ADITI PINTO | 24 JUNE, 2017
MUMBAI: Growing up in Bombay, my parents put me in a school run by a Muslim trust, as it was close by and had a more child-centric approach than the other option which were local convents.
A large number of the students at my school were from families of practising Muslims. At school, there were prayer classes, we said a prayer in assembly as well in addition to the national anthem, the pledge as well as speeches and news reading, we took half days for Ramzan and holidays for Moharram and other saints birthdays, and the rest of our school life went about fooling around and occasionally studying just like in any school.
Many students were from Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist, or even atheist homes and we all started school together in 1993, during and shortly after the period of great communal tension in Bombay, little did we know.
I recall fasting along with classmates during Ramzan, learning that it was about internal struggle, and having great fun trying not to swallow my saliva inwards for a whole day. At a later stage of life, when I would go onto a residential college with students from all over the world, I remember the early morning congregations for sehari with Muslim and non-Muslim friends from Africa, the Midde-east, Latin America and Asia. In the evening preparing together or eating someone’s mother’s special kheema parathas or kebabs.
Just yesterday, I took a double-decker bus number 124 through Mohamed Ali Road and Kalbadevi, and rejoiced at the feeling of Eid approaching, the stalls put up selling clothes, the coils of seviyan for sale, the papers being sold as carpets for the azaan that was being announced in a sweet voice over the buildings of the narrow lanes of Bhendi Bazaar.
We watched fathers and sons, true there were not many women, dodging the traffic as they made their way to the mosque. It all appeared miniature but so grand from our seat on the double decker bus. I turned to my mother who was sitting next to me, both of us nostalgic to be on the front seat of the double decker bus in Old Bombay and said:
“Tradition is great as for it creates community. But the sad part is when you are taught to look just within your own community and none other.”
This morning I awoke to this news: 15 year old Junaid Khan was stabbed to death aboard a train to Delhi accompanied by family to buy Eid clothes. The murderers were a group of communal, Hindutva supremacists who killed him after making accusations of his eating beef and even going as far as to accusing him of terroristic activities.
This deeply disturbed me and I began to search online for more news of the event and what popped up first was a story of another Junaid Khan. A couple of years back in England, another Junaid Khan was murdered to death in the parking lot of a doctor’s clinic. What marked his death, just like this time, is the rise of supremacist gangs who are in power, and believe that their way is the only way to be.
How many Junaid Khans have been? How many Junaid Khans will we let go? How does the struggle for justice work with this right-wing Hindutva government in power? I say a small prayer for all the families who have lost their loved ones to this narrow bigotry, to those who are in the fight for survival and justice, and I offer this small poem:
The dry heat was unbearable the rain clouds far away
The jasmines were struggling to bloom
The mangoes had fruited fewer.
My son went out to the market.
He returned home with a kilo of blood.
That’s all they had for sale today
And they charged me even though it is my own, he stammered
In fury I ran to the market and asked for an exchange.
I asked for a remedy and the managers had all disappeared.
It is as if the walls protected them
Their pocket-full were safer than my bare back
And I walked home as little children peeked out their windows
longing to play freely,
Chimneys burned low fires to not call too much attention.
As I sat for my evening prayer, and broke my fast with a crumb of stale bread
I offered the blood to the ground, our ancestors
And spontaneously the thunders began and dark rainclouds gathered
the jasmines bloomed
The mango orchards smelling
I heard a sweet voice call out from the tower
That a rain would wash away the market
And the weighing scales too
That the embroidery of old aunty Zinat
Was the rainbow it would paint in the sky
And I knew it was a possible future
And the threads had to be precise
Our ploughing the soil and then the rain
would bring our seeds to life
But more than this I knew for sure
That the market goondas had to go
After all markets were ancient places, not shoddy blood shops
But homes of
women, children, baskets and sunlight
But most of all they were where lives from different streets
And different pasts, opened and closed shop together.
And in no market in any ancient place in the world
never was a child’s coffin sold for money
Instead on hearing such news,
the entire market street would shut shop and go to help
And offer jasmine and mangoes to the grieving.