Ashish'da used to come over once a month, and every time he came, I was advised to go to the other room. We had only two rooms, so Ashish'da and dad talked late into the night discussing something serious, while I would spend a curious time in the other room, wondering why I was kept away. I was allowed to meet every other friend of my dad but those late night visits by Ashish'da meant we had to switch off all the lights and pretend to be asleep.
Much later my dad told me that he was a guerrilla fighter who fought for some ultra leftist ideologies. He was a student of the regional engineering college in Durgapur, and they had a group of people engaged in extremist activities. My dad befriended him when they had come to burn the library of the A-Zone Boys' School, where my dad was a librarian. Somehow he convinced them against it, and sold them the idea that anarchism that cuts off your own limbs will serve you no purpose and eventually paralyse you. A library is a repository of knowledge, and no matter which ideology you belong to, you cannot act like the Romans. Remember when they burnt to ashes the entire Greek effort at ancient science? That took us back a thousand years. In your fight against the corrupt system of governance, where every government official from a peon to a policeman is corrupt, go ahead and kill those guys, but don't destroy schools and libraries and public property. If you ever come to power, you will have to build everything from scratch again.
I can't imagine how he managed to brainwash a group of charged, young boys away from that day's destruction, but he sure earned the status of mentor to these isolated bunch. He used to lend Ashish'da some books, and also tried convincing him that mainstream politics was the only way to come and fight the cancer that had gripped our country. The guerrillas, naxals as they were known then, most of them brilliant students, died a lonely death, and perhaps Ashish'da too, killed mercilessly by the West Bengal police.
That was then. Discontent about various issues have ensured that the world has always had extremists fighting for something or the other. The fighters of this generation, however, seem to have lost their reason. The advocates of pan-islamism today tell their cadres that they will go to jannat if they kill innocent people in another country. The operatives themselves are brainless today as opposed to the naxals of yore. They have lost their faculty of independent thought and operate on weird propaganda created by their mentors. Pan-islamism. A term very few countries are ready to utter. There's oil and there are friendly Islamic countries, so tread softly. Call them jihadis, terrorists, extremists, whatever, but do not utter that word. It is going to be the fight for the next few centuries, and any sociologist worth his/her salt will tell you where we are headed: Islam versus the rest of the world. A particular violent streak of Islam, which has otherwise seen great spiritual heights during the sufi movement, or has been the seat of learning for many centuries when Europe was plunged in sheer darkness. We haven't forgotten the Baghdad where scientific text was preserved in Arabic and later translated into Latin to pass on to Europe, hailed to be the continent of modern science. We haven't forgotten the Mirza Ghalibs and the Saahir Ludhianvis. We still love Gulzarsaab and Javed Akhtar's lyrics. We expect Aamir Khan to create magic in every new film. But somewhere, somehow, today's extremists want us to remember only WTC, the Bamiyan destruction, the killing of Daniel Pearl, or the latest Mumbai carnage. Every time a Muslim name is uttered, your first reaction is of doubt.
Who has to fight it? Definitely not MJ Akbar, who is busy lambasting the people in power from an almost overt soft corner for the jihadis and their "cause." After every attack or dastardly act by the Muslim terrorists, he has, instead of directly condemning it, somehow tried to find another viewpoint. We definitely do not need him in this fight. And we cannot fight this fight. It is for the Muslims to come forward and fight this fight for themselves. Muslims who consider themselves as Indian as any Indian. Who don't hoist Pakistani flags inside India. The normal, everyday Muslim who has come out of the ghetto and the burqa. Who, when they delve into their deep rooted culture of music, art, and architecture, can put to shame many wannabes today. Where are they? Why is it that the Kasabs have come to the fore and the Naseeruddin Shahs and Shabana Azmis have taken a back seat? Why can't Ghulam Ali come to India any more and why can't so many of us Hindus, Christians, Sikhs fall at his feet again?
Naseer saab's powerful performance in A Wednesday was so realistic, I can say with conviction that he acted the role of the angry common man from his heart. It almost came across as a scream from a person who is on the wrong side by mistake. And I don't know what the script writer had in mind, but the character there is definitely an irritated common Muslim man. He says "mazhab" for religion, and that gives him away. When he says cockroaches are infesting my home, he means both India and his religion.
Only a common Muslim man who looks like anybody else, eats what we all eat, listens to the same music as others, and is living in constant fear as any other Indian can help us overcome this new menace. We cannot push them away by constant racial profiling everywhere. A pious Muslim with a long beard entering a mall with a backpack isn't carrying a gun. Don't make him feel like a terrorist by stripping him naked and emptying his bag in full public view. Don't push further away the only people who can help you in this fight. The clean-shaved man that you allowed to pass, can be another Kasab or Ismail Khan. He can also be an LTTE bomber, a ULFA operative, or one of these newbie Maoists from Andhra who is clueless about where Karl Marx or Mao Dze Dong advocated bombing people shopping in a mall.