On the last day of April, 2014, I was returning home to sweltering Calcutta from a hectic (and somewhat eye-opening and academically poor) semester at Oasis-e-Kanpur, for a three-month-long holiday.
The Sealdah Rajdhani Express chugged into Platform 5 of the eternally busy Kanpur Central Station so reminiscent of the city herself and I rushed in to my allotted seat. The coup already had two young lads, perhaps in their late 20’s, occupying two of the bottom seats. As I started getting my luggage in place, an elderly person, in his late 50’s or early 60’s entered, with an attendant carrying the little luggage he had. I have always had good luck with fellow passengers in my Kanpur-Kolkata journeys. Insanely funny seniors who loved adda-ing on everything, people from Bangladesh who were happy to invite me over for maach-bhaat in Dhaka, professors of Pali and Sanskrit of Calcutta University who had come to a history symposium in Lucknow, reporters who had covered riots in Gujarat and Mumbai and so on.
This time, my fellow passengers were a class apart – the two young men were businessmen in the travel industry, mainly dealing with our giant of a neighbour. They also dealt in a certain foodgrain which I have not heard of. The two well-dressed men hailed from Gaya in Bihar, a place I’ve often wanted to visit for the history and religion associated with it – the Mahabodhi Temple, the mysticism regarding the afterlife according to Hindu traditions et al. My other fellow coup-mate had dwellings in Calcutta, Delhi and Lucknow and ran a business over the nation.
What they shared in common was however, their blinded affection for a certain political party I have never gotten around to supporting. In their loud boisterous voices, they kept on declaring how the only way India can be saved is through the said party. The day was the 30th of April, one of the election dates, and news was rife with how many of the polling booths had been captured to make sure the said party does not win; it was also filled with news of the most important person from that party was facing charges for taking a selfie with his party symbol. This thing got my elderly co-passenger (let’s call him Mr. S ) all adulatory about the ‘super-brain’ and ‘super-genius’ of said man, because he personally knew that many centres in UP had common people being duped to think that the said person had as party symbols, the cycle and the elephant. He was reportedly also experienced in UP, Bihar and Bengal politics and assured that most of Bihar, a lot of UP, and even at least 10 seats in Bengal (ticked them off with his fingers – Asansol, Darjeeling, Maldah…) would go to the said party.
I might have opined, but figured that finishing with a novel would be better, these people fall in the category who would not be too happy or capable of having an intellectually stimulating conversation while preserving the rights and dignity of an individual who holds opinion different from theirs.
However, it was when Mr. G1 and Mr. G2 (say) started coming into the conversation that things started to get ugly and I started to get a bit scared.
How can I not be, if people are speaking, in such a bone-chillingly casual manner of how, if offered money, they will proceed to exterminate a certain community, 200 crore strong, under the auspices of the said government.
How can I not be, if they say that under the new government maybe, some more time might have been given to people in a certain place called Muzaffarnagar to ‘cleanse’ the area?
How can I not be, if they say that they find members of the said community as ‘dirty’? How can I not be if they say that what was done SHOULD have been done to ‘quieten’ members of the said community?
How can I not be, when they choose to interpret my favourite philosophical text, the immensely inspirational Bhagavad Gita as a justification for taking up arms against a particular community?
How can I not be, when they openly admit wanting to destabilize the demographics of a certain region, by wanton resettlement and pogrom?
How can I not be when they are doing exactly what Gandhiji feared and what I thought was baseless fear? (Gandhiji had fasted, saying that he will not have followers of Islam crawling on the streets of India without any dignity of life – I always found this do be a non-grounded fear; in my country, you do not refuse dignity of life based on religion! Maybe socio-economic status, for we are not socialist, but overall, we are secular with respect to dignity of life… But Mr. Gi (i = 1(1)2) spoke so nonchalantly about how from his ancestral village between Gaya and Rajgir, 1000 Muslims had been driven out and the few that remained did not have the, I quote, ‘aukaad’ and ‘himmat’ to walk with their heads held high, that I felt almost nauseous)
I longed to speak up. But I was scared, very much so, and maybe, cowardly?
The talk then turned towards the general politically and falsely-motivated nationalism (jingoism) that is trademark right and far-right. My ears pricked up at the words supercomputer and all, the best of which. they were under the impression, is at Bangalore, or maybe centred at Bangalore. I did burst their bubble by stating the progress of China, USA and Japan in this matter, but could not fathom by what they meant by being ‘centred’ in India and that everything there was ‘from and by India’. They were visibly unimpressed with my little knowledge of computers.
They were even more so unimpressed with my ignorance regarding Bangladeshi immigrants who had, I quote, ‘burnt thousands of Dalit houses in Bengal and Bihar, and spoke a different language and had come to settle in Bihar’. They chuckled like five-year-old kids saying how the Great Leader had promised to destroy or drive these troublemakers back. I wonder how he would recognize them, maybe a DNA analysis that traces ancestry to Eastern Bengal, but wait, don’t a lot of people legally living in this nation also have that? Maybe the first citizen of the nation as well. And, wait a minute, the non-titular head of the nation seems to also have come from somewhere not in the nation anymore – how strange!
The talk once turned to the similarities between Hindi and Bengali (this was with Mr. T1 and Mr. T2, Buddhist monks from Thailand who got in at Gaya, thank Heavens for small mercies) and Mr. S vehemently complained about how many Bengalis can understand Hindi if they want to (sic; stress intended by speaker), when I had mentioned to the kind Thai people about the similarities between these languages.
Mr. S finally asked me of my opinion of Bengal politics and the recent language which the ruling party is using. I opined that the language of politics is indeed getting very indecent and atrocious, unlike the level of oratory that once used to be present in our state & nation. With a condescending attitude, he asked me to try and listen to Mr. Modi’s ‘lectures’ which he was sure would make me realize the ‘supergenius’ he is and how beautifully he talks. I pity the low standards people set for geniuses nowadays.
I personally know at the bottom of my heart that the said person might eventually be at one of the most coveted positions in the nation, seeing the trends among the people. I do not support his ideology, as mentioned in my article earlier : On Politics, nor do his personal credentials inspire me. That large corporations back him is an added discouragement for me, contrary to popular opinion.
But I still might not be too much against his taking the said position because of lack of any other credible choice. However, if his presence gives impetus and encouragement to people like those mentioned in this article, then I am scared. Very much so.