Friendship under the cloud of the NRC

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An October night in a remote village.

A school teacher, clean-shaven and aged fifty or so, sat on a lonely wooden bench in his yard. His face was dry. He looked pale, timid, and tense. The full moon flooded him and his white two-storied house. Women and children fell asleep. The lone coconut tree in a corner stood dumb. No night birds screeched. The wind was pleasant.

“Let’s go upstairs,” said his reporter-friend, sleek and shiny, who had come from town to stay with him that night. “Ah! It’s awesome! I mean fantastic! Moon silvery, stars sparkling, pin-drop silence! So calm and quiet, friend. It’s cool and romantic!”

The teacher’s mind wavered. He couldn’t hear his friend. Possessed as he was by his anguished thoughts. “Sleepless for a month, friend,” said the teacher dryly.

“Why? Are you well? Is anything wrong?”

“N.R.C.”

“What? Are you crazy? Are you a Bangladeshi? Have your forefathers migrated from Bangladesh? Have you ever visited Bangladesh? I know you never crossed the border of our district,” boomed his friend.

The school teacher sat silent. He looked thoughtful and deeply tense. Beads of sweat sprayed his temple.

“…but I’m a Muslim. It’s my deepest wound! They say if they come to power, they would drive us from our land. After all, you are a Hindu. You’ve a thousand advantages!”

“Who say this?”

“Who says this? Everyone! The newspaper, TV, radio,” he moaned and coughed.

“You have a Voter Card, Aadhar Card, Pan Card, Ration Card. And you are living in this village for over three generations. Who can snatch your citizenship?” argued his well-meaning friend. “Don’t panic. It’s a hype! The issue is raised and hijacked by some parties for gaining political mileage.”

“These cards are not proofs of citizenship.” He said flatly.

“Okay, you have land records of 1940s, as I know.”

“That I have.”

“So?”

“In Assam, nineteen lakh Bengalis lost citizenship, you know. Detention camps are being raised throughout the state. Yesterday I saw the picture of a camp in a daily. It scares me. Oh, yes, it’s coming up in Goalpara.” The teacher voiced his anxiety.

“Are you a teacher of History? What do you teach? Assam is different. There had been some treaty or … In Bengal, there was no such agreement between Bangladesh and India. Moreover, in the coming election you can punish them. The power lies in your hand.”

“We are childhood friends. This is a small favour I ask you to do as a true token of my long friendship. You’ll forget the days when we drank milk from the same glass and dined from the same dish. A year and a half ago, I didn’t believe so. But tonight I have full faith in your design!”

The reporter friend shook for a moment and skewed his eyes.

“Friend, you’re born in a Hindu family, and I in a Muslim. But never have we felt the distance!” languidly said the school teacher.

“You need counselling. I’ve a friend. A famous counsellor! Come one day and visit him.” The reporter-friend suggested.

It was midnight. The reporter-friend’s words had no bearing on the school teacher. The reporter was snoring. The teacher feared the worst – the International Tribunal, the detention camp, the separation from children and wife and neighbours, loss of land and his ancestral sweet home! Shaken and terrified, he lay awake the whole night harbouring a thousand alien fears.

(First published in Cafe Dissensus)

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Freevoice
Freevoice

I write because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, said George Orwell. As a writer, I never kowtow to the whims and dictates of the sacred godmen or godwomen, the political bigots and hypocrites, dealers of laymen, the dishonest and self-serving intellectuals, traders of religions, the betrayers of ‘other’ Indians who eke out a living by their sweat, who are living in fear for being lynched for this and that.

Articles: 105