The TV blared about the tension that had erupted in RamRahim Nagar, once again. The name belied its communally charged atmosphere. Clashes routinely broke out especially during festivals. Though this time things seemed different, more impudent, more raw.
“Shiraz and Paritosh, get me eyes on the ground ASAP. Shiraz, take your other id. I wouldn’t send you if anyone else was there,” the managing editor, laid down the assignment and disappeared behind his cabin’s frosted door.
A chill ran through Shiraz. To go into the midst of that madness wasn’t something he looked forward to.
“Just think of it as an occupational hazard,” Paritosh patted his back.
Later, the two stood a few metres away from the rioting mob. The mob had gone berserk burning tyres and damaging vehicles. The violence behind the two was palpable as they started broadcasting the scenes.
It didn’t take long for the saffron clad young men to surround the two.
They ignored the insistent shouts and continued. The result was expected. Their equipment was dashed to the ground, and cameras snatched. Some even pushed them around in anger. One of them stepped forward.
“What are you doing? Showing us in a bad light? Where were you when stones were pelted at us? These mullas*. This media also supports only the katuas*. What are your names? You have no sympathy for us, we who can’t celebrate our own festivals. Your blood doesn’t boil?”
He squinted at Paritosh’s id and continued, “You’re a Hindu. You should understand. They deserve this.” Then he turned towards Shiraz, who stood there squirming, clearly uncomfortable.
He gave him a push and Shiraz stumbled. Terror flowed through him along the blood in his arteries.
“You’re one of the seculars, aan..? Thinking this isn’t right? This way we show who is the boss here!”
Shiraz blanched at the vitriol spewing through the man’s mouth.
“You seem very concerned. Naam kya hai tera?”
“Shi..” Shiraz mumbled but his voice was drowned by Paritosh’s firm answer.
“Shikhar. Shikhar Verma. Check the Id.”
Shiraz stood there, mute. His ears seemed to be roaring, as if he was underwater, drowning.
“Why doesn’t he answer? You don’t behave like Hindu. Recite the Gayatri Mantra.” The man demanded, his whole being poised towards violence.
In a broken voice, Shiraz mumbled the Gayatri Mantra, which had been drilled into him for such situations, along with various other prayers.
“Oh! Aata hai*!” He sneered.
“Jai Shree Ram*!”
Shiraz repeated, barely heard in the din.
“Zor se bolo*!”
He opened his mouth to raise his voice when he caught the warning in Paritosh’s eye. Instead he said,
“Jai Mata Di*!”
“Good! Learn to have pride in your faith.” The men around raised their hands and bayed lustily. Then scattered.
The two of them gathered the broken equipment into the van where the rest of the crew cowered. Shiraz chose to ride in the back. Once alone, he let the tears run down his face. Tears of guilt, shame and relief.
Mulla: derogatory term for Muslims
Katua: derogatory term for Muslims
Gayatri Mantra: a prayer of Hindus
Aata hai: he knows
Jai Shree Ram: chant praising Lord Rama
Jai Mata Di: chant praising the Goddess Durga, preceded by Zor se bolo..
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