saying, no way, his taxi isn’t going any further. He is shaking
his head and looking as if to say, “You must be mad even to ask.”
Byproduct: Among May Day’s remains at Champaner
don’t make daily news but they are silently proliferating
all the time. Often, as very early on the morning of May 1, they
will froth to the surface. They will bring a fanatic to the faultlines
“Nai saab, apun kaa jaan kaa bhi to fikir hai; biwi, baal-bachcha
hai, nai saab, yahin chhodo.”
We walk the teeming
rivulet lanes of the old town, a crazy baroque of medieval finery embossed
with coarse masonry; carved timber held together by garish tiling, a
block of cement smothering evidence of a fallen balustrade, a rusty
water-cooler rammed into what was once some refined Parsi’s gable,
style choked by substance.
We return late afternoon
near-swayed by the intransigent driver’s reason. Champaner Gate
isn’t so much the opening on a wizened town breathing through
layer upon layer of coexistent time. It is more a gash cleaved in the
minds of its people. 1969. 1971. 1978. 1982. 1983. 1987. 1991. 1992.
1993. 1995. 1998. 2000. 2002. 2002 again and again. 2005. April 2006.
The tear has been ripped too oft, too savagely for sutures to work.
Old Baroda isn’t
a town; it’s an eruption of seething frontiers mined with malevolence.
Prejudice, hatred, anger, suspicion, distrust, vile and vicious myth
— the first thing a Muslim child is taught is to slaughter a cow;
Hindus are bent and devious, that’s why they only produce spinners
— and, most of all, memory, a festering sore if ever there was
one. Start a conversation in the Muslim mohalla about what happened
last fortnight and they begin with 1969. Start a conversation in the
Hindu quarter round the bend in the gali and they take you to Somnath
and that “ma******* Mahmud Ghazni” whose wicked progeny
all Muslims are. Put a step wrong and you could trigger a cluster explosion
that’s forever short on fuse.
A week after the
latest blaze — sparked by the ill and premeditated razing of the
teeny shrine of Sufi Rashiduddin Chishti that stood in the lee of Champaner
Gate — a peace march briefly trickled through the embers. Relations
of a slain Muslim, relations of a slain Hindu. Community leaders window-dressed
to their dhotis and skullcaps. Candles in their palms, slogans calling
halt and peace on the placards. A group of twenty-odd in a city of two
million, a pinhead in a cannonhole, doves blundering in a slaughterhouse.
Ask JS Bandukwala,
professor of Physics at the Sayaji Rao University and surely Vadodara’s
most scarred veteran of good sense, what it feels like to plead the middle
ground. “Peace and harmony and non- violence and Gandhi are such
misnomers for this place. Look at me. Hindus hate me just because I am
a Muslim. Muslims hate me because I don’t cry their apocalyptic
slogans and because my children are free to marry Hindus. There are fires
on both sides. Our lives are not stretches of normality interrupted by
violence, they are stretches of violence interrupted by normality. At
least two generations have no memory of peace or harmonious living. Mayhem
So the flattening
of the mazaar of Rashiduddin Chishti — the site has been macadamed,
a scene of crime blackwashed, and an armoured carrier of the Rapid Action
Force (RAF) is parked atop — only became occasion for the latest
blisterburst. Vadodara’s maladies are quotidian, they don’t
make daily news but they are silently proliferating all the time. Often,
as very early on the morning of May 1, they will froth to the surface.
They will bring a fanatic to the faultlines.
In The Wind: The Vadodara peace march
and Muslims put out flags to mark territory, green for Muslims,
saffron for Hindus. And quite often merged with them, the spires
of mosques and temples, competing for numbers and stature
BJP mayor, Sunil Solanki, arrived at the Champaner Gate mazaar well
before light on May Day. His men had alerted select mediapersons the
previous night; be there early, dhamaal hoga. Dhamaal, popular local
for bloody tumult. That evening had a whiff of Chronicle of a Death
Foretold; everybody seemed to know of murder coming other than the murderee.
Police Commissioner, Deepak Swaroop, is believed to have struck caution
in a meeting the day before — this isn’t the time to do
this, emotions are involved, it is a delicate time. But Solanki and
his men were taking aim at the shrine piggybacked on the requirements
of development. The road has to be widened, the mazaar must go, what’s
its value anyway, who goes there, in any case there is a court order.
There was the issue
of the mazaar’s age; it was a century old, probably much more,
it definitely shows up on official Gaekwad-era court maps of 1911. It
qualified as a heritage site, untouchable. But Solanki wasn’t
listening. “If the police and the corporation will not do it,”
Solanki is reported to have said, “our boys in the Bajrang Dal
will do it.” Ayodhya’s loyal bigot bent on battering.
dragged three earthmovers covered by policemen firing teargas and bullets,
to demolish a structure as little as a pillbox. By mid-morning, the
mazaar of Rashiduddin Chishti was a pile of rubble and the
old town was riven afresh by a diabolical design. Enemy had sighted
Enemy again, the battle between Us and Them had gone back to the trenches.
third-floor window in Mughalwada is a handy viewing gallery on old Baroda’s
siege within. Not least because chilled mango panna from the Chinwala
kitchen comes with the viewing. The drink is a godsend in the ochre
inferno of May, the view is quite another thing. A hectic, almost leprous
spread of concrete rising, gorge-like, from the maze of lanes. Kalupura
(Hindu), Fatehpura (Muslim), Nawabazar (Hindu), Yakutpura (Muslim),
Hathikhana (Hindu), Dargah (Muslim), Baajwada (Hindu), Chaukhandi (Mixed),
Mandvi (Mixed), Ladwada (Hindu), Dosumian Ki Chal (Mixed), Suleimani
Pole (Muslim), Jehangirpura (Mixed). Jowl biting cheek. And how are
you to know one from the other from atop here? Of course, the obliging
Ishaq Chinwala is there to mark them out but help isn’t a requirement.
They put out flags to mark territory and frontier, tied to bamboo poles
and poked high into the sky — the green standard for Muslim neighbourhoods,
saffron for the Hindus. And quite often, almost merged with them, the
rising spires of mosques and temples, competing for numbers, competing
for stature on the skyline.
Chinwala, 70, says
he has lived constantly aghast these past decades, but that’s
not unusual. He is a dyed-in-the-khadi Gandhian who would die clutching
his principles if he had to. “I probably will have to, the way
things are, and I will probably die alone, but I cannot comprehend the
world around me,” he says, “Everyone is becoming more fundamentalist.
Down in the streets, they are asking Muslim women to shun saris because
Hindu women wear them and Hindus are telling each other to build a temple
in each home because they are greater in number. Everything has gone
to the mullah and the pandit, Gods are doing culture police duty, Gods
are turning landlords.”