I was wondering if I should write this at all. Everybody's talking about it and I'm not sure if one more piece written on the Mumbai attacks will change anything in however small a way. But I feel like writing about it because I'm interested in the psyche of the indignant. There's certainly a lot of indignation involved here. We're indignant as a nation that a bunch of boys could walk in and blow up our national symbols with such apathy. We're indignant as a society that politicians have Z category security while we have none. We're indignant as humans that harmless people were shot dead for no fault of theirs other than the fact that they were present. We're indignant with ourselves that we have such short memories and we will forget this and get on with our lives- not because we have resilient spirits but because well...what else are we going to do? There's indignation worldwide on the Mumbai attacks- Israel is indignant that the Indian government refused its offer of sending Israeli commandos. Pakistan is indignant that the Indian government is choosing to 'play politics' over this issue. The Americans are indignant because nobody gets more indignant about 'The War on Terror' than they do. It's their baby, after all. The terrorists did this because they were indignant about the victimization of the Muslim community. Their specific targeting of Americans, Britons, and Israelis has made that much clear. There's a lot of indignation doing the rounds globally at the moment.
Why does one person want to kill another? Self-defence and personal grievance are simple enough to understand. But communal grievance is a lot more complicated. I'm tired of hearing people make statements like 'Terror has no Religion'. Of course it does. To say that it's got nothing to do with religion is to bury your head like the proverbial ostrich in the sands. Recognizing the fact that terror has religious connotations does not make you a fundamentalist- Hindu, Islamic, Christian, or whatever else. These terrible acts of violence that are performed with chilling frequency are done in the name of religion and to dismiss them away as political gimmicks alone is dangerous escapism. The Gujarat riots happened when I was in Stella. In our 3rd year, Rakesh Sharma, the man who made Final Solution, a documentary on the riots, came to our college for a screening and discussion. Rakesh was very candid with his audience, upbeat despite the threat calls he kept receiving from Modi's cronies. The film was scary. There were first person accounts of rape, eye-witness accounts of lynchings, interviews with gravediggers on the nature of wounds on the bodies of the dead, openly fundamentalist speeches by saffron volunteers, children narrating their experience of the riots- it was horror that redefined for me the limits of human violence.
And yet, after we watched the film, a friend of mine snickered that Rakesh was uninterested in the Sabarmati Express. He was a pseudo-secularist who'd never make a film on the Kashmiri Pundits. Why didn't he talk about dead Hindus? Why doesn't he talk about Muslims who killed Hindus? This line of argument usually pisses me off. Another friend in our group is Muslim and we routinely fed on her college lunch without any Hindu-Muslim hatred simmering over the heavenly paneer rolls she brought to college. I got angry because it seemed so thick and hypocritical to match one atrocity against another. I was already disappointed by a number of seemingly intellectual acquaintances of mine who spoke for social justice and equity in their term papers while routinely using words like 'para' [pariah] in non-academic life. Feminists who hate Periyar for his anti-brahminism [Periyar was anti-brahminism, not anti-brahmin, a distinction that many people choose to pass over], never mind if he did more for women than did any Acharya. Families I thought I knew who had no qualms at all in making shockingly communal statements by normal way of discussion.
Maybe I was finding all this bewildering because I was brought up in a family where the only connection we have with religion is the Marxist sentiment that religion is the opium of the masses. We don't have a puja room at home and we've only ever visited temples to admire the architecture. My dad is a funny kind of atheist who swears by dharma, karma, and kurma [compulsory for Deepavali breakfast]. He doesn't believe in God, but he believes that good will happen to people who do good. If the Chinese legalized God tomorrow, my dad might pray a bit under the red flag. It's a brand of atheism that values self-belief but also has a sneaking hope in destiny. My mother is a weird kind of atheist who sounds like the Bhagavad Gita even during normal conversations. She doles out philosophy like peppermints. Her theory is that if at all there had been a God, the person's dead now since babies are being burnt in Iraq. 'God is Dead' as Nietzche would have it. My brother is a scientific kind of atheist. He's a physicist and has sufficient explanations I don't understand to prove the non-existence of God. I don't know what I am, though. I'm not religious, I don't pray, I don't identify myself as Hindu [I used to say I'm a pantheist when I first discovered that word], I don't think God will help me in a crisis situation, I don't think good will happen to me if I do good. I used to be a tight little atheist throughout school because my family was atheist and I had no problems challenging my classmates to make God appear before them if He [I wasn't a gender theorist then] really existed. Now, I'm happy being a skeptic, I'm agnostic. I don't know and I'm happy not to know. I think my atheism shook for the first time when I saw the Himalayas. It seemed implausible for something that beautiful to come out of nothing. I also think tiger stripes couldn't have just come from a silly little cell you can't even see. I'm not always rational and I like the romance of the Brahma's dream theory. That we're all absurd little characters in Brahma's dream...and one day, when he wakes up, our lives will end abruptly. It ties up with my love for Becket and every other existentialist laughing sadly over the human predicament.
To my family, religion is a lot of bullshit. We all reached someplace in life because of hard work and brain cells, not by praying frantically before exams or donating money to Tirupathi. And though I'm not a staunch atheist, I find rituals and ceremonies useless. Charming, yes. Quaint, yes. Romantic, yes. But in essence, useless. So I suppose, it's much easier for me to be objective about religious communal violence- purely because I have no affiliations towards any religion in particular. I don't feel hurt when someone says something abusive about the Hindu community. I don't care if someone makes fun of Nairs because my caste means nothing to me. The only time I was ever interested in it was when I discovered that Nairs originally came from Tibet [I was doing a term paper on a novel about a Nair family and this research was necessary]. But this is not to say that I have no affiliations at all. I get super pissed when North Indians complain about the lack of Hindi knowledge in Chennai. Why can't you learn our goddamn language instead of sticking to your national language refrain?- is my instinctive reaction. Note that it's 'our language' though Tamil is not my mother tongue. I identify myself as a Chennaiite- genetically Keralite, but strongly, very strongly rooted in this city I've grown with. I can read and write Tamil, I cannot read or write Malayalam. I think Tamil is a prettier language than is Malayalam. Abuse is fuller with the hard vallinams of Tamil than the nasal mellinams of Malayalam [Malayalam theri is a lot of fun, but it doesn't give one the satisfaction of abuse, it's more comic than angry]. I speak more Tamil than I do Malayalam. I get pissed when I go to Kerala and people ask me how come my Malayalam is decent though I'm running around with unbathed 'annachis'. I'm irritated by the way they stereotype Tamilians, because hey...Kerala is not my home. Chennai is. I get wild when people saying 'karore' and 'thurty thoushand' mock South Indian accents. None of this is personal, mind you. I get pissed when someone asks me why I don't have a South Indian accent- it's meant to be a compliment. But I bristle because it's an insult to my community. I get bugged when auto drivers think I'm a North Indian because of my nose ring. I make it a point to speak to them in propah Madras Tamil to prove my affiliation. When my friend and I got our nose piercings done, we did it on the right side because South Indians pierce on the right. Apparently, Mallus don't pierce their noses at all, but who cares about that. I'm happy to be identified as a 'Madrasi' though a lot of non-Tamils get pissed off- I'm a Madrasi wonly.
Outside India, I will defend my country to any nose-in-the-air First World citizen. I'll get properly angry with Hayden for calling India a Third World nation. I will talk about the melting pot that is India. I will celebrate all its festivals in conversations I have about its secularism- a secularism that does not annihilate differences but embraces them. I will pooh-pooh France's idea of secularism and congratulate the Indian Constitution. As the only Asian and non-White in my MA Gender Studies class, I was the spokesperson for squalor and chaos. I made my country endearing though I've been frustrated by it. But I wouldn't stand up in a class and speak ill of my country to people who don't belong there. Patriotism is a funny thing. With my friends from other Third World nations, I had no problems laughing about our Third Worldness. Nigerians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis- we all bonded over our respective poor country's currency exchange rate in relation to the GBP. Don't get me wrong, none of my Gender Studies classmates were racist- I got along better with them than I did with my Indian flatmates. And yet, it was somehow not-done to make fun of your 'community' [here, the Third World] to 'outsiders'. Same way I make fun of Mallu and Tamil accents with my Mallu and Tamil friends.
Communities are funny things. They provide you with a sense of identity that's essential to existence. You can't be a nothing. Even if you think you are a nothing, you still belong to a community of people who think they're nothings. There are rules you have to follow to be a nothing. A constitution exists to be a nothing. Communities are integral and are prone to give in to indignation. Because what you say about my community, no matter what you personally think about me, affects me. I'll defend PSBB KKN to a PSBB Main alumnus, Stella Maris to a MOP alumnus, South Indians to a North Indian, Indians to a non-Indian, humans to an alien. What happens when there is a conflict within the communities you belong to? The statement I keep hearing after the Mumbai attacks is 'We're all Indians'. I remember after 9/11, Mohammed Ali said, 'I'm an American Muslim'. Which affiliation do you privilege? Which identity do you hold dearer to your heart? Or must you choose at all?
Indoctrination camps- whether Hindu or Muslim- push one identity up over another, making it absolutely essential to make a choice. Either this or that. Communal grievance becomes a compelling bond. Your community versus mine. That is why it does not matter if a two-year-old Isralei child is orphaned in India- it is evened out by the fact that a two-year-old Arab child was orphaned by Israelis elsewhere. When we close our eyes in terror and wonder from where these demons rise, remember that they rise from a very normal human tendency- this tendency to belong. I am, in no way, justifying terrorism or even trying to make these dastardly acts remotely alright. I'm merely trying to point out that by making these acts seem inhuman, we're distancing ourselves from the possibility that we, or anyone else we trust, could indulge in them. That we're immune to indoctrination. Such a belief would be escapism, too. We're all prone to communal grievance, communal violence, communal instigation, communal provocation- if we lay ourselves open for these sentiments to be churned and seized into frenzy, we might...we just might...pick one identity and erase all others with ease.
Communities are irrational. I didn't know I was a Malayali Indian in Chennai till I was told I was. I didn't care about my identity when I came into this world yelling my lungs out. But now, this is my community. I wasn't born with that knowledge, but that knowledge is who I am today. These are my affiliations today.These are the identity marks I will defend. All this is human...sadly, insignificantly, common. We're all matryoshka dolls. One community inside another, one identity encapsulating another. What does your smallest doll look like?