It was like it had happened yesterday because everything is so fresh in mind. He had tried to persuade himself many times that past could not be altered but he was actually not ready to listen to the voice of his heart. He remembered everything.
The entire town was stunned when his friend’s pictures were flashed on the TV screen and then newspapers wrote all sorts of adverse things against him. They were trying their best to prove him a terrorist.
People were talking everywhere and everyone had his own surmises and arguments. Generally, people love adding details from their side and in no time a minor incident becomes a major event. This is the power of crowd mentality.
“It is unbelievable. Isa’s son Musa was a terrorist!”
Isa was a very simple weaver from the middle class locality of the town.
Thank God the old man had passed away long before his happened.
“All these Muslims are terrorists!” said Mishraji, thus blaming the entire Muslim community. He did not realize what he had said and what its consequences could be.
‘Mirror’ had printed the news on front page. It had the heading ‘Terrorism Raising its Head in Town’. The editor had used Musa as a pretext and written a long editorial about terrorism and its spreading wings. The editorial claimed that most of the Islamic Madrasas were the training schools for terrorists. In such places, young boys were educated about ‘Jihad’ under the veneer of religious teachings. The editor said that this minority community was blackmailing the political parties in India.
When he read this report, he was naturally surprised because he knew Musa very well and he knew that Musa could be anything but not a terrorist. Musa was his bosom friend and they had studied together.They used to share everything with each other. He was sure that there was some mistake.
Such relations are gradually lost into oblivion because of other pressing requirements in life. Marriage, business, political beliefs, and social responsibilities very often take us away from our childhood friends.
Yes, Musa was a Muslim, and, perhaps, that was the only point that spoke eloquently against him and indicated that he was a terrorist.
He was from a Hindu family and he had been conditioned to treat Muslims as untouchables. But, Ramesh never saw any difference. The only physical difference he found was that his Muslim classmates, boys, had circumcised penis. Through history he had come to know that during the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb, millions of Hindus were forced to adopt Islam as their religion if they wanted to save their heads. Some of them were lured to adopt Islam for monetary rewards.
Ramesh remembered how angry faced Mr. Rastogi, their Hindu History teacher, used to be while describing the atrocities committed by the Muslim rulers. Though he never said, it was quite obvious that he did not like Muslim boys in his class.
What added to his fury was the timing of the daytime Azan which echoed from the nearest mosque right at that time when he would be ready to start his class. “Allah Ho Akbar!” was the phrase he hated the most. He would say to the students, “Children, look their Mullah is giving Azan. The Muslims in this country never take the name of Shivaji, Maharana Pratap, Guru Gobind Singh, and other great men but they praise Akbar and Baabar even today!”
The entire class would laugh at his angry facial expressions which developed with the sound of the Azan. He was a fundamentalist, a snake who could only spread poison; his interpretation of the Azan was nonsense; he would take Akbar for Emperor Akbar, never ever thinking that Akbar means supreme.
Ramesh would look towards his three Muslim classmates. They would sit like culprits during that period of History. Even after that particular class, they stuck together and never tried to join other groups of students.
Musa was not in that group and that could be the reason Ramesh liked him. Musa didn’t mind what Rastogi Sir said. Musa had a wonderful sense of humour and, like the Punjabi who cut jokes on themselves, he rejoiced in entertaining the students through his jokes. Ramesh remembered that except for Musa, all other Muslim boys urinated in seclusion,
hiding their penis but Musa was not like them. In the toilet, sometimes, he would unzip his pants and show his penis to all of them. He was not ashamed that he had a circumcised penis.
Everyone in the class liked Musa because he always did the pranks which entertained the students and made them laugh. He was really a lovable character.
Musa was the name given by his classmates because he was like a clever mouse. In local language ‘musa’ meant mouse.
Though Rastogi Sir did not like other Muslim students, they did not say anything to Musa because he very obediently brought cane, which was used by the teacher to punish the students, and chewing tobacco. The teacher had no complains against Musa.
Now Ramesh feels that Musa also used chewing tobacco in school days. People had seen him smoking the butts of the cigarettes thrown by teachers.
In rural schools there were no uniforms, no homework, nothing of the sort that is compulsory in the name of discipline in modern schools. There used to be two exams: half yearly and annual. Even the best of the students would fail the half yearly exams.
The parents had given absolute liberty to the teachers to cane their wards for their betterment. After regular beating and punishment, most of the students would begin to study attentively to pass the final exams at any cost. This was the method that was applied by the teachers. Ramesh was also not an exception; he had also been punished innumerable times by the teachers. Now he is thankful to those teachers, at least on this account, for whatever he has come to be in life is the result of that regular caning. In those days, the parents were not much demanding and they did not want ninety percent marks from their children; a pass mark-sheet was enough to satisfy them and they would be proud of their children.
Musa had a very sharp brain. He passed with flying colours though people did not expect much from him because the whole year he would be involved in his tricks and pranks.
How had Musa become a terrorist? Ramesh was not ready to believe it. The news had disturbed him very much and he was unable to erase the memories of the times when Musa was his best friend.
Musa was a regular visitor to his house. They would sit together and chat for hours on various subjects. But, one day, one incident changed everything. After that day, Musa refused to take tea in Ramesh’s house.
Ramesh was from a very religious family and his mother was a conservative, religious housewife. She never liked that her son should have a Muslim friend. Even for the friends of Ramesh’s father, there were separate cups and plates and his mother would never allow those utensils to enter her kitchen. She would never wash their used utensils. She waited for the maid to do the job.
One day, the mother was frying potato patties. Musa was with Ramesh in his room. They were about to go to the playground to play football. The mother had never asked Musa’s religion before. That day when Ramesh told her to bring some patties for both of them, she asked his religion.
She did send the patties but Ramesh received the patties in a stainless steel plate and Musa was given a few patties on a piece of paper. Likewise, tea was provided in two different tumblers, one made of steel and another of glass.
Musa was clever enough to see that discrimination and he pretended that he had stomach ache. He refused to eat anything.
Ramesh finished his patties in silence and after some time they were out on the road. Musa’s eyes did not escape those patties which Ramesh’s mother had thrown out of the window and they were lying on the road. The dogs were ready to fight over those patties.
Musa was hurt and he could not control himself. He said to Ramesh, “If I come to your house, please don’t force me to eat anything. If you want, we can always go to the nearest restaurant.”
On the other hand, when Ramesh visited Musa in his house, Musa’s mother offered him sweets and other delicacies with a mother’s love. She felt very happy to see Ramesh eat.
Sometimes, Ramesh would think that Hindus were wrong because they discriminated against Muslims but he was always loved by his friend’s parents. They never hated him because he was a Hindu.
He tried to find one single point which could give him a clue to lead him to the reason that made Musa a terrorist. He failed to find any. Musa was always present whenever there was any social, cultural, or religious programme in the locality. He would willingly participate in all Hindu festivals and religious ceremonies.
The children had their own ‘Children Club’ in that locality and Musa was the most active member of that club.
He was a wonderful decorator, and he would be delighted while decorating the images of Hindu Gods on raised platforms which were erected during Hindu religious festivals. Using cotton and paints, he would create wonderful scenes of the Himalayas. People praised his art.
Even Mr. Joshi, the editor of a Hindu magazine, was his fan and once he had published an article about Musa. He had proudly written that a Muslim boy had decorated the stage of Durga Puja (Worship).
Though Joshi was a devout Hindu, Musa liked him because Joshi arranged programmes to highlight patriotism and brotherhood. Musa began to write poetry under his guidance. Once he recited his poem that denounced Pakistan and the terrorists who had turned heaven like Kashmir into hell, Joshi embraced him and praised him in his articles.
After that poem, Musa had overnight become Musa Bharati (Indian). He began to write in Mr. Joshi’s magazine. The Hindu organizations welcomed Musa with open arms and they wished other Muslims had that sense of patriotism in them too. Musa was honored by many Hindu organizations.
But Musa was disillusioned only after a few months. His honeymoon with Hindu organizations finished a little too quickly.
It was the time of uncertainty and no one knew where the country was heading. Poverty, hunger, unemployment, corruption, and other burning issues had, as if, disappeared from the mainstream culture. Now people talked about the Ram Mandir (temple) and Babri Mosque.
Musa was in favour of the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya but at the same time he was not ready to accept the demolition of the Babri mosque.
Slogan shouting processions began in Northern India and the demand for the temple was rapidly growing. Then came the eventful day, 6th December, 1992 when Babri mosque was demolished.
Hindu-Muslim riots broke out and everywhere there was the environment of fear and uncertainty.
After that incident Musa began to remain gloomy, as if his naughtiness had been snatched away from him.
Then came the Bombay bomb blasts which took the lives of hundreds of innocent people who were not even remotely related to the issues of Northern India. Most of them didn’t even know about Babri mosque and the riots in Northern India. Peaceful life cycle of the people in Bombay was shattered.
On 7th of December Musa and Ramesh visited Mr. Joshi in his house. Joshi seemed to be satisfied that one task was over. They remained silent for quite some time.
Mr. Joshi said, “I have the correct information that even the Hindu organizations did not know that Babri mosque would be demolished.”
Musa did not utter a word.
Suddenly, he got up and said, “Let’s go.”
Ramesh and Musa came out and began to move towards Lucky’s tea stall. Lucky was their former classmate but he was forced to discontinue his studies for lack of funds.
Lucky brought us two cups of tea.
After that day there was a strange change in Musa. In those days, Ramesh and Musa were the students of B.A.
Ramesh’s elder brother, comrade Pradeep, had a great following in that area. Pradeep would gather people around him and discussions would continue for hours on national and international politics.
Musa began to attend comrade Pradeep’s meetings. He was trying to understand the minds of the people around him.
One day, Pradeep said, “America is spreading its wings and one by one enslaving the small countries but we are involved in Hindu-Muslim problem.”
Musa said, “For you there is no problem. You need not prove that you are a patriot because you are a Hindu but we have to prove because we are Muslims! People believe that we are pro-Pakistan. They want proofs of our patriotism. You won’t understand our problem!”
After a few days, Musa stopped attending Pradeep’s meetings.
After the completion of B.A., Ramesh had gone to Delhi for the preparation of a competitive exam. He was successful and he was selected for police training in the capacity of an officer. He knew that his father had bribed the senior officers and made things easier for him.
After the death of his father, Musa had taken over the father’s weaving workshop. He had tried many times but he was unable to get any job. According to him, his religion was the main obstacle in the way of success.
“No, Musa, if a person is efficient, these companies don’t pay attention to religion,” said Ramesh.
“No, brother, the first thing they ask is religion. You see, Muslims are involved in small jobs like electrician, plumbers, mechanics, and manual labourers but Hindus controls big businesses!” Musa was really angry with the system.
Ramesh remembered that Musa talked about changing the system. He said that Muslims were treated like aliens in their own country. He had tried to convince him many times that it was not so but he was not ready to listen. At least, he had never treated any Muslim badly. It could be the feeling of the Muslims and maybe he was right.
Ramesh stayed there for two days and then went back to Delhi. He had to join his training.
When he was about to depart, Musa had joked, “Go and become a police officer so that you could add to the number of persecutors.”
Ramesh took it as a joke and smiled. Before departing, he had embraced Musa. He could feel that Musa was not happy to see him go.
After his training, he was made a sub-inspector in the poice force. His first posting was in Gujarat. He was going away from home for two years. He was sad because he was going away from his friends and family but he was happy that he was going to serve the nation.
The political game was on the high during those two years and Hindu organizations were gathering more power day by day. They had begun to openly speak against Muslims in their organizational meetings. The weather was changing for worse and there was no hope from any side.
The Gujarat riots had created the biggest divide between the two communities. Ramesh was there when people were being burned alive, shops were being looted, and women being raped. He was the witness to that massacre and naked horrible dance of humanity.
When he came back home, he had many tales to tell his friends. He felt as if he was also a part of a very big conspiracy. Once he thought of resigning from his post and going back to his father’s land to become a farmer but after some days everything was normal.
This time, when he reached Musa’s shop, he found a bearded man sitting at the counter of the shop from where finished products of Musa’s weaving workshop were sold. That man had a round cap on his head.
Ramesh thought, perhaps, Musa had sold his father’s business and moved to some other place but when he saw from close, he found that behind that flowing beard it was his friend Musa. He greeted Ramesh but the enthusiasm was missing. That trademark smile of Musa was nowhere to be seen.
It transpired that Musa had become a devout Muslim and he was studying Islam very deeply. He said that he wanted to study Islam to find out the truth.
He talked about Gujarat riots and killings of thousands of innocent Muslims but his voice was full of anger. The argument and logic could not be found. He seemed to have forgotten everything of the past when he would speak logically, weighing every possibility very carefully.
Ramesh picked the the newspaper and read the editorial once again. He wanted to know why Musa had been presented as a terrorist. His bullet-ridden dead body was found near an old factory in a remote part of the town. It was said that Musa had harboured some terrorists in his weaving workshop and he was the commander of a certain group of Islamic Jehadi Militants.
On the other hand, when he visited Musa’s house, he found a very different scene. His mother welcomed Ramesh and offered him tea. He wanted to ask why Musa had become a terrorist but he restrained.
Musa’s mother did not want to talk. She only said, “We don’t know anything. We know that our son has been killed by the security forces. God knows whether he was a terrorist or not! He would be sad after the incidents in which Muslims were killed but he could not harm anyone.”
Ramesh had learned during his training so many things which enabled him to read the hearts and minds of people. He knew that Musa’s mother was deeply afflicted and angry. She did not speak but she knew that her son could not go against his own people.
After that, Ramesh met many people who knew Musa. They had their own stories to tell. Someone said that he used to go to the mosque meetings and Madrasas teachings and plan against the country. Others said that he was planning something big.
One said, “He looked like a Tali-bani with his beard and cap!”
Other said, “Yes, and he had stopped talking to us.”
It transpired that Musa was dragged from his house and made to run in the fields nearby. He was shot from very close and his dead body was left there.
Ramesh was not satisfied. Next day, he visited Musa’s house once again.
“Auntie, can I see Musa’s room?”
“Yes, my son. What will you see there, only books and books? We have never entered that room after that ill-fated day,” said the mother with a stifled cry.
When Ramesh opened the room, he could smell the stale air and the aroma of the papers. On the floor, there were many books, mostly written in Urdu language. Musa was studying Islam was known to him but he did not know that he was studying the subject so deeply.
He went towards the writing desk. There was a letter pad and an open pen on the table. A closed book was lying near them. A corner of an envelope was peeping out from the pages of the book. Ramesh pulled it out.
Looking at the address on the envelope, Ramesh got curious. It was his address of Ahmadabad in Gujarat. Maybe Musa had forgotten to post it. Ramesh tore opened the envelope:
Last time when you visited home, you must have been surprised to see me, for I was not the same Musa whom you had left there. You talked about my beard. I am studying Islam very deeply to become a religious scholar because I want to find out the truth. I want to know what there is in our teachings which incites the young men to go against the other religions. I will not stop until I have found the truth.
Of late I have heard people talking against us, especially me. They say that I am getting financial support from some militant organizations. You know that we don’t need much money to survive in this small town. Father’s business is enough to support us and then there is farm land. Nothing is lacking in that respect. People have their mouths and they can talk.
After the Gujarat riots, our own town-dwellers have begun to look at us with suspicion. I met Mr. Joshi one day but his behaviour was also not pleasing if not bad. He didn’t even offer me a seat in his room. You remember how happy he used to be while I would recite my poems.
You are my only friend whom I can tell everything frankly. You remember how openly I used to show you my circumcised penis in the school toilet. They think that all young Muslims with beards are terrorists and they belong to one or the other Jehadi group. Believe me, Ramesh, your Musa is not a terrorist and your belief will be strengthen when I would be speaking from a dais in front of thousands of people, irrespective of their caste, creed, and religion and they would be listening very attentively. I am trying to find the solution to this problem that has made our country restless.
For you I am your clever Mouse, Musa. How can a mouse be a terrorist?
Looking forward to your reply