For five days I was away from the world, without newspapers, clocks, alarms, doorbells and television. But during a trek up in the mountains, the cell phone caught a whiff of network - that's when we came to know of the Paris attacks. Along with the news, I read enough comments dripping with hatred and suspicion to wish the network away. Thankfully, the cell phone tower obliged and I sunk back into oblivion. But the sharp words kept gnawing at me.
I am not very well versed in world politics, nor in analysing the causes and effects of global events. So when life is lost and a community or a religion is blindly blamed for it, my tiny head loses whatever little comprehension ability it has. With the words still torturing me amidst the pristine peace of the mountains, we came back exhausted after the three-hour trek, in desperate need of masala chai. Between the curls of steam, I saw a woman rush past the narrow path below the cottage leading to the speck of a village visible from where I was standing. She was carrying fodder for sheep. The bundle was at least five times her size. Did she have the time for religious insecurity?
"These are the people we meet every day -- hard at work, trying to make ends meet, fearfully nurturing dreams for their children. How do I attribute fanaticism to them?"
The hamlet that we stayed in had a handful houses, with the inhabitants furiously collecting stuff for the winters. They spent the day trekking up the mountains gathering wood, cutting grass for the animals, drying it, storing it, taking the cattle out for grazing, getting the tiny patch of field ready for sowing, and doing it all over again the next day. I could only guess their religion by their names for there was no mandir or masjid in the village. There was no azaan or bhajan that rang out in the morning. They were more like a colony of ants hard at work, relentlessly trying to ensure survival in the coming month when snow takes away whatever little contact they have with the outer world. And ants have no religion.
A three-hour trek had taken away whatever inclination I had to discuss the attacks, religion or world peace. And here the people were doing precisely that the whole day -- walking up and down the mountains, minus the camera and plus a huge load of essentials on their bent backs. I cannot imagine them throwing the basket of wood to the ground and going ahead to kill in the name of religion. For them, survival is religion; the first flower after the snow melts is God.
During a conversation, I asked the woman who was trying to get her three lambs back to her house, "Do you pray every day?"
She shook her head, smiled and said, "Where's the time?"
The menfolk too do not seem religiously inclined or ready to pick arms to save their "God". These are the people we meet every day -- hard at work, trying to make ends meet, fearfully nurturing dreams for their children. How do I attribute fanaticism to them? How do I believe that one day they will get up, leave the home they have built brick by brick, and press a button attached to their vest somewhere?
On our way back, when the network finally assaulted the cell phone, I saw images of refugees trudging along trying to survive another day. These are the same people who were trying to lead a normal life, plan vacations, save up for the children, and come back home every evening from work. They were left with only the clothes that they were wearing, and if they were lucky, the family they were working hard for. How do you attribute hatred to each one of them purely based on their name? All I see is despair clouding whatever little hope there is in their eyes. I see children with their future hanging by a thread of suspicion. I do not see religion.
I was still lost in thoughts when my younger one hooked his arm around mine and asked, "Ma? Are we unsafe too?" He had been disturbed ever since he learnt of the attacks.
"All of us are," I said, waiting for more.
There were a few moments of silence before he asked, "Do all Muslims kill? We have some in our class. They don't look like they could swat a fly."
I smiled and gave him the biggest hug a soon-to-be-a-teenager can take. "Nope. They don't. Religion doesn't make killers. Fear and hatred does."
"[I] will never be able to comprehend the sweeping hatred that thinks that the child who just giggled and ran past with a tiny lamb snuggled in his arms could deserve death."
"Are you afraid?" He pushed me away as gently as he could to avoid my motherly feelings from getting hurt.
"Umm. Sometimes. But most of the times I am brave."
"What if we get attacked?" That's a question that comes up every time there is bloodshed.
"Well, I guess we don't let fear or hatred cloud us. We just stick together."
This time he let me hug him.
I do not see religion in his eyes. I see tears. Tears for the lives lost. Tears for the families broken. Tears for the woman who was hurrying home somewhere in Beirut before a bomb snatched her away. Tears for the child who is standing on tiptoes waiting for her to return. So I do not see him turn his back on the basis of names, or the Gods looming behind people, and definitely not on the basis of suspicion.
We will continue to hope, and we will continue to hate the hatred. There will always be an extra crease on my forehead when I read about threats to our part of the world. I will always worry about the part of my family that lives far away. But my tiny head will never be able to comprehend the sweeping hatred that thinks that the child who just giggled and ran past with a tiny lamb snuggled in his arms could deserve death.
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