It was a warm summer evening. We were sitting together in our tiny half-lit apartment, our eyes glued to the TV. The angry Hindu mob had set a mosque on fire in East Delhi. To make matters worse, they had placed a Hanuman flag on the minaret. The mix of orange and grey, the purple screams and black stones were shaking me from inside. The mob is blinded by faith. There were children running around with iron rods, unsure what they were fighting for, but fuming nonetheless. Children – like I have in my room. My children know all about the past riots in India. We have spoken about communal violence, civil war, religious identity and faith for hours. In none of our conversations did we think that it will happen again.
I turned my head. He was sitting next to me. He was only 16 years old and there he was – witnessing his place of worship turn into a fiery mass. We were silent. I could see the reflection of fire in his eyes. I looked at the other children. They looked scared.
I asked them to stay inside, although we were thousands of miles away from Delhi. When riots start and no one stops them, the fear stays that in no time it will spread to the rest of the country like a wildfire. It will consume one and all, leaving nothing behind but remnants of orange hatred. Years later in some court the evidence will prove that powerful people who could take a stand, but didn’t, were innocent. VISA will be re-approved, foreign visits will commence but the wounded mass of people would never heal. They would have lost everything to the orange fire.
I walked down the street looking for signs of normalcy. I kept thinking about my community in Kondhwa. How the entire community would turn green during the festival of Eid and how fearlessly I could walk in the narrow muddy lanes, dodging the six feet speakers at every street corner. I was welcome to every house for Biriyani. How are the children doing tonight? Are they safe or are they packing their bags? Are they watching TV? Is fire burning in their eyes?
I was heartbroken, not shocked, that children had joined the fight. I remembered how easily my teenagers used to lose temper. How easily they would break into a fight. How incredibly difficult it was to build peace in the classroom and to help them get over communal hatred. I remember being challenged by them. “You are teaching us to be peaceful – how useless – we need to survive in the world, we need to stand up to fights”, they would say. Should I have taught them to pick up a stone instead? Not till I am alive.
They did learn to pick up a pen. They stopped commenting on religious identity, but it took a very long time. Yet today, I was shaken inside. When children of their age picked up iron rods, what would they do? Will they protect their friends with scarlet love or turn against them faced with orange hatred? Would they let faith trump logic? I hope not, I really hope not. I hope I have taught them better.
I was shivering in the warm summer evening when I came back home. My children had switched off the TV and were sitting in a circle. I call them my children – but we are not related by blood. We are a family related to each other by love and compassion. I overheard them talking about love and hatred, discussing what they could do to spread love in their classrooms, how they were looking at the world like a rainbow, beyond orange and red. How they were willing to share our tiny room with more strangers and make it a safe space. At that moment, at that very moment, I felt warm inside. Anger was destroying my country, but at the same time, we have enough love to rebuild it.
I looked into his eyes. The fire had subsided and I could see a flaming scarlet of hope.