The Ugly Indian is getting uglier, but wait…
A Hindu health worker in Mumbai saved from his meagre income to host his Muslim friends on Eid. His small way of underlining his conviction that every Indian belongs, and atoning for others' wrongs
Eid was celebrated peacefully across India on Saturday.
I was at a hospital in the afternoon when one of the attendants greeted me with ‘Eid Mubarak’. I was startled because his name was Pratik, and in today's atmosphere of communal disharmony in the country, I had not thought that any middle-class Indian Hindu male like him would harbour a sentiment like that.
He was hurrying up his charges because he was throwing a biryani party for his Muslim friends and colleagues and I was startled no end. When I asked, he seemed a bit hesitant but then said, “I know it is we who should be asking them for biryani parties on Eid the way we host them on Diwali. But I did not want them to feel pressured after the kind of things Hindus have been subjecting them to over the years.”
He continued, “Look what happened during Ram Navami this year. Did you ever hear of Muslims playing loud music at our temples during Eid or burning down even one such place of worship? I thought instead of burdening them further for a celebration, I and my wife would host an Eid party for them.”
As tears rushed to my eyes, that young ordinary-looking health worker had never appeared more beautiful to me. Because for long, with the Marlon Brando movie at the back of my mind, I have long been thinking of the Indian Hindu male (and many a female) of today as ‘The Ugly Indian’. And plenty of them are ugly—bigoted, communal, rude, abusive, all in the context of Hindu-Muslim relations, cutting across hierarchies, whether upper crust, middle class or lower, doctors, lawyers or other professionals, businessmen or even salaried workers.
After I left the hospital, I got thinking and realised what Pratik had said was true. Not just now, but I have never in all my life heard of anyone from any Muslim community, even the so-called extreme Wahabis, ever offering any provocation at Hindu homes or places of worship, during Eid or any time else.
One of my former classmates is married to an elegant Muslim lady. Her family was very upset during the wedding which was solemnised with Hindu rituals. They did not attend the ceremonies but were briefly present at the reception to offer their blessings to their daughter. However, never was there any allegation of a ‘love jihad’ in the reverse.
We lived in a mixed society. While goat sacrifices were banned within the compound at Eid—more for humanitarian than religious reasons—the Muslim residents never objected to the loud Monday evening aartis, in fact some of them even partook of the community prasad that was on offer at the end of each Monday evening. They also donated generously to the society Ganpati celebrations. There was no ugliness in behaviour or demeanour ever.
I realised that, even in less polarised times, the provocation has always been from the ugly Indian Hindu, male or female. How does one otherwise think any different about Bilkis Bano’s rapists who have been released from jail and of the women who welcome them home with aartis? How does one react to men like Babu Bajrangi, among those acquitted by a Gujarat court, who not just raped women but tore open a pregnant woman’s stomach and speared her foetus and later said he slept so well at night?
How does one then have a fellow feeling for Maya Kodnani, a doctor, who allegedly shot several men, women and children during the 2002 Gujarat riots in cold blood, simply got into her car and drove away?
These are all Indians as ugly to the rest of us as Americans were to the Vietnamese when Eugene Burdick and William Lederer wrote The Ugly American. My father had the book in his library and, reading it as a teen, I have never quite lost the impression of the American as a supremacist, full of contempt for everything and every human race, except themselves. Somehow the Babu Bajrangis and Maya Kodnanis appear uglier today than the ugly Americans of the 1950s and 1960s.
These ugly Indians, I realise, always existed but it is the BJP-RSS and Narendra Modi who have unleashed their darker side upon India.
These dark, ugly Indian men are nothing but bullies, and like all bullies, I am sure, they are cowards who would disappear into the woodwork once there is a regime change and the rule of law is restored in the country. Ditto for the shrill and abusive women like Smriti Irani whose silly soul has only one task—to dog Rahul Gandhi and yap at his heels. She only yaps shriller than most.
So, as Rahul Gandhi vacated his home of 19 years, on Eid, I realised that the purpose of the ugly Indians, and here I mean the entire RSS-BJP, is solely to harass the Congress leader who is much like their bète-noir Mahatma Gandhi in philosophy, doctrine and aesthetics, but firmly like his great-grandfather Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in one thing—his abhorrence of fascism and absolute refusal to deal in any way with fascists, however powerful they may be (Nehru had turned down an invitation to dine with Benito Mussolini at a time when he was no less powerful than a Roman emperor).
And as our very own fascists become darker and uglier with each passing day, Rahul Gandhi by the simple expedient of being different appears taller, fairer, truer.
Meanwhile, Pratik’s hosting of an Eid party for his friends, both Muslim and Hindu, gives me hope that not all Indians are as ugly as they have shown themselves in recent years. And that example of this ordinary health worker is what we must all follow.
He never spoke out amidst the bigots in his own work environment because he wished to avoid confrontation and strife. But he decided to set an example with his action. Ten kilos of biryani was too much for him to afford, but, as he told me, he used to save up for Diwali; this year, long before Ram Navami, he had decided to save up for Eid as well.
There could never be a greater example of belonging and brotherhood, still alive, than that.
(Views are personal)
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