The Indian Divide: Dost Dost Na Raha - The New Indian Express

The Indian Divide: Dost Dost Na Raha

Published: 12th April 2014 12:44 PM

Last Updated: 12th April 2014 12:45 PM

Move over Capulets and Montagues. Or, if you are a Sanjay Leela aficionado, you Rajaris and Saneras. Life’s most fevered fight is not raging between clans or tribes. Not even between Hindus and Muslims, haves and have-nots. That would be understandable. One man’s religious beliefs can be inexplicable to one of a different faith. Polarisation of communities can be explained by the disparate distribution of resources, by overwhelming advantages in education, housing, healthcare enjoyed by the favoured class.

That is a global phenomenon.

We have leapfrogged to another dimension. The biggest schism in urban India these days is between the Chatterjees and Chaturvedis, the Bhagats and Bhallas, the Krishnans and Kuttys. Today’s battle is between neighbours, colleagues and erstwhile friends. Between people who once laughed and drank together. Who argued over politics and economics in between admiring each other’s tastes in films and music. Whose children walked in and out of both houses when and as they pleased and borrowed each other’s cycles without a may-I or thank you.

Indians have traditionally been political and vociferous animals. There are few things we enjoy more than an adda with a loud debate on what’s wrong with the country/state/cricket game/RWA, and what can be done to fix the problem. Typically, everyone has a unique point of view, which makes every problem-solving session a work in progress. Which is why our addas tend to end with everyone agreeing to disagree, eating their samosa and going home.

Not any more. The old ease has evaporated. Because agreeing to disagree is not acceptable any more. And that is why so many old friends, including the aforementioned families, rarely meet. When they do, they are careful to speak only about the weather. Because even a casual conversation—about schools, jobs, even traffic—can turn into a bitter battle about politics.

And for that we have Elections 2014, with Narendra Modi playing the lead role in this year’s most controversial film, to thank. This is a man who is as revered as he is reviled. His fans see him as an efficient super executive; his critics as India’s most polarising politician. The election results are yet to come. Maybe Modi will be PM, and maybe he won’t; maybe he will be a brilliant administrator, and maybe he won’t. Maybe he will be kind to Muslims and gentle with women; that is tomorrow’s story.

For now, his very presence—no, make that mention—seems to be enough to divide a room into hostile sections, where generous, tolerant Indians morph into bile-spewing vessels of hatred against each other. Neither side will let a single comment by the other go unchallenged; denigrating the opposition is the order of the day.

Worse, there appears to be a loss of historical memory. Did our life as a nation begin in 1947 or as a race that finds mention in the Vedas—never mind how many have actually read the texts? Has our nation “been broken into fragments by narrow domestic walls”, obliterating whatever it is, philosophically and spiritually, that makes us Indian?

I hope not. If I was allowed a prayer, “Give us another chance,” I would say, and steal from Tagore, “Into ever-widening thought and action. Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.” 

shampa@newindianexpress.com

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