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Authors: V. S. Naipaul

India (6 page)

BOOK: India
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It was during this auspicious festival of Ganpati – right here, in this locality, in these lanes I had walked through seeing only the surface of things – that Mr Patil, when he was ten, had seen the poster about the visit of the leader of the Shiv Sena. He had gone to the meeting, to look at the leader. The leader at that time was running his own weekly magazine and was better known as a cartoonist. The young Patil boy didn’t find the leader physically impressive when he saw him. He saw a thin man, with glasses, in a buttoned-up long coat. But as soon as the leader began to speak the boy’s blood began to ‘boil’. The leader’s speech lasted 30 to 35 minutes, and at the end people like the young Patil, whose blood had boiled at the thought of all the injustices the true people of Maharashtra had to endure, began to shout their acclamation of the leader.

‘Weren’t you too young to understand talk about discrimination against Maharashtrians?’

‘No. I used to hear a lot about how the Muslims and outsiders were creating problems for Maharashtrians. I used to hear it at home and on the streets. My elder brother used to tell me about it.’

‘Your father?’

‘He had no interest in it at all.’

The father didn’t have the security of his sons. It was as with Papu’s father.

And though for a long time after this the ten-year-old boy had heard no more big Shiv Sena speeches, he began to lend a hand when the party wanted people to put up posters and banners. Later, when his father died, and he had gone out to work with the transistor company, he began to do political work for the party in the evenings. He continued to do that party work even when he found a new job. In the new job he was concerned with exporting manpower to Dubai and the Middle East. He got 950 rupees a month, as against 300 with the transistor company. He took people for interviews.

Didn’t he want to go the Middle East himself, to make some money?

‘I didn’t pass my matric at school. So if I’d gone I would have had to do some menial work.’

‘You didn’t think there was anything wrong in sending people from here to a Muslim country?’

‘Not all Muslims are enemies.’

His work for the party at that time was to sit in the Sena office in the evenings and listen to people’s complaints. The Sena always believed in the social side of things. There was a lot to be done that way. People needed help. Some people had water for only four hours a day. In many buildings water didn’t rise above the first floor. Even after he had been appointed area leader of the Sena – that appointment had come three years before – he still did that kind of social work. When we had arrived, for instance, there was a lady in the kitchen with his mother. She had come to complain about a water-connection. She had paid somebody 1000 rupees for the connection, and so far she had had no connection and no water. The area leader had to interest himself in the problems of the people; it was good for the party politically.

Did his blood still boil? Or had he become calmer, with the success of the Sena, and his own position as area leader?

His blood still boiled. ‘There is a place called Bhiwandi, about 25 kilometres from here. When India lost a cricket match to Pakistan, they used to let off crackers in the marketplace, the Muslims there. When I was small I could do nothing about it. But now I can’t bear it. There used to be groups of Muslims who used to come over from Bhiwandi to Thane here. The local people were so full of resentment against those Muslims that they had clashes with them in 1982, and they broke open the Muslim shops and sold the goods to the people. They sold towels for two rupees. The Muslim shops have come back now, but they live in fear. The Shiv Sena is very powerful. I will tell you: the Muslims even give donations to the Shiv Sena.’

Nikhil said on his own, ‘But isn’t this extortion?’

Mr Patil didn’t think so.

I wanted to know – thinking of his adoration for Ganpati – what was more important for him: religion or politics? In Nikhil’s Marathi translation this came out as:

Mr Patil said, ‘Dharma.’ Religion. But this wasn’t the personal
faith in Ganpati he had talked about. With the Sena’s success and growth, the Sena’s ideas had grown bigger: the religion that Mr Patil meant was Hinduism itself. ‘There is a plot to wipe Hinduism off the face of the earth.’ It was a Muslim plot, and that was why it was vital to keep Hinduism alive.

Two more thin Indian cats or kittens had come into the sitting room – a tabby, and another ginger-coloured cat – and they were walking about inquiringly. Some friends or relations of the Patils had also dropped in, to listen to what Mr Patil had to say to his visitors.

I asked whether Hinduism could be kept alive, if Indian business and industry kept on growing as it had been growing.

He didn’t see any contradiction. ‘If you want to survive, you have to make money.’

‘That isn’t the Gandhian attitude.’

‘I have contempt for Gandhi. He believed in turning the other cheek. I believe that if someone slaps you, you must have the power to ask him why he slapped you, or you must slap him back. I hate the idea of non-violence.’

This was in keping with his Maratha warrior pride. I wondered how much of Maratha history he knew. What ideas of history were afloat in this locality, in all these narow lanes? Did he know Shivaji’s dates?

He did. He said, ‘1630 to 1680. I know all that. Shivaji saved the Maharashtrians from atrocities. But then the English came, and they committed atrocities on everybody else.’

I could understand the larger communal mood here, the conflict between Hindus and Muslims. But I wondered about the meaning caste would have in an industrial area like this, where people lived so close together. What were the Sena’s relations with the Dalits? From the little I had seen, the Dalits had developed the beginnings of that self-confidence, the
, which had been part of Ganpati’s gift to Mr Patil. Did that touch some chord in him? Did his concern for Hinduism lead him to some fellow feeling for them?

He was rigid. ‘We have no differences with them. They don’t consider themselves Maharashtrians or Hindus. They are Buddhists.’

Hadn’t they been driven out of Hinduism by caste prejudice? Was there no sympathy for them? When he was a boy, his blood had boiled when he had heard his leader speak of the discrimination
against Maharashtrians. Didn’t he think that Dalits had cause to feel like that too?

He didn’t think so. Dalit anger was something the Dalit leaders and the people called the Dalit Panthers – in imitation of the Black Panthers of the United States – were encouraging for political reasons. They have no reason to be angry. They’ve not suffered as much as they say. And the present Dalit organizations are linked to Muslim groups.’

I asked Nikhil whether that was so. He said yes. ‘Both those sections, the Dalits and the Muslims, are alienated. And someone thought it would be a good idea to bring them together.’

Alienation: it was the common theme. Mr Patil was triumphant now; but his blood still boiled. Even now he felt that his group might sink, and that others were waiting to trample on them. It was as though in these small, crowded spaces no one really felt at home. Everyone felt that the other man, the other group, was laughing; everyone lived with the feeling of siege.

The time had now come to go with Mr Patil to the Sena office. We said goodbye to his mother; and she, still sitting, lifted her head, her eyes lost below the concentric circles of her thick glasses, and brought her palms together again. Together with some of the people who had come to hear Mr Patil talk, we went out of the pink room to the verandah, past the taken-off slippers and shoes at the door.

We went first to the end of the verandah to look at the view at the back: the brick sheds against the back wall, the abandoned structure next door, with rusty reinforcing iron rods coming out of the concrete. One of the men with us said in English, ‘Unauthorized.’ So, in spite of the apparent haphazardness all around, there was some kind of municipal regulation.

We went down the steep staircase to the passageway between the two houses, and then out into the sunlight of the paved lane. A little way to the right was the local Sena office, Mr Patil’s domain. Structurally, it was a concrete box, a one-roomed shed; but it had been decorated on the outside to look like a fort, with a formal and very simple kind of crenellation at the top, and with the concrete wall painted to suggest blocks of grey stone with white pointing. It was quite startling in the dust and dirt and crumble of the lane. It looked like a stage set or like something from a fairground. But it
was a reminder of the warrior past of the Marathas. The past was real; the present power and organization of the Sena was real.

We hadn’t been asked to take off our shoes before we went into Mr Patil’s sitting room. But we had to take them off now before we stepped from the lane into the Sena office: this, though it was dustier than his sitting room, was Mr Patil’s true shrine. The inside walls were painted blue. The floor was paved with stone flags – the people of Maharashtra build naturally and well in stone.

There was a desk against the far wall, with a high-backed chair, like a throne. As soon as we entered, Mr Patil went and sat on the high-backed chair, as though this was part of the formality of the place. In front of the desk were nine folding metal chairs; they were for visitors, and they were painted in the same blue colour as the wall. On the back wall, above Mr Patil’s chair, there was a picture of a tiger: the tiger was the Sena’s emblem. The only other picture on that wall was of the leader of the Sena. On the desk there was a bronze-coloured bust of Shivaji, and there was another, similar bust on a pedestal set at an angle in the corner away from the desk. The busts were of plaster of Paris, and each carried a fresh mark of sandalwood paste, which was a holy or sacred mark, on the forehead. There was a tall dark-green iron cabinet near the door, and the lighting was by fluorescent tube. A cuckoo clock on a wall – a reminder of Mr Patil’s sitting room – was the only decorative thing in the little cell.

The Sena office was a Sena fort, and there were 40 like it in Thane. In one way, it was martial make-believe; in another way, it was perfectly real. There were constant group fights in the locality. Some of the fights were between the Sena and the Dalits, especially those of the Dalits who called themselves Panthers; and there were also fights between the Sena and some Congress groups. The fights were serious, and sometimes deadly, with swords and acid-bulbs as weapons. The Sena also fought to protect its supporters against criminals and thugs. Some of the Sena supporters were stallholders such as we had seen on the way from the railway station; there were always people trying to extort money from them.

While we were talking in the office, Mr Patil leaning back in his high-backed chair, Nikhil and I leaning forward on our blue metal chairs (the blue scratched down to rust at the edges), there was a sound of tramping in the lane. It sounded almost like a little aproaching disturbance, a little event. And we saw, passing in the
sunlight in front of the door, a number of handcuffed young men, roped together with what looked like new rope, roped together upper arm to upper arm. The roped-up men were in two files, and they were being marched or led, without shouts or haste or roughness, by a squad of policemen in khaki uniform.

Nikhil said, ‘But that’s unconstitutional. People can’t be handcuffed just like that. The Supreme Court has handed down a ruling.’

The men being led away seemed to have dressed for Sunday. Their shirts were clean and stylish; the shirt of one man had broad vertical black and silver stripes. They were very young men, all slender, some thin.

The man who had said, of the unfinished concrete structure at the back of the Patil house, ‘Unauthorized’ – that man now again spoke one word, with the Indian affirmative shake of the head, to explain what we had seen. He said, ‘Without.’

Without what?

Railway tickets – everyone around me knew, everyone was ready to explain.

What did Mr Patil think of what we had seen?

He was easy about it. ‘It’s an everyday occurrence. They are being taken to prison, and they will have to stay there for three or four days. Some are poor people. But some do it for the kicks.’

We went out of the office into the lane. The policemen and their prisoners had almost gone out of sight. The little disturbance had passed; the life of the lane was closing over it.

In a canal (or worse) off the lane I saw an animal of some sort parting the dark green-brown water. A dog? A cow – one of the small Indian variety of cow? A calf? It was hard to see the dark creature against the dark water. But then a round snout rose flat and pink above the surface: a pig. And, vision established now, I also saw, paddling on ahead, their irregular white markings looking from a distance like light on the dark canal, or foam, a number of little black-and-white piglets, paddling and bucking about in the murky water.

The man who had said ‘Unauthorized’ and ‘Without’ now said, ‘Dalit pigs.’

What did he mean by that? Many Indians, Hindus and Muslims, considered the pig unclean; some could hardly bear the sight of the
animal. Was there some Dalit intention to provoke – in these pigs (that few dared touch) being turned loose in a crowded area?

That wasn’t so.

The man who had said ‘Dalit pigs’ said, ‘The Dalits eat them on Sundays.’ So the pigs were not only part of the Dalit separateness; there was also a formality about Dalit pig-eating. The man added, ‘They also sell pigs.’

Just a little way up the lane – where the policemen had passed – many small boys were playing cricket with an old, smooth, grey tennis ball. The Sena fort; the slender young men in their nice shirts handcuffed and roped up; the cricket, the gentlemanly, stylish game from halfway across the world – everything was open for inspection here. And so much more was innocently on view: just below the surface, human emotions and needs, and ideas of mystery and glory, ran riot.

On a white wall somewhere near Mohammed Ali Road in downtown Bombay I had seen this slogan painted in tall black letters: LIBERATE HUMANITY THROUGH ISLAM.

BOOK: India
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