“Fear is making people do crazy things these days.” That’s Shanta’s reply to Lenny baby. Lenny’s friend and their domestic help’s daughter, Papoo, is getting married at the early age of 10. The bridegroom is an old man. Lenny asks Shanta, “Why are they marrying Papoo to that old man?”
When Lenny’s mother had informed Lenny’s father about Papoo’s marriage, and that the bridegroom is Christian and the whole family is converting, her father said, “Good move, better than being an untouchable.” Lenny’s parents have not come with her to the marriage. They are Parsis. They have decided not to take sides in the division of India and Pakistan. She has come with her nanny, Shanta.
“People don’t matter, money does,” says a Hindu man to the Ice Candy Man who is arguing that Lahore will go to Pakistan as more Muslims live here than Hindus. The Hindu man says that Hindus have businesses and properties in Lahore, it will go to Hindustan.
Those are dialogues from the movie “Earth“. The movie is a telling account of how micro-narratives, stories and interactions of normal people, who are neighbors, friends, workers, play roles in the larger social and political atmosphere of hate on which they do not have any control. Their role sometimes resists that atmosphere and, often their weaknesses compel them to act in a manner which helps that atmosphere further grow and spread.
There is a scene in a movie which depicts the irony of India’s Independence in its full depth. Shanta is sitting with her friends, a Sikh, a Hindu and a Muslim. Her Muslim friend is advising the other non-Muslim friends to leave Lahore, if they want to. Both of them decide not to leave. Another Muslim friend comes with the news of a train which has arrived in Lahore carrying the dead bodies of Muslims from Gurudaspur. He informs that their friend Ice Candy Man’s sisters were also travelling on that train. As he completes, the radio broadcasts Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru’s famous speech— ‘India’s tryst with destiny’ begins.
People of the region where India and Pakistan exist, have been living with this irony for the last seven decades. Unfortunately, the narrative of hate has remained persistent between the two newer nations. India and Pakistan have fought three wars since 1947. Both the nations are victims of terrorism and extremist ideologies today. There are deep insecurities and complete lack of trust as the relationship between the two nations remains at standstill. The issues between the two nations have dominated their politics and societies.
The present situation testifies the narration in the beginning of the movie which goes like this, “Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs who had lived together as one entity for centuries, suddenly started to clamor for pieces of India for themselves. The arbitrary line of division that British would draw would scar the subcontinent forever.”
In today’s India, which shall be the future in the film, what is being seen around? A similar kind of atmosphere of hate is building. What is being heard around? Similar kind of micro-narratives are spreading. The process of ‘othering’ is going on. People are not looking at neighbors as neighbors, friends as friends, but, Muslims, Dalits, or identifying them with their political beliefs.
An ordinary person travelling in a train might not understand even the meaning of the words conservative or liberal or ideology. He might not be enlightened enough to enter into an intellectual debate. What does he do with his beliefs then? He expresses those beliefs with a group of people holding similar beliefs by lynching a 16-year-old boy from a different community. How do the agencies of the state respond is a different issue. But, before that, the question which should be asked is how could that man gather the courage to kill another human being, just because he belongs to a different community? That courage, that instinct comes from fear, insecurity, and hatred.
We as a society need to reflect what role do micro-narratives play in our public conduct. These are nothing but small stories, anecdotes, and casual conversations. How do we respond when we hear someone saying, “Muslims are bad, they eat beef”; “Muslims are traitors, they support Pakistan”; “Muslims have an agenda to convert Hindu girls”; “Muslims are invaders who razed Hindu temples”? One can hear people having similar hateful views about Dalits too, “They should remain where they are!”; “They could reach here only because of reservation”; “They just want freebies.” Day in and day out we hear derogatory remarks against women. Take for example the hoax around menstrual cycle. Girls since their early age are made to believe that there is something wrong with it and with them. This all happens with the help of hate-building micro-narratives.
The larger narrative is built with a definite political objective. The micro-narratives are part experiences and part rumors. The powers take advantage of these pre-existing micro-narratives to further their agenda. They create a relevant abstract through events, posturing, and these days, fake news, to synchronize those micro-narratives with the larger narrative. The micro-narratives are all spread across the society. They differ in nature and largely depend on reason and experience. What is common in them is the compelling human weakness. Humans are weak because they are greedy and fearful. As happens in the film, The Ice Candy Man gets Shanta killed because she is a Hindu (actually untouchable), as believed by the Muslim crowd, and, “she loved someone else”.
Those who want to take advantage have a design. They first make people diminish their other identities. They don’t want them to be friends, neighbors, acquaintances, shopkeepers, workers, peasants, and everything which is considered a normal human relationship. One becomes a Hindu and another becomes a Muslim. Their minds have been so fed that they learn to hate each other naturally. In other words, being just Hindu and being just Muslim and having just one relation that of ‘hating each other’ become normal. Ultimately, what does the society achieve? A scar, a scar that remains forever.
In his famous and long poem “Kurukshetra“, Ramdhari Singh Dinkar describes the conversation between Bhishma and a lamenting Yudhishthira after the war of Mahabharata. Yudhishthira is grieving the death of his kins and their role in the war. He is wondering what the war has achieved. And, lamenting that his victory is drenched in the blood of thousands. The poem starts with a question “वह कौन रोता है वहाँ इतिहास के अध्याय पर (Who is it crying there on the chapters of history)!”.
Later, the question is answered as – “वह सत्य है, जो रो रहा इतिहास के अध्याय में; विजयी पुरुष के नाम पर कीचड़ नयन का डालता (It is truth, who is crying in the chapters of history; pouring its tear on the name of man who achieved victory)”. In the poem, Bhishma (as it is he who is answering to Yudhishthira), takes away the part blame of war from the conqueror and the one who is defeated, “न समझो किन्तु, इस विध्वंस के होते प्रणेता समर के अग्रणी दो ही, पराजित और जेती|”; “परस्पर की कलह से, बैर से, होकर विभाजित कभी से दो दलों में हो रहे थे लोग सज्जित (Divided by the mutual strife, people were already aligning in two groups since long time). But by doing so, it highlights how the micro-narratives can be used for wars, and later can be used as justification as well.
With no control over the political and ideological objectives of the kings, what an ordinary man can do? The Ice Candy Man, who has not yet gone mad with hate, answers that in film through an Urdu Couplet –
“दुःख का मज़हब कौनसा, आँसू की क्या जात; सारे तारे दूर के, सबके छोटे हाथ” – which means, “sadness has no religion, tears have no caste, the stars are too far away and our hands too small.” We have just our friendship in our hands.