It was around this time, way back in 1992, when Bombay was rocked by one of the worst incidents of communal violence and senseless butchering, which did not spare even women and children. When it ended, the official figures were a thousand dead. Reality was three times as much! Whether it was Muslims or Hindus was immaterial. They were all human beings who had a right to live. But at such times, sanity takes a back seat, and people acted as their minds dictated. Rumors were thick and fast. Phones were blocked by MTNL to keep out panic and trouble spreading through rumors and whispers. Hordes of people from the two communities were marauding in vehicles with spears, knives, and various other implements ready to kill one another. It was Bombay's blackest period ever.
I had, with a few friends, formed a group, who would go into some of the affected areas, to talk to the people, and to squash the rumors that had no validity. We went into Vile Parle, a predominantly Maharashtrian Hindu area, assuring them that no Muslim would dare come into that locality, and they should not be carried away by wrong information or wildfire rumors. Similarly, we went into Bhamanwada, in Bandra East, close to Mr.Bal Thakarey house, a predominantly Muslim area, assuring them that no Hindu mob would attack them. Mr.A.A.Khan, who was the joint Commissioner of Police then, had given us his full support and help, and it made our task much easier. For those who may not be aware, Mr. Khan, at that time, personally went to Santa Cruz Airport to stop Shahi Imam of Delhi stepping out of the airport, threatening to arrest him under preventive measures. (The Imam had come by an Indian Airlines flight to further incite the Muslims) Khansahib successfully threw him back and the Imam left by the same flight that had brought him to Bombay.
In some of these localities we had to face irate mobs, but in the face of our stand, they would cool off, and then break down, and narrate stories of horror of their wives or children being butchered right in front of their eyes. I am not referring to any one community here, but what mattered was innocent lives were snuffed out in the name of religion. Man had degraded himself even lower than the basest animal. I may be pardoned by the animal world, for they would never act in such a manner. I would go home, but I was unable to eat food. Such was the agony and anguish that I had gone through, at what I had witnessed, as did so many others, who were with me helping in their own small way to succor those in distress.
One afternoon, I had planned to visit Jogeshwari, a suburb close to where I live. Jogeshwari is a predominantly Muslim locality, and it was from here that all these killings originally started. A friend, who works as a reporter in one of the major newspapers here, was to accompany me, and I was waiting for her at the Andheri Station, so that we could meet up and go together.
And this is what we both saw.
The station was not as busy or crowded as it normally is, because of the riots. As I was waiting, reading that day's paper, I saw a young beggar girl ' must have been around 10 or 11, sitting near a blind old man, with a long beard, evidently a Muslim, both of them begging. I thought it was his grandchild. A few minutes later, the girl got up and went to the nearby shop, bought three loaves of bread, two glasses of chai, and came back. Sitting next to the old man, she started feeding him, small morsels out of the bread, urging him to eat. After some time, the old man, having had something to eat, asked the child whether she had eaten. 'Nahin Baba. Aap khalo. Hum badmein kayage' she said. At this, he stopped eating, and said, 'Beti. Tumbhi khaalo. Takat chahiye. Subhe se bukhi hai tum.' And with very loving and tender feelings, he would break the pieces of bread and dip it in tea and feed her.
By that time, my friend had come, and we both were witnessing this very moving scene between an impoverished and destitute grandchild and grandfather at the railway station. Off and on, someone would come a drop a few coins in the tin that the child had kept for collecting 'alms'.
She then asked him, 'Baba. Paani laon?' And went again and brought water in a discarded plastic bottle, from which the old man drank, and gave the rest to the child to drink.
'What a lovely relationship! I wish parents and children are that caring' remarked my friend. With moist eyes, I agreed.
Having had their breakfast/ lunch /tea/ dinner, the girl cleaned the place up, and helped the old man stand up. It was then that I saw he was one leg short! She went behind the stairs and came out with a crutch, which she placed under his arm.
They then moved forward towards the small crowd that was at the ticket counter, both splitting in two directions.
And we heard the girl shouting, 'Bhagawan ke naam par, kuch daan dena,' and holding out her hands to collect the coins that were being offered to her by a few.
And then, we heard the old man cry out, 'Allah ki naam par, yeh andhe ko madat karna.'
Heck! It was neither a grandchild nor a grandfather. One was a Hindu and the other a Muslim, each helping the other in a great symbiotic relationship. And when the biggest massacre of each community was even then taking place a few minutes away from where we were standing!
'I can't believe my eyes, Swati,' I said to my friend. 'What is that makes these two behave as one, while less than a hundred yards away it is so drastically different?' 'Unsullied Love,' she replied.
These two had a great lesson for us all to learn from.
I turned around and looked at my friend. She was crying. And so was I!
We wondered what we were doing there!