Sunday, December 7, 2008

Ayodha, Dec 6th

I was in Mathura on the 6th of December, 1992 when I heard the news of the Babri Masjid was being demolished and the first thought was if there would be rioting and firing and all these disturbances that they are usually associated. After all the Krishna Janma Bhumi was next on the list of shrines to be recovered.

Sixteen years have passed by since that day. Days then were not marked as 9/11 and 26/11 or else 6/12 would have been legend by now, as a day not just black marked for all the things that the day has any way come to be associated with but also as the day when a section of our own people literally took hammer and tongs and smashed a piece of our own heritage and history.

The towering Bamian Buddhas in Afghanistan were also similarly destroyed in March 2001. These giant statues had been standing since about the 5th century AD and had withstood ravages of time and invasions through the centuries. Then one fine morning, the Taliban leadership decided that these images were not in consonance with the spirit of Islam and off they went. The way Khaleid Husseini describes the statues in his book The Kite Runner where he talks about how he went picnicking there as a child with his father and then the giant vacuum in the hillside that appeared when he read on the news that the statues had been demolished.

This post is not about fundamentalism or terrorism or communal divides or any thing like that which it could be. It is simply about the way in which we view our history and culture and the way we seem to presume that with a few blows of the hammer, we can shape or alter our history and our legacy. No one knows conclusively as to who really had constructed the mosque – Babur or his commander or any one else, but does it matter? Just as no one knows the exact spot where Ram was born or Krishna was born but do they matter, they are venerated any way, so the mosque that was destroyed on the 6th of December was part of our past.

Similar thoughts could be said of the attack on the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai. May be those involved were foreign nationals or not , the picture is still muddled on that point but the fact here is that when the Taj Mahal Hotel was built in 906, there was of course only one country – India. The hotel – a potent, very visible symbol of Indian nationalistic pride and entrepreneurship, was once considered the finest hotel in Asia and was the first building to be electrified in the country. The damage to the building s, antiques, library and other memorabilia are still being assessed but it is safe enough to say that though the hotel may be repaired and reconstructed, there is no question of restoring it to its former glory.

India has no shortage of history and historical monuments. Every day, in some corner of the country some monument, some artifact is being damaged, destroyed, or encroached up on, because we have neither the money, nor it would seem the historical consciousness, to preserve and keep them to bequeath them to a future generation.

But December the 6th is a day to weep as the day when some of our own people decided that the unpalatable parts of our history – where we have lost sovereignty, lost political power and been subjugated –and all the monuments and symbols associated with them do not deserve a life ; they deserve to be physically annihilated. On the 6th of December in Ayodha, a bunch of Hindus destroyed a Muslim monument. In March 2001, a bunch of Muslims having learnt their lesson well it would seem from Ayodha, blew up the Bamian Buddhas. May be there was a direct connection between the two- may be there was not. But on both occasions, an immense piece of our heritage was lost and like Humpty Dumpty, all the world’s efforts and archaeologists can never ever bring them back to life again.

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