Heal or harm, the choice is ours



In New Delhi’s Connaught Place commuter Metro station, millions cross a flashboard message fit enough to be our national anthem: “None of us is stronger than all of us”. This is rip-snorting good to be the collective mantra of all humanity as well.

Astounding, what comes about when the fuse-blowing adrenaline is put aside. Not with a counter-hormone from the drug store, but with some native good sense. Adrenaline is said to drive the “fight or flight reaction”, a physiological process the human body undergoes when confronted with mental or physical stress.

You must have seen it on the Discovery Channel or Animal Planet. How does a lion act when he goes crazy, such as when he sees a ready-to-eat meal of wild buffaloes? It is the predator’s adrenaline that powers its pounce on the prey.

Jinnah’s adrenaline rush was behind his call for “direct action day” or the Great Calcutta Riot on August 16, 1946. But it paled when the Mahatma walked barefooted through the blistering alleys of Bengal, but not before a wave of killings. The hormone was at work in Gujarat again, where the marauders could feel the adrenaline creep upwards from their extremities.

Enemies can be instantly eliminated when turned into friends. Today, we need a champion of communitarian unity because there is none. The Mahatma, the Band-aid for bleeding hearts, we no longer have the luxury of.

There are some islands still, where deference to one another’s ways is native and some men who could resist the adrenaline rush. On August 2, the Kerala chief of the Indian Union Muslim League, Panakkad Syed Muhammedali Shihab Thangal passed away. We lost one unflappable Muslim leader, who, when most of India convulsed with riots after the Babri mosque was razed, ordered that not a single Hindu be harmed.

I had met Thangal in Ajmer Sharif, sometime in 2007. Somebody let it slip that Thangal was resting at a friend’s house, not far from the dargah. Two words I remember he told me were important: middle path.

It is no secret that some bristling Hindus will continue to have a seething vision of Muslims. And some malevolent mullah will cringe at the very sight of every kafir (the Arabic word for unbeliever, not enemy).

Yet, there is a way to win this war on faith clashes, one that has to be fought unconventionally. Get frank, not fastidious. Talk honestly, not hectoringly. Admit faults, don’t hide them.

We have forgotten a magic word: compromise. Maybe, we need to borrow a fresh one form the Japanese dictionary: jui-jitsu, literally meaning the “art of softness,” or “way of yielding”, though Jui-jitsu popularly is a form of martial arts that involves a soft engagement of the enemy.

It is time to take one hard look. We need to start by asking some basic questions. So, we cannot stick together. Can we stay apart? Is it possible and can we consider this as an option?

Another Partition? For whom? Where? Let Muslims fall off the map again when we can never really keep apart even if we try? Can we break up children playing in the park or keep them from sharing school benches?

Thankfully, we have run out of all options. There is no option but to pull down the mental walls. No way out, other than to share the turf. Our menu has just one option: Unity. Take it or leave it. The toss-up is between two words: Heal and Harm. The choice is ours. And you tell me what to take.

Cadence is not the answer, true. Compromise is. Why is it so difficult, I do not understand. Don’t we make compromises at every step of our lives? We want bigger apartments, but settle for smaller ones. We aspire for BMWs and Mercs but settle for Marutis. We hope for chunky salary hikes, but make do with none. We gun for IITs and IIMs but when we cannot get through, we opt for less-reputed institutions. We would all like exotic holidays abroad but head for the nearest hill station instead. Why can’t we accommodate ourselves as Hindus and Muslims?

That’s because right-wingers always seem to be getting effective. They will not let the adrenaline levels to fall. One ominous call and Gujarat was burning. We know, in the case of Gujarat riots, Muslims started it, torching a train carrying advocates of a Ram temple in Ayodhya. But there’s always somebody who strikes first.

We are indeed a nation of notions. Here are some: Muslims are potential terrorists. The Quran preaches violence, so there can never be peace between Hindus and Muslims. Indian Muslims’ loyalties are suspect. They gloat in the victory of Pakistan in a cricket match. (How are Pakistani fans of Indian movie star Aishwarya Rai treated, I wonder.) All Muslims had better lived in Pakistan. A devout Hindu is obviously Muslim-unfriendly. Ad nauseum.

Let me keep things simple. These notions are clearly based on old pre-conceptions. When these pre-conceived notions are cleared up, we end up solving the problem. It is difficult to demonise someone you have met. Have you thought about this lately? That is why we should mix up.

Remember the anthem I started off this essay with? There is a corollary to that statement. It is this: none of us is smarter than all of us. In problem-solving, two minds are better than one. So, let us put our brains together and keep the adrenaline from going up.

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