Nandita Das directing Naseeruddin Shah in Firaaq
It hadnt hit me hard enough till Thursday morning. At a friends place the previous night, I did see some images of injured people being taken on stretchers, police looking around clueless, panic among people….
I have to say, it hadnt hit me then. My response was, not again...
But in the morning things felt different. I got a message from an unknown number: See what your friends have done. Just because Firaaq, my film, deals with how Muslims also get affected by violence, the terrorists are supposed to be my friends! I got many messages from my Muslim friends who feel the need to condemn it more than anyone else, who feel the need to prove their national allegiance in every possible way. They are begging not to be clubbed with the terrorists.
Then of course there were messages from well-wishers who asked about me and my loved ones. I too did the same. Strangely, that was when tears started rolling down my cheeks. Guess the thought that if our loved ones are fine, its all okay, seemed like a bizarre way to feel. When will our souls ache when anyone is hurt, even those that we have never seen and will never see? The more I wrote back in SMS and email that I was okay, the more miserable I was feeling.
Catharsis is an amazing thing. It brings out things from all hidden corners. I always saw myself as strong. And here I was bawling for reasons I didnt understand. I felt like everything was futile. So much anger, hatred, aggression... what has the world come to?
While talking about Firaaq, I have often said the one thing we can change in the world is our response to things that happen around us — violence, prejudice, hatred. The line rang in my ears and I felt ashamed of all the times I had been angry. Isnt there a seed of aggression in many of us? Doesnt it shock us sometimes what we are capable of doing or saying?
We are horrified at a cold-blooded young man killing people with a gun, at a man raping a small girl child, at a woman being burnt alive for dowry, but are they all aberrations and evil people, or could they be someone we might have seen or worked with or passed by? Individual anger gives rise to collective anger and to the politics of hate.
I never want to water this seed of anger in me anymore. It may take a long time for the ripple effect to happen where each of our positive energies changes the world. But the resolution itself is drying my tears and giving me a reason to carry on.
But the question remains, what now? Should I carry on with business as usual, not out of apathy, but to defeat the desired impact of the terrorists? Their agenda is to get us into a panic. What if I refuse to give them what they want? But what if I am unable to go on with business as usual? What if it is anguishing me in a way that I cannot ignore and want to engage with it?
Struggling with this dilemma, I boarded the flight to come back home to Delhi and saw some of those horrifying images in the papers. I could feel my stomach churn, but what churned it further were the other pages of business as usual. One had a page about fringe hairstyle coming back into fashion. Another had some speculation about Monica Bedi wanting to marry Rahul Mahajan. My head spun as I tried to grapple with my emotions. Every day the paper is filled with all this and when the memory of this horrifying day will fade away, it will not seem grotesque any more to have all of that again. So then why leave it out just today?
But isnt there a way that we can mourn and register our protest against such violence in a less matter-of-fact way? Isnt there a way that we somehow put all our resources to get our police better equipped with their bullet-proof jackets and ammunition? Isnt there a way of feeling national pride by protecting innocent people from being killed with better security measures? Isnt there a way that aggression doesnt ever take such strong roots to cause such violence?
When I see these 20-22-year-old boys, I am also filled with deep sadness and a disconcerting curiosity about what could have brought them to where they are. Is it that we all want a purpose in life and so when a young boy caught at that crossroads is given a mission that suddenly increases his self worth, he grabs it? No one is born evil. What is it that happens in the growing-up years that gives him the will to take lives and end his own? Is there a way these misguided boys can be saved? If we have to save ourselves, we have to save everyone else.
I got a strange message from a TV journalist that said: Forgiving a terrorist should be left to God. But fixing their appointment with God, is entirely our responsibility — Indian Army. Change the word terrorist to Americans/Hindus/Muslims and sign it off A Terrorist and the meaning is not too different. Such anger, such hatred in a common man to me is no less scary. There has to be a way out of this vicious cycle, beyond an eye for eye.
I have no idea what I am feeling anymore. Muddled and contradictory thoughts are finding their little corners in my mind. All I know is that we cant afford to be cynical.
In the morning making Firaaq seemed meaningless, but as I type away furiously, hoping to catch up with the speed of my emotions, I feel I want to share the film with everyone, more than ever before.
Because I know this day will end but the residue it will leave will linger long after, in the form of fear, anger, prejudice, revenge, and will slowly become part of our psyche.
We have to save ourselves from all this and have to find a way to understand, empathise and love. All these beautiful words I know sound clichéd. We have to reclaim these and make them a part of our life, with all our might.
Personally, in a strange way, I know today is a turning point in my life.
Nandita Das is an actress and director. Firaaq, her directorial debut, is set a month after the Gujarat riots and explores the human response to violence, the fear that invades lives and homes.