Kafka in Ayodhya Part II
When we got down at Ayodhya, a small ancient town with a Hindu mythological past, I was struck by its simplicity. It was a place that seemed to be content in its ordinariness, a featureless wasteland. Looking at its topography, the misalignment of structures, the smallness of its huts and buildings, the dirt and the dust, the idea of justice seemed asymmetrical to this place. The town seemed readymade to bear injustice and violence.
“This is Ayodhya where Lord Ram was born,” N. said, as we walked towards the controversial structure, which was claimed by both Muslims and Hindus. The structure, which used to be a mosque built in the time of Mughal emperor Babur, looked like a mottled dolphin, torpedoed to death, lying lifeless at the bottom of the sea of hatred. “Ram, the hero of the legendary epic Ramayana, was a mariyada purusha, man of principles. When his wife Sita was rescued and brought back to Ayodhya after she was abducted by Ravana, people doubted her purity. Ram listened to what his people demanded and asked Sita to prove her purity by walking through a bed of fire. So judicious and public spirited that great man was.”
“Oh, how tormenting is that…to doubt love…love's purity!” I thought.
As we continued walking through the streets, we saw police and army formations dominated the town's streets. For a moment I thought I was at Checkpoint Charlie. It was neither easy nor safe for us to go near the disputed structure. At a distance, we stood under the shade of a peepal tree where some half-naked sadhus were drinking tea and taking puffs from a chillum. “Jai Shri Ram!” they greeted us. “Hi!” I said, surveying their grey and white flowing beards and admiring their shiny dark skin partly wrapped in saffron gears.
Gregor was jumping again inside the suitcase. I took out some cheese from my pocket and threw them into the case. He enthusiastically lapped up the food and expressed his gratitude by twitching his legs in the air.
“For nearly sixty years,” N. continued, “Muslims and Hindus have been fighting over this Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhumi structure. After the Independence of India, some Hindus suddenly developed a belief that Lord Rama was born at the same place where the mosque stood. So, in 1949, they forced themselves into the mosque and placed Ram's statues under the mosque's dome. In 1992, they demolished the mosque. Thousands died in communal riots that followed the demolition. Nobody was punished. Hindus and Muslims went to court claiming title over the land and now the judgment is imminent.”
“A judgment… a judgment…” the words rolled on my tongue. “What chance does a judgment have in the face of faith's absolutism?”
I felt like telling N. about the Old Synagogue in Prague, the same synagogue that Hitler wanted to preserve as a mocking memorial to a vanished people. “You know N.,” I said, “the Nazis wanted to grind the synagogue to dust by destroying the Jews themselves. Here, it seems history is moving backwards. Watch out for the yellow patch for your people.”
A TV crew emerged out of nowhere and pounced upon us. A journalist wearing a kurta shoved a boom mic into my face. He seemed ecstatic at his foreign catch. “Who are you sir? A foreign journalist? From England? From America?”
I moved away from the TV journalist and turned my face, my hands clutching the rough barks of the tree trunk.
“No, no,” N. said, coming to my rescue, “he is not a journalist and he is not from England. Please leave us alone.” The sadhus, drawing their pot, waved at the journalist. “Jai Shri Ram!” they shouted jauntily.
Our intransigence emboldened the journalist. “Then who are you, sir? A tourist? A spy?”
“He is a writer,” N. said, joining his hands in a polite refusal. “From Germany. Now, will you please leave us alone?”
“Here is a writer from Germany,” the journalist looked toward the camera that was being carried by another man. “Roll the camera!” he shouted. “Here's a writer from Germany…Gunter Grass…you must be Gunter Grass, sir, right, sir?”
The man strode nearer to me but I was being shielded by N. His back was toward me and he faced the TV crew.
“Gunter Grass…Gunter Grass…Tin Drum…Tin Drum!” the man shouted childlike, mock-drumming in the air, his eyes wild with excitement. The camera's red eye was blinking under the fathering dust of the peepal tree.
N. took me aside and we quickly left the scene. Gregor was silent either he had sensed danger or had fallen asleep.
Next day in my hotel room in Varanasi, where I was registered as “Joseph K.”, I saw the judgment that was being covered live on TV. Gregor too was watching the news, hanging upside down from the roof, his favourite position. In an astonishing judgment, the three judges divided the disputed land in three parts, giving one part to Muslims and two parts to Hindus.
Hearing the judgment,Gregor nearly fell down from the roof. This startled N., who was arranging last night's dinner's leftovers on a used newspaper for my companion. Gregor's little limbs buzzed for a while and then he scurried to the leather sofa, making some animal noises throughout the run. He settled himself on the sofa near the window and fell silent like a ponderous sadhu.
N., who was sitting grave-faced in my room since morning, said, “This is no justice Herr Kafka.” His voice rumbled with excitement, his eyes were teary. “But Muslims had expected this. Good thing is at least there would be no riots, no bloodshed this time. But both the parties would not accept the verdict: they would go to the Supreme Court to appeal against it. Again, this monstrous issue would rest for 20-30 years to raise its ugly head in the future.”
For hours, our eyes were glued to the TV screen, following the TV studio debate. The anchor paraded a number of opinionated people who were hell-bent on justifying or invalidating the verdict.
“The judgment vindicates the Ram Janmabhumi movement. This clears the path for building a grand Ram Temple at the site,” said a bald-headed politician who sported a grey toothbrush moustache.
“The view that the Babri Masjid was built at the site of a Hindu temple, where's the proof for that? Now this view has been maintained by two of the three judges, but I must say that it takes no account of all the evidence contrary to this fact. One just has to study the Archaeological Survey of India's site excavation reports,” said a historian with the obstinacy of a Soviet comrade.
“What is ridiculous is that no proof has been offered even of the fact that a Hindu belief in Lord Rama's birth-site being the same as the site of the mosque had at all existed before very recent times, let alone since 'time immemorial',” said an agitated white-haired sari-clad woman.
“The judgment is yet another blow to the secular fabric of our country and the repute of our judiciary,” lamented a bespectacled gentleman in a safari suit.
“I completely disagree with this gentleman,” said a clean-shaven fair-skinned man, raising his fist in the air, “this is the best judgment there could have been; wise and secular.”
When I switched off the TV, I told N., “You know N., Lord Ram is so revered all over India. There are shrines devoted to him. But what about the thousands who have died due to the movement to build a grand temple at his birthplace? Will there be a memorial for them? Do you know how do the children of Germany remember the Jews who were gassed by the Nazis? Every school-going child is given the task to find out the biography of a Nazi victim. When the biography is ready, a plaque is made with the victim's name on it and children go and bury it in the place where that person lived. I hope when your son grows up, he gets to live in a large-hearted India where victims of riots are memorised like that.”
With these words, I sent a teary-eyed N. home. Before leaving the room, N. hugged me and bid farewell to Gregor who was still enjoying the fresh air wafting in through the window.
Next day, at the Delhi airport, somehow word got out and I was mobbed by journalists. There were dozens of them, hounding me like a pack with their cameras and boom mics.
“Mr Kafka, what do you think of the judgment on Ayodhya?” they asked me in a chorus.
I stood by a wall and covered my eyes with my hands and rocking back and forth, I said, “I'm afraid of the truth…. One must be silent, if one can't give any help.”
“But Mr Kafka,” an aggressive-looking middle-aged male journalist asked, “Do you think it is unjust to build a temple where Lord Ram was born?”
I was feeling tired. The airport's bright lights and flashes and sunguns from cameras made me uncomfortable. Then I remembered a Hasidic parable that seemed to suggest an apt answer to the question.
“How do you know young man,” I said, “what is more pleasing to God? Your temple after destroying a mosque or the suffering of those whose place of worship you destroyed?”
“Then what should we do?” asked a young journalist who, in her pleated hair, looked like a school girl.
“Leave the structure as it is. Incompletion is also a quality, a facet of nobility. It has a capacity for silence. At least, that's what I do with my work.”
At my reply, the female journalist's eyes twinkled, and her lips curved into a smile. I smiled back at her and waved my hand. Then turning away from the crowd, I pulled out my phone to call Dora that I was on my way to board the plane.
When a draft of this narrative was shown to Franz Kafka, he repudiated its authenticity. He only conceded that some of the dialogues were direct lifts from his diaries or were part of his reported conversations with his friends. He gave a hearty laugh after reading the draft, and said it was a joke of Borgesian proportions.
(R) thedailystar.net 2010