I wrote this in January 2003 for my college Hall magazine.
The stories are meant to amuse but at the moment weighed by my own sense of heavy guilt, I am at the worst case of writer's block and I want to push a purely personal problem through this story. You may accuse me of washing my dirty linen in public, but do I have a choice? Can I be a judge in my own prosecution?
So, let me put before you the facts of this case. I will try to keep the facts detached from my interpretation, but human as I am, if they do creep in, you will have to bear with me.
I was six year old at that time and was one among the many that lived in this
non-descript village. My father, sister and mother-that was my world before that ill-fated train ride. I was naive who believed that men are inherently good. I was gullible who was repeatedly told that good always triumphs over evil.
And on that day, we were traveling by Swarnamati Express. I was not in the best of my moods. To me, trains had become synonymous with eatables. But, as if sensing the future, all the pheriwallas were conspicuously absent. The occasional cries of "chai garam" didn't do me any good.
The train reached a station. I tried to read the name of the station.
"Po---kh----ra! Pokhra!!!Papa. This is Pokhra station."
Suddenly I spotted a tea stall owner. With his imposing height and long beard, he was busy with his customers.
"Papa, he has something to eat. I want it."
My father, who usually didn't yield to my peremptory orders, suddenly seemed too docile and got down to bring something for me.
People of religion X were there on platform. They were raising slogans in name of their God and had banners, placards and ribbons round their forehead. (Incidentally, I, too belong to X religion, based on the single undeniable fact that I was born in X family.)
Amidst the din and obstructed view, I could barely see or hear my father. But it looked to me as if there was some hot argument between tea stall owner and few X people including my father. Before I knew, there was total commotion on platform. Shutters of windows were drawn. My father comes inside with his dress ruffled and brows knit. He looked worried. I didn't dare to ask for anything. He kept muttering, "This shouldn't have happened."
The train started with a jerk and windows were opened. With the whiff of fresh air which came in, the pall of Pokhra seemed to pass (or were we letting our guard too early?)
The train stopped one hundred and sixty seconds after it started (I know it! I know it!! I was looking at my father's watch wondering what was inside this which discriminated in favor of second hand and moved it faster than minute and hour hands.)
Train was getting late and passengers chafed at the bit.
I then saw what stubbornly refuses to be wiped by time. A mob of people were rushing towards our coach. They were shouting the name of their God (which was different from us as they belong to Y religion.) I turned to ask my father "Papa, why was train--?" but stopped on seeing that look of terror and helplessness in his eyes.
My father ,my strong father never looked as vulnerable as now. Meanwhile, cries of "Help us" ranted the air. The whole coach was on fire. Flames of fire like tongues of demon danced before us. The smoke and smell of charred bodies became unbearable for me.
I lost my naivety, gullibility and consciousness in one go. And so it was some time before I came to know that my world had lost three quarters of its population. Many worlds were destroyed. In total, fifty eight peoples didn't see the day light again.
I woke up to find another bearded person looking at me. I searched his eyes for hatred towards me, all I found was sympathy. Didn't he know about my being of X religion? He looked as if he wouldn't have cared had he knew this also.
I said, "My Papa!". He said with palpable sadness, "None in that coach S-6 survived except you." I again fell unconscious.
I woke up again only to find myself in the bearded person's house. His wife was happy to see me. She asked, "You want something to eat?" I said "Yes."
You may accuse me of being opportunistic, of being co-opted by a new religion which played its part in my father's killing. But, as a six year old, my religious moorings were not strong enough to override my hunger pangs. In a space of two months, I got used to my new family. I especially liked the bearded person. We together spent evenings playing. I could not forget my old decimated world but couldn't help myself getting sucked into a whole new world of saintly, bearded man and his angelic wife.
In the meanwhile, our villages were burning. X men were killing Y men, despoiling their God, burning children. In this emotionally charged atmosphere, police and the state shed their impartiality and helped perpetrate the genocide either covertly by being silent spectators to the brutalities or sometimes in a more overt, brazen way by leading predators to preys.
It had been three months. Barring sporadic incidents, the violence seemed to subside- eight hundred and eighty eight people were killed.
I felt pretty much secure, but I couldn't say same for my mentors-the bearded man and his wife. Though they tried to put a brave face, I could sense the fear and terror beneath the veneer of normalcy they tried to project before me.
One night someone knocked our door. The bearded man took his pistol with him and asked, "Who is it?" "Police. We have to search your house.". He opened the door gingerly only to let a storm of people pull him out of the door. They had Trishul in their hands and were raising slogans in the name of their Gods. They started beating, abusing the man. I was frightened. His wife ran outside. One of them carrying a Trishul came to me, "Why do you live with them? Don't you know they are Y?" I hawled, "Leave them." They disrobed the man and his wife. There was fire burning round the ground. They pushed them in that. They were thirty in all against two.
The smoke and smell of charred bodies became unbearable for me. I lost unconsciousness. I lost my second world.
Don't you find me responsible for the killing of nine hundred and fifty three people from both the religions? Where and when did it all start? It was from that scuffle between my father and the tea stall owner, wasn't it? Why did my father went to that tea stall owner?to fetch me something.
You may say I don't have any mens rea. But, the albatross round my neck now has a weight of nine hundred and fifty three people. I can't bear it anymore.
I find a deeper rooted, seemingly preposterous but plausible motive. Were there forces that were bent upon severing any familial ties I may form? When I was as X man, these forces came garbed in people with beard. When I became Y man, they came carrying Trishuls? It seems to me these forces have hidden their ulterior motives behind their religiosity. (Do I sound like a precocious six year old? But the events of these few months were so rapid; I literally had to outgrow myself to keep pace.)
Let me tell you one thing, if you intend to pronounce me guilty, I would like to bring two of my accomplices in the court -God of religion X and the God of religion Y. Because were it not that the bearded men ,who burnt the coach S-6, shouted that their God was great? And did not the men with Trishul claimed to carry out murders to uphold the dignity of their God?
To me everything seems to be orchestrated by these Gods only, perhaps in collusion with each other.
And now I can't convince myself to call him God, who is invisible, perhaps just a notion but in whose name so many lives were lost, can you? I pause for a reply.