Defending the Indefensible….
by Nidhi Mahesh

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Jarnail Singh, an otherwise quiet, controlled, mature and respectable journalist gave India its very own Shoe-gate Controversy today. The slow motion replays of a white sports shoe missing a white robed (literally and metaphorically) Mr. Chidambaram by mere inches also brought about replays of some more pictures in my mind… those of 1984, my first introduction to a new vocabulary – curfew, tear gas, lathicharge, shoot at sight, flag march, riot, Hindu and Sikh!

To put it simply, the shoe hurled today seemed more an act of frustration and suppressed anxiety than an actual revolt. The shoe needs a closer look as it represents a turban and beard – the signs a community was almost forced to relinquish for want of safety. And the shoe was asking the Home Minister, Mr. Chidambram, respected for his spotless record and balanced political views, how can you sit here and defend the indefensible!

No, I am not defending the indefensible either. What Jarnail did was wrong, utterly wrong, not acceptable at all, but understandable. The incident in question `is not about what is seen today, the outburst, but about corpses in the closet that are not quite dead, but buried. And, since in the mortuary of democracy, all political parties irrespective of colour, creed or ideology (??) have reserved closets it is one level playing field for all- no one quite claim an advantage or disadvantage here.

What happened today as I see is just a way of showing disagreement with something that happened long ago, and continues to live… something that the party in whose premises the incident happened, wants us to forget and forgive. No, its not about Congress alone. If Congress would want us to forget 1984 and its breeding of LTTE thereafter, BJP would want us to forget Babri demolition and Godhra… the Left would want us to forget their bloodied battles as Naxals in 1970s… the Shiv Sena their wrath against non Maharahtrians… AGP its terror in Assam… the list is long, too long in fact to put here.

We were getting distracted, so coming back to the point in discussion, the incident today is expression of anguish against the efforts to bury a past that has a strong imprint on today and probably will have impact on future as well. Things that political parties want us to forget are not so easily forgotten, neither should they be. No, I am not agreeing with Jarnail’s act of depression or desperation, nor am I showing solidarity. He absolutely had no business doing what he did, not as a journalist at least. Objectivity and uncoloured reporting is the foundation of journalism (in theory, at least) and I am a staunch believer in it. Jarnail, as a journalist did bring shame to the fraternity by venting his anguish the way he did. But then are there ways really for a journalist to be able to raise questions that go beyond TRPs and circulation figures?? A debatable issue that we may take up at a different date and time!

Coming back to 1984 and Chidambaram’s very technical defence of the indefensible, the pictures that start playing in front of me are those of fire and eyes stinging with tears… of stench of burnt clothes and charred bodies… of the magnificent white of the façade of the biggest Gurudwara in the city turned black and the ever busy lanes and by-lanes of the congested central market of Kolkata, bare of their usual chaos, drenched in an unceremonious quite where the boots of young Gorkha and dark South Indian men in olive green uniform with real guns in hand… for a 9 year old it was a spectacle more mesmerizing than the Indrajal comics and adventures of Superman or Spiderman! Here it was, a whole new thriller unfolding in front of my eyes, only this time the characters were cartoons of a different degree!

I do not have the complete recollection of events as they happened, but there are some images, some fragments of conversations that continue to haunt me till date. One is the tears rolling our cheeks without the occasional slap from mom for not finishing homework… and the reason being attributed to “tear gas”, something the police used to make people cry if they do not behave! Another image that flashes through is the flames that were almost touching the skies… burning the front façade of “our” gurudwara, the place that all of us (yes all of us who were Hindus) went to daily, we kids for the Prasad of halwa, the elders for asking favours of a God, who they now claimed was not theirs… I also recall the image of two Sardarjis telwale (as they supplied kerosene in the locality) being kept hidden in one of the bigger rooms in our building (resembling more to a Mumbai chawl) as the madness raged outside. But one of the most tragic images that I remember is that of those two Sardarjis crying, their knees bent, hands folded… someone had jokingly suggested shaving off their beard and hair. An insensitive joke, representative of the mood of the people at that time, insensitive being the operative word.

Later once the “live” telecast of Mrs. Gandhi’s funeral was over, I remember some pictures that flashed on our black and white TV- death and destruction – numbers – death toll reported as cricket match score! I remember my father, an otherwise quiet and somewhat lily-livered man claiming with pride they killed so many Hindus and in response “we” killed so many Sikhs! “We”… who was this we, I wonder.

As I grew up and saw more riots this “we” became more understandable. This we became the closest allegiance at the time of conflict between two castes, creed or religion. This “we” was not India, but India divided in many parts, each claiming ownership of an island floating on blood and corpses.

I have similar recollection of 1992, demolition of Babri masjid. It was our one of the first encounters with cable TV… the images of mob breaking down dome of a historic structure battling with faiths of two conflicting religious fanatics. I also remember openly circulated video cassettes of “true incident” floating around capturing speeches of some top leaders of Saffron hue and the red fluid freely flowing everywhere that had debates raging whether it began to those defending Babar or Ram.

In the wake of these images, the slow motion picture of that white shoe flowing past Honourable Home Minster only makes me question – can one rationalize the irrational and defend the indefensible?

Nidhi Mahesh


Stories by this Author :
* A Sentational Story
* Lost and Found
* Ajmera
* Gobindo
* Mirage
* Mithun's Mother
* Resilience
* Defending the Indefensible…

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