‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.’ – The Second Coming by W B Yeats
These two lines pithily sum up what has been happening in Delhi and the country over the last one month. I have nothing more to add to the deafening noise around us except that as a journalist, I am ashamed and as a citizen of this country, I am scared.
Meanwhile, February took me back home to Shillong to celebrate the centenary of my school, St Edmund’s. I mention this because of what emerged from the reunion of my batch of ‘83-’84 was a sense of closure. Some of us were meeting each other after 32 years. A lot has changed in Shillong, at the school and in our own lives but what hasn’t changed is a sense of uneasiness perhaps of the circumstances of how we grew up and eventually left our hometown. For readers who are not familiar to the context, in the late seventies and eighties, Shillong went through extreme divisive politics of tribals (or ‘indigenous’ people) being pitted against non-tribals(‘outsiders’ perceived as usurpers)in what could easily qualify as genocide. While the school distanced itself from any reference of the violence and we as students refrained from discussing it at school, very slowly and steadily, the non-tribal and tribal divide was getting sharper even inside classrooms. Every single photograph from those days that we carried with us at the reunion is testimony to the divide; the pictures rarely have a tribal student. I have written about this in my first book Che in Paona Bazaar noting how none of the non-tribals boys ever dated a tribal girl (at least in our batch). I tried to date one rather unsuccessfully and gave up after being intimidated by a fellow tribal classmate. He was there at the reunion as well!
So what happened at the reunion was not unusual yet extraordinary. A majority of the boys of our batch who stayed on in Shillong or returned are the tribal boys and they decided to host the outstation boys, some of whom were travelling from as far as New Zealand. The excitement was building up over months and as everyone started arriving we realized how important this one event was in our lives. It has taken us more than three decades to make this connection, to embrace people we spent the ten most important years of our lives, shrug off all the bitterness and perceived victimhood (from both sides) and acknowledge that too many wrongs have been committed but we must look ahead. The hosts took care of every detail from rehearsing for a musical evening to a day-long tour of the countryside, accommodation, special ethnic food, mementoes and personal care. We were overwhelmed and perhaps a little sad for not having connected this long.
It was not just the closure but also a rediscovery of things we had almost deliberately skipped from growing up years. Though we had a fair idea of the food our tribal friends would savour, that was not what we would cook at home or eat in restaurants. Even our food divided us. This time they took care that the most authentic local cuisine was served and we tasted some of the recipes for the first time ever. Even in my excursions in rural India later in my life, I had not seen a traditional Khasi home. Considering this is where I grew up, it is unbelievable. This is the extent of our indifference and ignorance. I am describing this personal visit only to highlight the fissures we have created in our society that is now imploding. As my senior colleague P Sainath in an address inside the JNU recently said, the fundamentalists on both sides fear our diversity:
‘833 million speak 780 living languages out of 6 languages are spoken by 50 million people, 3 are spoken by more than 80 million , 1 is spoken by more than 600 million, 1 is spoken by 1 person in the Andamans, 1 is spoken by 7 in Tripura..this is an astonishingly diverse society and there is nothing like that. There are people who fear diversity so they want to impose one language on everybody’
Kishalay Bhattacharjee is a Delhi-based journalist and author.