Monday, October 2, 2017

Will You Be My Friend?

Why I write what I write?

"Will you be my friend?"  - That is what a seven-year-old Muslim girl asked her Hindu classmate,  Khukumoni, the protagonist of my book. It is a quote from the book I just finished writing - Shadow Birds - a young girl's story during the Partition of India.

The reader in me asked my writer self why did you write this book?  Why did you write and rewrite this book for the last thirteen years? In this blog post, I tried to explore the reasons.

Before that I'd give you a glimpse, an excerpt  of this part from  the book:

That day on my way back home,  I found that this girl was sitting next to me on the school bus. The bus took a long route. Through the City Bazaar, Gol Pukur, Durga Bari, Kesto Pukur Road, across the riverside, around the  Pocha Pukur - Rotten Lake it would reach Mymensingh Station Road.  Reading the names of the streets with the rocking motion of the vehicle,  I dozed off.

All of a sudden  I heard someone whispering in my ear — “ Ayee,  I am Padma, what’s your name?” — that two-front-teeth-missing girl.

“Khukumoni“.  I replied half asleep.  She grabbed my hand. “ Mine too.  Khuku. But that’s my nickname”. 

That is a very common Bengali nickname,  meaning, precious little girl.

She turned her head and checked around, then with wide eyes whispered again,  “ I must tell you something. There are some naughty girls here. You’ll find out yourself, I don’t need to point. They tie the ribbons of your braids with the back of the seat when you fall asleep and then get off the bus before you do. You would not know…and when it is your time to get down,  you are stuck.  The driver gets cross when you are late and..and…”   Saying that she untied the knots of the ribbon from my braid that was carefully tied with the wooden bar of the back seat.  I felt so thankful. 

At this point the bus stalled.  There was a procession going.  Lots of men with tupi on their heads and red jhandhas were shouting ‘Inquilub Zindabad’!  The placards on their hands read — we want justice.  

I overheard the driver explaining it to a senior student that there was a Muslim athlete who brought a lot of pride to us all, regardless of Hindus or Muslims but he was refused when he went to drink the water from a tube well that the Hindu community only used. The Muslims were angry that the Hindus cheered when he brought the trophy but refused to let him touch their water.  That was what this protest was for. That was why we were in the middle of a traffic jam.

“That’s not nice.  It must be hurtful to the Muslim boxer who won the trophy, ” Commented the older girl. 

My new friend, Padma, asked me, “Are you Muslim Khukumoni? I am.”

“I don’t think so.” I shook my head. 

“Never mind. Now, we’ll  have more time to chat. If I  invite,  will you come to our house to play? Will you be my friend?

Khukumoni and Padma became best friends until it was intercepted because of the partition 

I started to write this book so my children and later grandchildren would know their grand mother's/ great grand mother's story. But as I was writing I saw a larger audience. When I heard the Oral histories of many common people who are eighty or ninety years old today, who had experienced this, I felt there must more people like me who will be interested to hear such stories.

Political pundits of yesteryears thought that the partition would solve the  Hindu-Muslim problem.  Seventy years later, did it? 

NEW DELHI — One April afternoon, a group of men clad in saffron scarves barged into a house in Meerut, 40 miles northeast of here, and dragged out a young Muslim man and a Hindu woman. Their offense: They were an interfaith couple in love.  This happened on August 18, 2017

In Bangladesh, a Hindu nursing lecturer was hacked to death for not wearing hijab. Again happened just a couple of years ago in 2015. 

This is not only limited to  India- Pakistan/Bangladesh problem.  It spilled thousand of miles away in USA also. On Father's Day, 2017 a seventeen-year-old  Muslim girl in Virginia was assaulted and killed after her visit from the mosque. 

I wonder how history repeats itself. And it happens everywhere.

Yet, I am hopeful. I feel emotional when I read stories like in one village in West Bengal Hindus and  Muslims prayed together. They felt :

"We live in the jungles of Sundarban. We face similar natural clamities, share 

same hardships. And when we don't differentiate that time then why would we do now?"

That also happened recently, on Sept 26, 2017.

So, I wonder is it possible?  Will you be my friend?

If you have similar stories that you have heard from your relatives, I'd love to hear. Please do share them in the comments 


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