I was back in the ‘reliable’ company again after a couple of weeks. By then my irritation at the encounter with the form had faded into amusement. Given that the Sardar gentleman who insisted I fill things in and I had parted on a cordial note, with him apologising for any inconvenience and me apologising similarly, the strongest impression I retained of him was the look of concern on his face when he heard I was not a believer.
Waiting at the bank of elevators, just before lunch, the question of my id and why it took as long as it did came up. I narrated the story to the two colleagues with me – we shall call colleague1 ‘The Apostle’ (for he is named after one of them and my favourite doubting one at that!) and colleague 2 BKind (since he proudly declares himself one of the bundelkind ) . When I finished the story The Apostle laughed, as is expected in these circs.
BKind though, after the requisite haha said, ‘Aapko religion ke barein mein discuss karna hai. Chaliye aaj kar hi lenge.’ I had said no such thing. I am also clear about one thing, I prefer discussing religion / faith with people who subscribe to my point of view on it. (Yeah. Very liberal and tolerant of me 🙂 ) It was relatively obvious that BKind would not. So I was trying to think of something to say to change topic when The Apostle jumped in, trying to head things off, ‘Arre. Chodo na. Ye sab bahut dangerous topics hein’.
BKind though, was made of sterner stuff. We had just settled onto our chairs, when he began the ‘discussion’.
‘Accha. Tho boliye. Aapko kya lagta hai? Ye religion se problems kyun hothi hain?’
I trotted out the standard Dawkins logic. ‘Religion sanctions excesses. People lose their humanity and their logic when matters of religion come up, so it seems to me we would be better off without any’
‘No. But I think all the problems are because of one community. Dekhiye. Jahaan pe bhi problems hain, middle east, pakistan, afghanistan, ab hamare yahaan. Sab unhi ki vajah se hai.’
I try again. ‘No. Every religion has the same problem. Christianity during the crusades. The Bajrang Dal now.’ I turn to The Apostle for support. He says ‘Yes’.
‘Lekin woh crusades sab history tha. Aap aaj ki reality dekho’
‘Every history was someone’s present. The Spanish Inquisition was also someone’s present.’
‘Aap kuch bhi bolo. Shaayad ye meri galti hai, par dimaag mein baith gaya hai, that its thesepeople that cause the problem. Baat karne ke liye accha hai, par reality ko bhi dekhna chahiye na’
I tried again. ‘Reality is made of you and me. Not anything else.’
The Apostle burst out laughing. I thought back to what I had said and started laughing too. Okay. Clearly very badly phrased there. BKind had also started laughing and the tension was broken.
Temporarily though. ‘Tho aapko nahin lagta ki reality yahi hai. Unke kitaab mein hi kuch aise likha hoga’
At this point The Apostle steps in and tries to say ‘No. The Quran also advocates peace’
‘Accha. Tho phir ye jihaad sab kyun. Aur India mein dekho jahaan pe bhi problems hain. Unko tho pakistan hi jaana chahiye tha.’
The Apostle is sensitive to this. ‘Why would he go? He is also Indian. Born and brought up here, this is home, why would you go anywhere else?’
‘Agar Indian hai tho vaise rehna chahiye na. Aapko cricket dekhni chahiye, unke areas mein (I now forget the list that was enumerated). Samajh aajayega’
‘But that is not fair. And having a muslim name makes things so difficult.’
BKind agrees. ‘Haan. Maine dekhi, I typed in numbers and saw some 30 or so applications for the US Visa. Jahaan bhi muslim naam tha, Appointment ya second time hi hota hai. Mere saath bhi hua, pehli baar. Pata nahin ye daadi aur kaala chehra dekhke kya socha.’ Discussion meanders into racial profiling before coming back like bad penny.
‘Tho aapko kya solution lagta hai. Ye ab problem tho unhi ki vajah se hai na.’
I put the spoon down with a bit of a snap and turned off the smile. (I might be flattering myself in memory here. Its likely that I had lost the smile long ago). ‘Would you say the same thing if you had a Muslim sitting at this table with us?’ I asked.
A short silence. Clearly such aggression was not expected. A hesitation and then ‘Haan. Kyun nahin. Ab hum aise hain ki apni baat sabke samne ek hi jaise karte hain.’
Unfortunately, I don’t think I will ever have the chance to verify the truth of that statement.