(Photo: Dr. Atma Prakash Singh)
This photograph is very important for me. I thank Dr Singh for sending it. I am quite sure that this photograph that belongs to the decades before the conversion of the Gyan Vaapi Temple-mosque compound into some sort of battleground, post-1992, must have been captured by Atma’s father. Therefore, I must actually thank uncle, his father Dr. V. P. Singh, a Kasilogist, Kasiphile, a fine painter himself and a renowned art and architecture photographer of Kasi.
The area shown in the image above looks nothing like it nowadays. Back then, as I had mentioned in one of my previous posts, the whole compound was totally open. We, the children of Anand uncle’s coaching used to go there to play. We used to run around, sit or just stand and chat. Nobody would mind. Gyan Vaapi was very close to Adi Vishweshwar Temple, were Anand Sir, my father’s old friend used to have a very successful coaching centre that was named on the deity of the temple. That’s why, my attachment to this space is totally areligious, personal and emotional.
As this post falls in the urballaghology series, it is about change in the city, my city: the socio-cultural and physical change. For us, the mosque with a wall of a temple may have been strange, but never unnatural. It belonged to the city, and to the overall set up. We never questioned the incongruity of its elements. At one place on the temple wall of the mosque (I know, it sounds so strange) there used to be a spot that Hindus used to worship by applying vermillion etc. Muslims had their mosque, Hindus, their side of the wall. I don’t remember being aware of the history of the wall and the mosque until the rise of the new consciousness among the Hindus of my locality (using any other word carries with it the risk of generalization of the blind kind). If there is any possibility of my accepting any essentialized notion of the spirit of times, the strongest chance is in putting forth the assertion that nearly a decade after 1980 was the decade of the rise of the secular: a rise that had non time for openly and solely religious issues. Nobody in their right minds would ever even dream of the BJP coming to power in the centre.
I remember the old timers and Congress supporters discussing the issues related with corruption and low growth etc. with a sense of having eternity in hand(no pun was intended originally). They had to go on the back foot after the rise of the saffron spirit. The BJP, VHP, Bajrang Dal combine brought about some kind of internal revolution before the external shock. They effectively and efficiently cultivated the mass paranoia, converted it into a mass hysteria that culminated with the demolition of the Babri Mosque. They had reopened (opened, for my generation) the bloodiest pages of the medieval Indian history, underlined and highlighted the sections written with the red of Hindu veins, and had held people’s heads in a vice like grip to make them read those highlights. I remember having read the thing well, and having learned the language of hatred of the “other”.
Years later, after I had taught myself some language other than that of hatred, I found that there were many others like me. There were many whose identity did not depend on the vilification of their “them”. They are comfortable with what they are, and have no fear of what others are. The name of Late Mr. Asghar Ali Engineer flashes before my mind when I think of the people fighting against communal hatred. I respect the work the gentleman has done. It was only a couple of months ago that the idea of meeting him, or, at least establishing some kind of communication with him, came to my mind. I could not do either. He passed away the day before yesterday. May his soul rest in peace! In Kasi, there’s Professor Dipak Malik, also known as Comrade Malik, who is also working against communalism. Then there’s Prof. Rana P. B. Singh who had told me once that in addition to his work in mainstream geography, he has been working on communal harmony in Kasi for a long time now.
Returning to change, Kasi and I, I had learned to direct the darkness of my hatred towards my essentialized other very unconsciously and very early in my life. The “us-them” divide was introduced to my young mind in my primary school. I do remember few nine year old children discussing heatedly the faults in the character of the gods or prophets of the religion pitted against theirs. But that was then, and it ended there itself. We did not carry it home, the hatred. A sustained kind of hatred originated in me, in us rather, after a couple of years of concentrated propaganda was maintained at its high level. In the hindsight, I can see that media definitely played a central role in the communalisation of my locality, ergo city. I am not totally cured for sure, but I am trying to keep myself rational while dealing with things like hatred.