I went and saw the movie ‘Talvar’ yesterday. It was taut, real and unsentimental. It did not take sides but in a Rashomon-like manner, brought out different perspectives, allowing the viewer to take the call on what could have happened. The movie brought out the silent anger which manifested in the hard gloss in the eyes of the parents, especially the mother. Before and after that, I read about Mohammad Ikhlaq in numerous articles and I wondered – do their families feel the same anger? Does it feel any better or does it feel worse, to be able to blame someone, anyone, for their fate?
And I remembered a September over two decades back, when I had been forced by friends and family to step out and meet the world I had shied away from for a fortnight. It was during Durga Puja, and as we stepped out, I had this surreal feeling when I saw hordes of people out enjoying themselves while in my stomach there was a sudden cold drop. As I walked out of the hall last evening, I wondered if the Talwars felt the same way about the world. Do they, and the Ikhlaqs, among scores of other similarly affected people – and their numbers, scarily, keeps growing – feel the loneliness in the sympathy of friends which, oddly, marked them out with a different fate? I remember feeling that, and I had only lost a brother. In the weird hierarchy of losses, it stood almost inconsequential.
I knew too well life goes on without someone, and yet was shocked, and somewhat unfairly, also angry. Angry that even friends and family would feel sorrow and recover, and the unrecorded workdays, parties and dinners and gatherings would tumble onwards. Stuff happens. Shit happens. They would all be a little wiser, a little sadder. But what my immediate family felt was not quite self-pity, although who knows, maybe there was an element of that too, but a kind of shrinking into one’s core, shrinking so fully and so deeply that everything else seemed as though it was the other side of the thick glass panel, through which I could look, but not quite see the rest of the world. Is that why Nupur Talwar’s character, played with such finesse by Konkona Sen Sharma, displays such quiet strength, misunderstood as lack of feeling?
The puzzlement of the Ikhlaqs and the Talwars are congealed in a terror which does not have a word for it. And what can’t be screamed is not understood in our world. What use are screams when the deed is done, the loved one killed, anyway? My brother died in an accident, but that night, so many years back, I could not believe what I was seeing happening right in front of me. Cliches are all rooted in truth – I really could not believe my ears and eyes. But in reality, I did nothing extraordinary. When the relatives arrived, I even felt relief that my parents would be looked after and I could take a back-seat. And that is why the Talwars and the Ikhlaqs will never feel as though they are crossing any thresholds, and will find no ground dropping away beneath them and no ground would swallow them either. That whole ground swallowing someone is a myth. And thousand years-old myths are becoming causes for deaths in the 21st century.
I used to be an eternal optimist once. To the point of letting myself believe, all those weeks before ICSE results came, that I might actually get a 90% in Maths. I scraped through with a 58. I despaired of those around me, unable to understand why they never saw the bright side of any situation, why they could not accentuate the positive of any problem in their lives. I have forced my parents to open their windows in the morning and see the sunshine rush in, knowing all too well how their – and my – hearts wanted to just curl up and die.
But now, slowly but surely, over the last decade or so after getting back to India, I feel the earth should be bombed and rid of the entire human race. Not the meek humans, let the animals inherit the earth. Humans don’t deserve it. All we are capable of doing is killing each other with alarmingly increasing cruelty. Enough already! Let’s just get it over with, fast. We won’t feel a thing. Let us give ourselves a break from all the humbuggery. This world absolutely makes no sense any more. The right to kill seems more important than the right to live, as gun lobbies win every single time, even as random people going about their business, or kids studying in colleges get killed because some crazed gunman has the right and access to firearms enough to kill a township.
The India – which now really is all that is hateful in the world, in microcosm – that we are seeing now cannot reconcile its disparate elements. It cannot even control its disparate philosophies, for crying out loud. We have our PM talking about Digital India, about revolution in technology, hugging Zuckerberg and Cook while here, emboldened by the new dispensation, more and more followers are honing their skills in hate.
Finally, I can, without any guilt, say that I do not want my son to make a life in this country. This is no country for people who expect justice, who expect law-enforcing agencies to support them lead normal lives; for people who are helpless and do not know anyone walking the corridors of power, helpless, liberal, peace-loving people. This is a country civilization is slowly forgetting, as it hurtles its way towards a place of extreme intolerance and bigotry. Does that make me ‘unpatriotic’? Maybe it does, and I don’t care. I never cared for patriotism anyway, but we still came back by choice, because we felt this is where we belonged. I don’t want to belong here anymore. I most definitely do not want my son to belong here when he grows up. I cannot identify with this country – all those evenings arguing with NRI and foreigner friends about the vision of India – they all have come to naught. This is a place where I cannot anymore laugh, smug in my security, when my mother expresses her fears that my postings will bring me grief from the powers that be. And that is not an easy feeling to live with. I laughed even a couple of months ago. Not anymore. All we have here is the ideology of unrelenting hate for difference.
And I am getting influenced by it too. Just last week when my neighbor objected because I had kept my bin-bag outside my door for the janitors to collect, – maybe just for a half hour because I was leaving – saying she could smell ‘non-veg’ things in it, my first thought was, ‘well, too bad, this is Bengal and we are mainly non-vegetarians. Deal with it’. With a start I realized, this is what I have become, without knowing I have become that. How much longer till I too attain the bestial, violent savagery required to burst through someone’s door, riding on something as flimsy as a rumour, baying for their blood for having beef? And when will the administration change their stance and not send the meat for forensic testing to check if it was indeed beef? So what if it was? Why and since when has good old bonhomie among neighbours changed to seething rage at any difference, be it religion, food habits, skin color; and why is this sense of difference increasing, everywhere around the world?
And this is where the story of the Talwars and Ikhlaqs merge – the banality of it. It could happen to any or all of us, and we would be as defenseless. Everything around will go on, is going on, as normal. And as my son said, writing a blog about this now means I have ‘missed the bus’, people and their thoughts have moved on and no one will be interested in reading this anymore. Very soon we will find other stories, making us temporarily distraught and enraged. What we thought was extraordinary, has nearly become commonplace.
The Talwars, crying for justice, do not affect us any more – and they are just one of the thousands we don’t even hear of in this country. The movie will bring the conversation back into drawing rooms for some time, make impotent Indians like I write blogs and then the two grievously (and never has the word been so aptly used) wronged parents will rot away in Dasna and the deep wronged wounds in their hearts and souls will move to their eyes, making their sad determination misunderstood yet again.
And we the people, who went and took selfies in the Noida house of the Talwars, who did the same in the UP village, we might find those pictures in our drawers later and tell people, “Remember that Aarushi Hemraj case? This was in front of their house” or “this is the village, and this is where Mohammad Ikhlaq’s house stood”; and they will ask who Mohammad Ikhlaq was, because he will already have been long forgotten. As Muslims, from rural India, they are especially beleaguered, and soon forgotten. The things which had caused one to double up with nausea, with shame and anger, will no longer bother us, it will not chill us anymore. The abandoned addresses and the ghettoization of minorities will no longer surprise us. Who knows, in a few years maybe I will have morphed into the people I call the lunatic fringe now, and the fringe will become mainstream. I think the process has already begun. The larger electoral agenda has won; we now are a deeply polarized country.
The shame I feel today, on behalf of the Talwars and the Ikhlaqs – at different points in the social spectrum – might even feel like vindication.