March 15, 2020

The Blistering Path to Change

G Mamatha

THE usual folklore is that winters in North India, Delhi in particular, come to an end with Holi. But this year, Holi had gone, but the chill is still lingering, reflecting the times that our country is passing through. On one hand – riots, protests, anger and on the other the novel virus – Covid-19. All these are giving rise to a serious doubt, is Shelley right: ‘when winter comes, can spring be far behind’!

It’s those December days in Delhi, when cold bites. No one prefers to come out. Everybody wants to lie in the bed with super warm blankets wrapped around them. Said this way, it appears a real necessity for any human being, forget about children. It is on one such day, news blew away the myth. Sleeping with a blanket wrapped around you on a winter night is not a necessity. It is a privilege. Ask Mohammed Jahaan or his mother or father or anyone who knew him. For that matter, even you, who might have come across this news.


Mohammed Jahaan, in his four months stay in this world, had accumulated life-long experiences. Life-long means here, experiences of one who lives their life to the fullest – at least in terms of years spent on the planet Earth. Thanks to the divisive ideas of the ruling party governing our country, his mother and father were forced to prove their citizenship and loyalty to this country. It is neither Jahaan’s choice, nor his parents, nor their parents, nor their parents’ parents’ parents, or their…..that he is born in that family. Just as it is not the choice of all the Shah’s, Modi’s, Bhagawat’s, Mishra’s, Tiwari’s and others to be born in their families with those kind of names. Despite this universally acknowledged fact, it is only Jahaan’s parents and those like them who are now being forced to prove their citizenship and loyalty.

Prove they did. Not by showing papers or answering questions. But by reading the Book, starting with its Preamble. They stood together, or rather are sitting together to protect this country. Save it from being sidetracked. To ensure that it remains on track to realise the dreams of their grandparents, rather all our grandparents, who fought for the freedom of our country. Yes, they are the ones who are sitting in Shaheen Bagh in Delhi and many such baghs around the country. Parents of Jahaan are one among those many. Jahaan accompanied them and learned life’s lessons.

Nature is cruel. It did not afford him the luxury to spend those winter days and nights in the open. He succumbed to its cruelty. Or did he? Is nature really cruel? If it is, why are we still writing and reading; going to office, sipping our daily doses of tea/coffee. Ha, piping hot! Cold winters are time to flaunt jackets….come on Delhiites, put up a show. We are not Jahaan’s. Nature is our ally. Or is it not?

Do not for a moment blame the cruel law. Blame it on the nature or Jahaan’s parents. After all, that law was enacted by a democratically elected government of the world’s largest democracy. Forget that only 41 or so per cent only voted for it. Still it is elected. It can legislate. Nobody has a right to question. Least, to protest. And what kind of parents are you, to bring a four-month-old to a protest? That too on a winter day, more so on a winter night. Glean through those Acts, which can be slapped on the parents of Jahaan. Punish them for not being good parents. Did not we dust off one such Act and made it now a household name today. Yes, the Sedition Act. Look into something similar and combine it with something more. A lesson should be taught. Jahaan’s parents should be punished. And that punishment should be a lesson to all those parents who want to bring their children to protest. Yes, today’s parents should not protest. Neither should tomorrow’s.

Dissent will not be tolerated, neither today, nor tomorrow. The rule of today’s rulers in this democratic country is to make it protest free – so the future too would be taught a lesson to behave. Jahaan is a lesson. He learned his lesson, very soon.

If you do not learn from preachings/teachings, there is another method. Subjugation. In Hindi, there is a saying it seems: ‘the devil that does not hear words, will listen to beatings’. Ask Mohammed Zubair.

Zubair is unlike Jahaan. He grew up to be a young man. He stays in a house. Does his work. Till now, nobody had any complaints against him. That is, till the other day. And we all thought that with February receding, the approaching spring is just a call away. That is, till, along with Zubair, all of us once again saw those dark clouds.

It is just any other February day in Delhi. Mughal gardens are open. Our honourable president had his customary photo with those blooming flowers in those splendidly maintained gardens. It was an open invitation for all to enter and enthrall, seeing the beauty of the blossoming flowers. More so to that special guest. The one who flew all the way across the proverbial seven seas to spend 35 hours with his best friend.

One on side, the ceremonial gun salute was being accorded. On the other, much louder noises are heard, to those who cared to hear. The ceremonial gun salute failed to drown those noises blaring from just twenty kilometres away. Dark clouds were billowing from the North East of Delhi, if you cared to look at that side. Tucked in Lutyen’s Delhi, with air cleared to ensure you breathe properly, water pumped into the Yamuna to drive away the stench, all efforts are made to present a rosy picture. Literally. To cover the stench that is being created in North East Delhi.

In spite of the best of efforts, dark clouds enveloped most of the sky. Even spring is afraid. What can one say about Zubair. President of USA has the luxury of tweeting his arrival with a meme of Baahubali, the mythological legend. But Zubair swears by reality and the blows that rained on him.

Zubair did not read Shakespeare. He does not know about Hamlet, the King of Denmark. But life had taught him the Hamletian dilemma. To live or not to live, that is the question. Whether he should consider himself luckier than all those 53 odd people who had died, due to the designed outburst of hatred. That hatred, which is being spewed relentlessly, by those who claim religious superiority. And magnified by the all powerful media social, which is increasingly becoming a haven for anti-socials. Should he consider lucky than those who could not be saved even by the national anthem? Or should he feel sad that he lost much of what he thought he owned – his house, his work, his neighbours and more than all that, Humanity. Should he consider himself to be privileged to live or punished to death? To be or not to be, that is the question.

Zubair, the strong, wise and intelligent is positive. He is hopeful. He sees spring in all those good Samaritans who acted against the mob.

Jahaan’s parents still see little Jahaan, with his chubby cheeks coloured with tri-colour playing in the tents at Shaheen Bagh. Only, he does not respond to that name. He is not one. He has become many. And so did his names. He now responds to any name you call. All those names you hear in Shaheen Bagh, ring in Jahaan. And in, Saare Jahaan se Accha. He became India. Jahaan, the Earth.

He is cradled by all the daadis of Shaheen Bagh. And it is a cold Holi. Still they are there. Did their determination wane? Did their belief lessen? Shaheen Bagh is now no longer that small stretch of a place in Delhi. It is now no more a noun. It has become a verb. Shaheen Bagh = Protest. It is also an adjective – inspirational.

Once upon a time, more than hundred years ago, women marched demanding their rights. Their protests gave rise to the observance of one day in whole year, called the Women’s Day. Some of their demands are achieved. Some are not. They were inspirational. Still to this day, it is being observed to take stock, gird up to continue the march.

Jahaan is one milestone in this march. So is Zubair. They might not point to the remaining distance to be covered. But they indicate that we are marching in the right direction. And this is a long march. Remember Sakku Bai, that 62-year old farmer who walked with blistered foot for several days from Nashik to Mumbai in the Kisan Long March? Look at her feet once again. That is the march that we are into. Her feet speak of the path that we need to tread. Her face speaks of courage. Her heart beats for a change and the will to walk the change. With her walk, Sakku Bai challenged all of us.

It is now upon us to accept it or reject. Reject, don’t blame Shelley for the long winters and reclusive spring. Accept, be ready to welcome the sunshine. The majestic dawn awaits!!