"I did what I had to, Anju. That's the way I was brought up to be. We all have our own definition of reality, depending on how we have been raised. Outside of it, there is nothing that matters. Whatever deviates from my ways, I kill it. I was raised to defend my country from these anti-national madarchods. I was raised to cut off the heads of anyone who threatened to destroy India. I am proud of what I did, and will continue to do this till my last breath."
This was the elaborate speech Ashwin gave me before the police took him away. Even as I cried hopelessly, TV cameras focussed on Ashwin, being led away in handcuffs by the police. He smiled and gawked at the paparazzi, unmindful of his newfound status as a criminal. In his own fevered imagination, where religion, nationality and hate rhetoric mingled together to create a sociopath, he probably saw himself as a martyr, as a patriot who gave up his life for his country.
But I knew that there could be nothing farther from the truth.
There is no martyrdom in throwing a Molotov cocktail at an innocent man. Within the court premises.
I hoped, from the bottom of my heart, that Ashwin would rot in a jail for life. That someone would throw a Molotov cocktail at him during his trial and set him on fire. I thought of doing it myself but I don't have a penchant for violence.
My phone buzzed in my trouser pocket. It was a text from my doctor friend at AIIMS.
Krish has woken up. He's asking for u. Come asap.
Thinking of Krish made me wish the whole damned thing had never happened.
The fiasco that started the violence and scandals.
** * ***
The School of Liberal Arts
We were a bunch of evolving individuals minding our own business.
Until that fateful day.
Mornings were always a hectic affair for us students at the SLA. The day started with the alarm going off, and after just brushing my teeth and splashing some water on my face and hurriedly donning jeans, tees and a pony-tail, I used to rush from the girls' hostel to the cafe across the street. The Irani Cafe was a large open-air cafe, a regular on-campus haunt for us JNUites.
Over coffee, cutting chai, French toast, sandwiches and burgers, a motley group of friends and I got together and discussed everything from social affairs to politics to films to news to books and political ideologies and the history of societies. We were an eclectic mix of people studying Sociology, Anthropology, History, Literature, Religion and Political Science, and what I learned from these early morning, caffeine fuelled debates was more than I could learn from any of the mountains of textbooks I was reading for my PhD in Sociology.
The campus wasn't, and isn't, a hotbed of 'anti-national' politics, and we are not 'commie bastards' as Arnab Goswami would rant on TV screens across the nation. The campus was a space for discussion, debate, free speech and expression. Boys, girls, students from rich and poor families, urban and rural areas, of differing political ideologies would come together to exchange views, to find our common humanity.
It was a place for intellectual growth, for enriching of minds and giving us a worldview not encumbered by the narrow confines of bias, or the milieu in which we were raised.
We debated without shouting each other down. We informed and opined without trying to impose our ideals on each other. We expressed ourselves freely without taking offense. We listened to points of view poles opposite from ours without taking up arms or resorting to violence to shut the 'others' up.
Like I said, we were a bunch of evolving individuals minding our own business. Going to class, attending seven hours of lectures, which were an intellectual exercise in themselves, and then spending the rest of the day in the library or in the lawns, studying, preparing assignments and presentations.
Until that fateful day.
The afternnon I received that SMS from a friend at the Centre for Developing Societies.
Krish has been arrested. Come ASAP. Will meet u outside the CDS.
Rasti, the friend who texted me, was a PhD student at the CDS. Krish was his bestie, also a doctoral student, and a member of the 'motley' group which hijacked a table at the Irani Cafe each morning. Krish and I were great friends too- some of the most provocative debates held were between him and me.
And I was secretly in love with him. Rasti knew. Krish didn't. I guess somewhere along hearing him hold forth on Social Anthropology, his area of study, I fell in love with the power of his mind, with the passion he exhibited while talking.
I think that's the reason I bunked the one remaining lecture of the day to see Krish. But as we would learn during our ride to the police station, Krish wasn't the only one in trouble. Irfan Sheikh, another PhD student in Political History and Literature, and another friend in our group, would be in trouble too. The worst part would be when Laila, a friend, would show me a news headline on her phone- 'Irfan Sheikh is an Islamist terrorist and JeM supporter'. Irfan was a staunch atheist and a follower of Karl Marx.
But that was before the situation got completely out of hand.
Before Krish would scream outside the Patiala House courthouse as he would be targeted with a Molotov cocktail.
TO BE CONTINUED...