While listening to that statement I missed few heartbeats. How many? One, two, three... I cannot say.
As I am a ‘Monitoring and Evaluation’ practitioner, I have a habit of looking for quantity in processes and qualitative processes hidden behind numbers. But at that moment, I was too shocked to be my usual self.
The taxi driver said to me, “But he has done a good job. Nothing wrong, he has done his duty.”
Ok. Let me begin from the beginning.
Last Thursday, I hired a taxi from Mumbai Central station to Dadar. On the way the taxi driver started talking to me, about rain, about elections etc.
We crossed through Arthur Road Jail, where half of the road was closed. There were many police vehicles parked, (kids were playing around those.) This was instrumental in traffic congestion and the driver cursed. Not having traveled through the road for many years, I just remarked, “Is some sort of VIP coming in or leaving jail today?”
“No, aunty. It is for a single person. For many months it is like this. You remember what happened in Mumbai in November? Ajamal Kasab is in this jail.” The driver informed.
I sighed. Yes, I very much remember those sad days. “Hmm. Now the facts are known, they should really punish him at the earliest. Why it is taking so much of time, I do not understand.” I was thinking aloud.
And then the taxi driver made the statement which shocked me to the core.
I was stunned. Was I facing a terrorist? I was not sure.
Was he trying to provoke me? Was he sarcastic? Was he honestly sharing his ideas with me because my outward appearance does not give any indication about my religious identity? I was not sure.
I kept my calm. I looked at the driver. I tried to understand his response. I had two options. One was to discuss with the unknown driver. Other was to keep quiet. I decided to talk.
“What good is in killing innocent people?” I asked in a natural peaceful tone.
Until then the taxi driver was talking to me coolly. But now he fired up. ‘Why none of you asked this question when thousands were killed during partition? Why none of you ask this question when riots happen and we are targeted? Why people like you keep quiet when we are forced to run away – leaving everything behind? Why?”
Even if this taxi driver was not some sort of a terrorist, he was sure to kill me in a road accident :), because he was looking behind and talking to me all the time.
I listened to him. Then I said, “In the past some people have made mistakes, but repeating it knowingly is not going to solve the problem.” I appealed to his conscience by saying, “Think about those who lost their dear and near ones. Think about those families who still miss them. Try to understand their suffering and pain. What was the fault of those who were killed so brutally? What wrong they had done? Are not there alternate ways to solve problems? If we cannot produce life, why take it?’
I kept on talking. For me the mission of that moment was to bring this man out of illusion of Kasab’s actions, Kasab’s ideology, if he has any. My whole energy was used for thinking about how to appeal his heart, how to make him see things differently, how to change his view about what happened in Mumbai on 26th November.
Initially he argued but then he listened. He opened. His face smoothened. His frown disappeared. He actually smiled. He agreed. He said, “Yes, there is a point in what you say. Kasab should not have killed those who were at CST station. They were innocent people like you and me”.
Then he asked me, “Sister, are you Hindu?”
I did not answer his question. I did not ask his religion. I asked from which state he has come to Mumbai. Fortunately recently I had visited that state, and the very district which he came from. When I spoke about the area and mentioned names of couple of villages, he completely mellowed down. He talked about suffering of people in his area and how things could change. He felt the connection. He kept on talking about his village, about his childhood days.
Within half an hour, the taxi reached Dadar.
“How much to pay?” I asked.
“Nothing”, the driver replied.
I was confused. I repeated the question.
“Sister, this ride is a gift from me. You treated me with respect; you talked to me very kindly and politely. You know my state; you work for my people; so I trust you. I think things will change for better for all of us.” He was honestly speaking to me.
I gave him a hundred rupee note and rushed to the bus stand. I purchased ticket and took my seat. I was completely drained by this conversation. I still miss a heartbeat when I remember that half an hour.
India may or may not have enemies outside, but they are definitely inside. We are in constant danger. We can be finished any time, not by outsiders but by insiders. Even on that fateful day Kasab and his men could act out their ideas, because some of us (Indians) helped them, either knowingly or unknowingly. Without our support, nobody can destroy us.
The flame is burning. That can take any form.
If we are awake, we will use the flame for good.
But if we ignore it, we surely would miss many more heartbeats, many more times.