Thursday, Dec 07, 2023

Ramayana Diary: Days Of Bonhomie

Last Page

Ramayana Diary: Days Of Bonhomie

Recollections of a childhood in the shadow of Ram

Jai Shri Ram Artwork by Neelkant Choudhary

Those days of bonhomie

Time is both a great leveller and a great healer. Joy and sorrow traverse one’s life like two banks of a river. It is the memories that remain, but time also has an inherent ability to forget and forgive. As you grow up, a city changes, so do its citizens, but memories remain.  In just three-and-a-half decades, things have changed. I was born and brought up in Barabanki, a sleepy town of Uttar Pradesh, so small that almost all its residents knew each other. The same people in every marriage, or a mourning, one town hall hosting the functions, one playground to share. Religion hardly had any demarcation. The camaraderie was such that festivals and religious rituals remained common. In fact, events like the Urs of Haji Waris Ali Shah at Dewa Shareef were calculated by the Vikram Samvat calendar. Festivals were linked and we used to have Thakur Ji’s panchang hanging in our house. Nearly, three decades after I left the town for studies, I never realised it would be for eternity.

ALSO READ:Who Is Ram And What Is His Story?

Memories haunt me when I try to sleep. Still, I laugh when I notice people being apprehensive about each other. For me, in my city, there was no division. We not only respected Lord Rama but also participated in all Hindu festivities. When any puja was held in the town hall, we kids used to get tilak on our foreheads. The notes of Akhand Ramayan on the loudspeaker helped us memorise several couplets of Ramcharitmanas and I still recite some of them. The Hindu religious processions roamed the whole city and were welcomed at all places. We used to be part of those processions.

BJP was never an outcast

The Ram Janmabhoomi movement could not affect the tranquillity of our town, even though it is not far from the holy city of Ayodhya. It witnessed everything during those initial days of turmoil—leaders being stopped on their way to Ayodhya, Kar Sevaks passing through the town and welcome arches coming up on the road to Ayodhya. The reason is that the elderly knew each other personally. Nothing changed, not even a bit. Even electoral politics could not dent the social fabric.

ALSO READ:Who Is Ram? Defining The Enigma

Politically, Barabanki as a district remained very active, giving India its first food and civil supplies minister in Rafi Ahmed Kidwai. Socialists like Ram Sewak Yadav and Beni Prasad Verma, Congress bigwig Mohsina Kidwai and BJP’s Rajnath Singh chose Barabanki as their electoral arena. I have seen many Muslims getting close to the BJP leaders and did not hesitate to visit their houses for some favour. In fact, they at times boasted of their closeness to them. They never considered the BJP an outcast. When Singh became chief minister, Barabanki got the unique distinction of getting rid of erratic power supply. There was all-round growth, with a network of roads, bridges, internet and telephone exchange coming up. For us, Lord Rama remained Bhagwan. We were often greeted in villages with a ‘Ram-Ram’, participated in Ram Kathas, were offered prasad. For our generation, the current situation is totally different. Yet, the same feeling exists amongst us.

Small is beautiful

With so much being written and said about the polarisation and the sequence of events, the past situation does not exist at least in big cities. People are now more apprehensive and faith has become something personal. Now, hundreds of kilometres away from my hometown, it disturbs me a lot when I see people have become so formal that participation in festivals too has become a personalised affair. Slowly, every event is shifting to its own locality, its own community. It is very disheartening to hear, read and even witness when things are treated on religious lines.

ALSO READ: The Many Faces And Transformations Of Ram And His Story

Still, when I visit Barabanki, I find it very laidback. The city still remains quite small and at peace with itself. Perhaps, this smallness has kept the people close to each other. There may be mistrust, but it has not overshadowed us yet. Lord Rama’ status as our mutual Bhagwan has remained unaffected during the past 35 years of our existence, and hope the situation remains so. To quote Urdu poet Faza Ibn e Faizi:

Mujhe Tara’ash ke rakh lo ki a’ane wala waqt,  
Khazaf dikha ke Guhar ki misa’al po’ochega

(Keep me shaped in a way that in the successive days,
By showing the broken shells, the time will ask for pearls.) 

(This appeared in the print edition as "RAMAYANA Diary")

Faisal Fareed is associated with the Aligarh Muslim University