Friday, August 2, 2013

Peace beings in the Mind of the Child

Teesta Setalvad

Side by side with battling communal violence in the public arena, media and the courts, a unqiue exeperiment we began in 1994 was working with young minds supplementing what is taught (or not taught) in the history and social studies currciculum. KHOJ borne of the fires that seared  Bombay in 1992-1993 carries on today. One of the techniques we use is that of story telling, using short narratives to open the classroom to discussion and exploration. Here are two written by me…
Mumbai, December 1992, Nearly ten Years Ago
It was late at night. The whole city was tense after the events of the past few days and while most people were terrified of stepping outside their homes, a large group of blood thirsty men with coloured bands round their heads, drunken eyes and armed with freshly sharpened choppers roamed Kurla’s streets.Kurla is a densely populated part of Bombay. Most parts of Bombay are crowded with people. Here, too, different kinds of people live. There are people clustered in different localities. Many Muslims and many Hindus live in Kurla.
But on one particular street in Kurla, a lone building is occupied by muslims, next to which stands a mosque where they pray. It was people living in areas like this that were  most terrified during whole of last week. Because crazy stories were being spreading lies about people and making others tense and afraid. It was near this building at 1.a.m. that night that this incident occured. Unsuccessful in their efforts elsewhere, this bloodthirsty and drunken mob arrived outside this building and shouted in the dark of the night demanding that all the muslims living there line up one by one and come out. Everyone inside the building, man  woman and child were listening, trembling with fear . Waiting, but none came out.
Shout after shout . And threat upon threats followed. Fear, tension, blood, anger, shouts -- you could almost feel all these in the air. The mob was raring to go, angry and hysterical at no response. They were not going to wait too long to act. That much was clear.
As the tension reached breaking point, and someone in the crowd called loud to “Marco, to do , booming voice of a buxom old lady could be heard. She was plump and old, her hair peppered with white.
“You will destroy that building over my dead body, “ she could be heard declaring, “even I am a Hindu. But my faith does not teach me to destroy others’ property, to burn, loot and kill. If you want to do so in the name of Hinduism, you can do so over my dead body. But you will have to kill me first”.
There was a silence, pregnant with meaning. The trembling folks in the building through finding her voice familiar had no real faith that the courageous act of this lone woman could save their lives from the raving mob. But still they waited. Tense and afraid.
Minutes passed. Some more. Suddenly the silence was broken as the crowd broke up, turned around and started to disappear. As they did so, even the leader of the mob slunk away. He, by the way, was the old lady’s son.
Food and Faith
THIRTEEN year-old Lara was very excited about attending her chacha’s wedding in Hyderabad. Her new clothes, the jewellery she would wear, flowers in her and best of all, the mehendi on her hands. She could not wait too, until she could get the first  the first glimpse of her chacha’s bride. But that would have to wait for the mehendi celebrations, the day after, when all the women would dress up and take the bride’s finery, beautifully wrapped to the bride’s house. Her new chacha’s name was Tasneem. But before that chacha had arranged for all the children to visit the Hyderabad zoo the next day. The whole gang of them were very excited.
By 11o’clock the next morning, nine of them had been bundled into a waiting car (also arranged for by chacha) -- bathed and fed for their treat. An impressive old man, with a flowing white beard was the driver of the car that took the children to the zoo. They set out, and over the next few hours had a wail of a time roaming the zoo grounds, being treated to the little specials that make such outings memorable :, sweets, colourful ices, the works. Soon they were so stuffed they could not eat any more.
As the day wore on, and the sun rose higher, the chatter of the children dulled, some of them dozed in the car and slept. Since the zoo was some distance away, they woke feeling very very thirsty. Home was still quite some distance more.
Lara and her eldest cousin, Rashid had an idea. They told the old driver to stop near a local shop , one of them got out, requested water for the children which they drank n huge gulps, thirstily. As they clambered back into the car, they were all in for a rude shock. Instead of starting on the drive home, the old driver was frowning, something bothering him deeply. “You should not drink water from any where and any one, ”he cautioned “We don’t even know of the religion or caste of the shopkeeper,”  he explained . Lara, Rashid and the other children were appalled. What difference did the religion and cast make to a thirsty child, water was water wasn’t it, whoever drank it and from where ever it came? A heated and colourful argument with the old driver followed.
The next day, the wedding celebration began in full earnest, the best part was that all the girls were having their mehendi applied. A mehendiwalli had been called for the whole day. After many others, Lara sat that afternoon for her mehindi application. Midway, the mehindhiwalli gestured to Lara to summon an elder since she was hungry and thirsty. Enthusiastically, Lara went and filled her plate with delicious wedding-time specialities and a glass of sherbet. Instead of being appreciative, the mehendiwalli sternly asked her to summon an elder. Upset though she was, Lara did what she was asked. The mehindhiwalli then whispered to Lara’s aunt her request: could some snacks be ordered from the outside restaurant please, and a cold drink too? Understandingly, the aunt nodded.
Baffled, Lara needed to have an answer. Running after her aunt she demanded, “ but why could not aunty eat the delicious food that I brought her? Why are we getting this from outside?” “You, see, Lara” her aunt gently explained. “The ways of the world are strange, sometimes difficult to understand. This aunty belongs to different religion from chacha’s and dadi’s. So , she does not want to eat the food cooked in this house. Do you understand?? ”.
Lara shook and nodded her head at the same time. She did not understand that food or water had different religions. But what she was beginning to understand was that the ways of the adult world were different, strange and made her uncomfortable What worried her really was that the way grown ups behaved, it was as if they never ever wanted to change or question them.

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