Aug 23, 2012

A ray of hope

Karwagarh is infamous for being prone to riots. The mosques and temples of town propagate prayers through competing loud speakers. Owing to its sensitive nature, the town is formed of clusters of houses. Each cluster has houses of either Muslims or Hindus. People try to avoid living at the peripheral of a cluster, so there is less proximity to the people of other religion. Because of the extent of divide, even a discussion between a Hindu and a Muslim is scrutinized in the town.

Amreesh and Faizal work as technicians at the Karwagarh Power Plant. They are neighbors as well - not within a cluster, but at the peripherals of two adjacent clusters. 


Every summer, a farmer from the neighboring village used to visit Karwagarh to run a sugarcane juice shop. The seasonal business helped him earn more out of the sugarcane he grew in his village fields. His wife and children used to accompany him to run the shop. 

The riots that broke in Karwagarh in May 1991 claimed his entire family. For some reason, he chose to stay back at the deserted fort on the hilly outskirts of the town.



It was 1st January, 1992 - a public holiday barring the power plants. Finishing the day's work, Amreesh and Faizal were engaged in a discussion while cycling their way back home. To give their engagement more time, they started walking with their cycles.

Amreesh: "We had to work while many celebrated a holiday today."
Faizal: "What is it about the 1st of January? Does anyone in Karwagarh actually celebrate the New Year? It's a just another day for us. And that is true for all the date specific events and festivals."
Amreesh: "True. But these events are good. They can be celebrated by people irrespective of their religion. In our town, we never celebrate anything in common."
Faizal: "How can we? Even the toddlers swear by religion here."

As they arrived at the fort, they decided to park their cycles and spend some time there. Faizal asked Amreesh to notice the stone-eyed Saint of whom everybody talks about in the town. He was sitting near the huge entrance of the fort. As they passed him by:

Saint: "Over the past seven months, I've witnessed only love birds and alcoholics in this fort. Never had I imagined that I would find a Hindu and a Muslim together. What brings you here?"

Faizal and Amreesh turned back.

Faizal: "We've heard about you. (Pause) How do you know that we are not from the same religion?"
Saint (laughs): "Because you look like a Muslim and he looks like a Hindu - from head to toe. Why are you here?"
Amreesh: "We were in the middle of a discussion. If we'd continued to move downhill, we would have had to part ways before the housing area began. We wanted to spend some time together. "
Saint: "That would be an interesting discussion then. Was it about peace?"
Faizal: "Yes! I wouldn't have said peace, but it was actually about peace."

As the talkative Faizal seemed interested in the Saint, Amreesh whispered in his ears, “He’s mad. Don't you know what people talk about him?”

Saint (loudly, to Amreesh): “What do you know about me? I was a visitor. I ran a juice shop in this town. When the riots broke, my family ran around for shelter, only to find the doors shut on us. People chose not to take the risk of giving us shelter. The same people you're asking him to refer."
Faizal: "What do you mean? I have been to your shop. Are you the same person?"

The Saint kept looking at Amreesh.

Saint: "You discuss about peace. Tell me something. This is a beautiful fort. Why don't people come here?"
Amreesh (hesitantly): "I don't know."
Saint: "Because they hate their heritage. Hatred between people of different religions does not transform in to love between people of the same religion. This hatred manifests itself in lifestyles and behaviours - in existence. Deep down, people of this town hate themselves."

Amreesh and Faizal stood still.

The Saint took a deep breath, got up and started climbing the stairs that go up to the top of the fort. Faizal and Amreesh followed him. Faizal was intrigued with the discussion and continued asking him questions about whether the people will change - whether they can change. The latter ignored him. He just stood firm next to a flag and looked down below:

The housing area began at 500 meters downhill from the fort. It circled the heart of the town with a radius of four kilometers. The clustered houses were faintly visible as the whole town was lit up with night lights. It was past sunset.

The flag waved as a cool breeze started to blow from behind the fort, moving towards the town.

Amreesh pulled Faizal aside and gestured that they depart and leave the Saint alone. They left the Saint and cycled their way back to town, changing routes 500 meters downhill.


Karwagarh was nearing the end of a regular day. Because of being a town with a power plant, electricity made a good contribution to the construct of this "regular day". It kept alive the TV sets, the fans, the lights and the loud speakers. For Amreesh and Faizal, however, it wasn't such a regular day. Not that they haven't discussed things in the past, but their engagement level and the subsequent turn of events were unusual.

They reached their respective homes. They were reflecting over their interaction with the Saint. With no one around to discuss further, they were about to give in to the construct of the regular life. Just then, the electricity went off!

People were taken aback as their prayers got interrupted. Some were surprised of the sudden darkness. Some cursed the efficient power plant for its inefficiency. After some shock, people started adjusting to the situation. 

The cool breeze lured people up to the roof or out of their houses. Faizal and Amreesh also came on to their respective roof-tops. Ordinarily, they ignore each other in public. Today was different - they started talking:

Amreesh: "What happened to the electricity today? Last it went off was .. when? I don’t even remember."
Faizal: "Even I'm surprised! There were no issues at the plant or with the network when we finished our shifts."
Amreesh: "It's been an interesting day. (Pause) And I think that Saint had a point. The fort is our heritage, and yet, it brings no sense of togetherness to us."
Faizal: "Do you see absolutely any sense of togetherness in this town?" ....

People of the town, at this moment, were living literally in the dark.

.... and just then, the electricity came back!

It lit a smile on people's faces. Many jumped on the rooftops and many shouted on the streets out of happiness. Many whistled - in patterns - taking the town in to a state of joyful trance. People embraced the change and for once, the entire town celebrated together. Unknowingly.

The stubborn construct of the "regular day" engulfed the happy celebration in a few minutes. But it left two people out of its grip - Faizal and Amreesh.

They looked at each other and had a speechless conversation. Then they turned towards the fort and aimed for an eye contact near the flattering flag - through a ray of hope.