I was still attracted to the verbal duel but was afraid of some severe repercussions.

The passenger uttered, “Do you know that you are a minority in my country. The government has given you undue preferences and privileges and that makes you speak so much in front of us. India is a land of Hindus and that’s why it’s called Hindustan. Your country is not this one, so if we have allowed you to live here then live in peace and don’t try to correct us.”

The auto rickshaw driver pronounced angrily, “It is as much my country as it is yours. I won’t keep quite because you ask me to. You Hindus have so many negative things to say about us and want us to take it sportingly. We have our say in the workings of the country and….”

“Stop here!” The passenger said abruptly. My destination has come. He drafted the money to the driver and signaled him to be careful because he was a Muslim in a territory with countless Hindus around him and casually walked away. The auto driver kept mumbling to himself. He had missed the opportunity to answer back to the man’s word of caution. I sat back in silence and thought how great my country is where regions and religions are more important than human beings. I sat there not as a Hindu, a Bihari or an Indian but as a human, recounting the episode that just took place to retain every little detail. In a few minutes it was my turn to alight the auto. I asked the driver to halt and paid for the drive. I looked at him from tip to toe while he searched his leather bag to draft me the change and then straight into his innocent eyes while he drew his left hand towards me to give me the coins. He looked no Muslim and no Bengali too but only a human. In fact, the other passenger, the spokesman of the Hindus and Biharis, seemed essentially a human being like this driver. I walked along the footpath at the crossroads and headed towards home. I was not thinking of the wonderful weather anymore. The triviality of regional and religious clash had consumed me. A lot of unanswered questions bred in my mind and I knew no one could provide satisfactory answers to them, ever.  

5 thoughts on “The Communal Conversation

  1. Great piece of writing. Hats off to your ability to narrate without any biases. As far as religion is concerned its very personal and intrinsic just because someone is born into a family who follow certain faith don’t make us part of the religion. Keep writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A blame game that’s going on for long and unfortunately going to continue in future as well until we start recognising other person as human and not on the basis of religion

    Liked by 1 person

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