If you are living in India, chances are you have a place of religious worship somewhere in the vicinity of your house. Chances are also very high that you have either been woken up early in the morning by some strange music (which often resembles a Bollywood tune more than a prayer) blaring from the loudspeakers at this place, or been unable to sleep at all when the songs play through the night.
My ears have been at the receiving end of this abuse more often than I would have liked. Living in a crowded part of Delhi where there is a religious place at every stone's throw doesn't really bode well for your sleep or sanity. And, there is nothing one can do to escape it.
Instead of being about noise pollution, the debate turned communal, with fatwas being released and bhakts flying into a rage.
When there is a party in the neighbourhood, at least you can call the police and ask them to have the loudspeakers shut down. But no, you can't do anything about these "prayers." No one dares to tread that trail. You can't take panga with God or his godmen.
Nobody really cares that there are night-owls like myself living nearby. Or kids who have board exams, or newborn babies who can't tolerate that noise, or sick and elderly people who might be getting a heart attack because of it. Sensitivity to other people's well-being ranks really low compared to our propensity for ostentatious shows of religiousness.
And this happens across all religions. I wish I could pick one out and target that. But, that's impossible to do.
What Sonu Nigam did was give voice to the woes of many fellow Indians. All of us could do with some extra hours of peaceful slumber.
But he did it in an extremely irresponsible manner. He need not have pinpointed the morning azaan, which, in my humble opinion, is actually a much more disciplined form of prayer than the Bollywood-ised aartis that I'm used to hearing. He is a celebrity with a huge fan following, and he should have known that making a pointed statement like that against the prayers of one particular religion is bound to rake up controversy. Or maybe that was the purpose of the tweet. Cheap publicity and accompanying theatrics.
What bothered me here, though, was not so much the tweets but the extent of the ugliness of the debate that followed. Instead of being about noise pollution, the debate turned communal, with fatwas being released and bhakts flying into a rage. One man even got stabbed for supporting this tweet.
Imagine what might happen if someone more influential made a more communally coloured remark...
Are we as a nation so weak? We boast of a culture the roots of which run deeper than the oldest of trees. Why is it that one moderately influential celebrity can cause so much unrest in our country? Imagine what might happen if someone more influential made a more communally coloured remark...
I fear that if we do not start introspecting now, we are looking at a bleak future for ourselves as a country. This great nation prides itself as having mastered "unity in diversity." People of all faiths came together and fought as one to free us from the shackles of tyranny. There is a reason why our great leaders chose us to be a "secular", "democratic" nation. We must strive to defend these ideals every day.
Let our bonds with humanity be so strong that no one is able to incite us or cause us to turn against our own brethren. The times when India has been divided by communal unrest have been some of the saddest times in our country. Let no one have the power to bring such dark times in our nation ever again.