| Come December
For a number of years, the simple folk in Tamil Nadu had got used to Subramania Bharati’s anniversary being celebrated on a particular day. Suddenly, someone wondered, why hold the anniversary on the day he died. Then the subsequent anniversaries got shifted to December 11, the day the great poet was born. Maybe Babri Masjid Day should be observed on the day it made its existence. But that will be the day when a temple vanished.
I was told of the demolition on the very day it happened by an uncle of my daughter-in-law. Her marriage with my son took place in nationally cataclysmic times. Just a week before the marriage was to be celebrated, the country came to an explosive standstill because of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. Now another national cataclysm.
At first I could not believe it. I may not have seen the masjid, but I had seen a number of photographs and I could never think that a structure that huge could be brought down in a day, however numerous the wreckers might be. Demolition of huge buildings is a highly technical enterprise, involving a number of calculations and explosives of different calibre placed in crucial points in the structure for the demolition to be achieved without endangering human lives and damage to adjoining properties. To this day, there is no real count as to how many died when the dome of the masjid came down; or how many were injured. What happened to them' Where were they treated for their injuries'
The closest I got to the masjid was in 1960 when I escorted three elderly aunts of mine to Allahabad and Varanasi. We stayed a whole week in Varanasi. I very much wanted to go and see Shri Ramchandraji in Shahjahanpur. But my aunts had fixed ceremonies for a number of my ancestors for the entire week. To see Shri Ramchandraji, I would have had to go to Ayodhya and take another bus to Shahjahanpur. I did not know at that time that a mosque stood where Ram is believed to have appeared on this earth. But Varanasi itself gave me moments of worry; why a mosque so close to so important a shrine' Later, in 1974, when I visited Mathura, I thought there was a design in mosques being put side by side with important shrines. It was so in Secunderabad also, with the temple near the railway station our family went to every Friday. There was a mosque adjacent to it. Those were the days of the Nizam. The temple had bells but no one would ring them. Why' They would say “Hush,” and point to the mosque.
Decembers have not been pleasant months for me and 1992 was quite distressing. A brother-in-law of mine was very ill. So was my younger brother. My brother-in-law died in January 1993 and my brother two months later. There was little time or inclination to ruminate about the demolition of the masjid. People by that time had learnt to refer to it as a disputed structure.
That was also the time when a Kanpur-based writer and translator visited us. She was a Tamil but was gaining recognition as an important new voice in Hindi. I have to refer to her in the past tense because she is no more. She was brutally murdered in her house in Kanpur one evening. There were two empty tea-cups and some snacks on a tea-poy. So the murder was committed by people who had known her enough to be received with tea. I had asked her about Ayodhya. She said it was true that there was an upsurge of Hindu feelings. And she said something I couldn’t forget easily. She said, “Hindus all over the world would visit a Ram temple at his birthplace. How many Muslims would go to a mosque just because Babar built it'”
Villagers of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh save money for years and years to visit Rameswaram in South India just because it is supposed to be the place Ram worshipped Shiva after vanquishing Ravan. There may not be many from Tamil Nadu going to Varanasi but for countless people from the rest of India, and even from Sri Lanka and Malaysia, a visit to Kashi is a life-long mission.
I felt sad about the bringing down of the disputed structure. In December 2000, a fortnightly magazine published from Chennai published a long list of temples desecrated since 1193. There were 80 entries and all the dynasties of Delhi found a mention. But I felt if Ayodhya was the place Ram was born, any spot in the town was good enough for a new temple. There have been some wonderful temples built since independence. The Birla Mandir of Hyderabad is a monumental example. Then the Vivek-ananda Memorial in Kanyakumari.
Whether people offered worship in the mosque or not, it had a historical value. It had begun to crumble but still had a beauty and grandeur of its own. Like thousands of palaces and mansions which had been reduced to dust by the sheer passage of time over 2,500 years of recorded history of the country, that structure too would have most naturally undergone change. I wished people had taken better care of it. In 1979, when I had to spend a week in South Extension-I of New Delhi, I was struck by an old structure a little behind the 20th century bungalows. It was a Muslim structure without doubt. It was disintegrating literally brick by brick but still looked majestic. Some Muslim noble must have spent quite a bit of money and time building it. It must have been built to celebrate some event, maybe the birth of a son. It had a large dome and a number of goats had taken shelter under it. Also some mendicants. I do not know whether the structure is still there now. It was a kind of borderpost between South Extension and a cluster of unapproved houses. When the Ayodhya structure was brought down, I thought of the Delhi structure too.
December 6, 1992 did not go without consequences in the South. They say the number of people who died in the serial blasts in Coimbatore was much more than what was admitted officially. And I know one shop run by the family of a Muslim well-wisher of mine being ransacked and burnt. I learnt about it from his wife and she said that without any rancour. She probably realized the futility of it. I knew she was weeping inside. She may not know that I felt miserable that her husband had lost everything of a business he had nurtured for years. They said the immediate cause of the flare-up was the death of a policeman. But the magnitude of the reaction told of a tragedy long in the making.
Now another December 6. Year after year, the authorities around this time get tense and preoccupied with security as though the country’s string of existence was just about to snap. How terrible it must be to be part of the authorities! Metal detectors at the entrance of all important buildings. Search of the bags and boxes of unimportant rail passengers. Atmosphere of distrust and hopelessness as though the end of the world is at hand. The state of preparedness is frightening. But what happened when an earthquake wiped out whole villages' Who shed tears for the hundreds of humble dwellings that got destroyed'
The past is past and what is done is done. But still I feel the demolition of December 6 should not have taken place. That was no way of settling scores for what a man did 474 years ago.