Author : Jacob Andrew
Company : Aptara
Something was troubling Arnab’s mind for a while now. It was not related to his personal or his professional life, nothing that affected him directly either way, at least. Yet he feared that he should not keep silent, if his gut feeling was right. He just hoped that he was wrong.
Arnab was a professor of history at a university in Mumbai. He had moved to the city, arguably the busiest in India, because he had developed a fascination for the city from his early childhood. Compared to the moderately still life in Kolkata, he found the picture he had of Mumbai intriguing. From the stories he had heard as a child from a visiting relative or friends of family about the busy streets and traveling nightmares, coupled with the risks of being one of the country’s riskiest places you could be in, to the diverse pictures between the slums and the seat of Indian film industry, everything seemed so inviting and arousing his curiosity, and he wished to visit that city and be a part of its lifestyle, at least for a short while.
So far life in this city had been pretty much what he had expected. He found that it was a place that he fit in quite easily. And on his first job he felt that he was luckier than the average Indian, who wasn’t so used to finding happiness so early in their career. He, being young himself, found that he went along well with his students. He didn’t mind the extra attention that he got occasionally from a few of his younger female pupils, although he tried hard to neglect that, given his position. But it was new kind of situation that was facing him now. This certainly changed things more than he expected…
It was regarding one of his students, Maya. Maya was a hard-working girl, not one of the brightest in the class, yet he secured good grades by putting in extra effort. Often Arnab would find her, buried among her pile of books, in the library late after the rest of her colleagues who were only too eager to leave the college hours behind to be a part of the evening life of the city. Oftentimes he, who had himself been a bookworm during his student years, had wondered if the girl had any life beyond her books. She seemed to have a purpose, a motive that kept her away from everyone and everything else, making her so different from the rest of her colleagues. That was, until now.
Recently he noticed that she had been skipping classes. It wouldn’t have been a matter of concern if it was an occasional or twice a week event. But she would miss out an entire week altogether. She would take leave for a week at once. When asked, she would give a reply about how she had to visit her ailing aunt back in her hometown and how she had to attend to her, since her aunt had no daughters. It was on during one such occasion when she was on leave that he saw something that roused his attention. Arnab was pretty sure that in the middle of the week, he had spotted her, in a busy market, with some suspicious looking characters, going into a rather shady part of the market. They went two lanes further in and went into an old two-storeyed building. That was a place notorious for nefarious activity, a place strictly out of limits for university students. A place he was sure she did not belong to. He wanted to go in there and ask her what she was doing in a place like that, right then. But then he refrained from doing so. He decided he would wait for the right moment. Eventually the opportunity would present itself.
It was not until the next Monday that he got that opportunity. He had set out a plan in his mind. It was the second hour of the day, and Arnab had a lecture for Maya’s group. As he was about to was begin his session, he addressed to the class, “Before we begin, there is something I would like to talk to guys about. I would like to speak to you not as a professor, but as a friend.” The class looked up. “As grown up individuals, we are well aware that we have responsibilities. Responsibility comes in many forms. We have responsibility to our families, meaning we have to keep the trust that they have in us. It means we have to stay away from everything that may affect or harm our family’s good will.” He threw a sharp look at Maya. Seeing no response from her, he continued, “It also means that we have to stay away from people that influence us to turn into darker roads. We can find a many misleading activities and attractions that may seem good at first, but can result in us ending up in as a shame to ourselves and those around us. We also have a social responsibility to lead our life as good, law-abiding citizens of this country.” Arnab was certain that he heard a definite smirk from Maya’s direction on this comment. Ignoring it, he continued “I hope you have understood what I wanted to convey. The university facilitates counseling and other remedial measures for any one of you who have been involved with any activities or affairs you shouldn’t as a responsible adult. If you would like to, you can make use these services. Or, if you would like to talk to me about anything in particular, anything at all, please feel free to do so. It will stay between the two of us. That’s all I wanted to say.”
He continued with the lessons and as he was wrapping up, he said, “So don’t forget what I said. And remember, social responsibility also means taking part in the upcoming elections as a responsible citizen. Do your part for the country.” The students got up to leave. He could sense that Maya was still picking up her lecture notes, fumbling with them as the rest of the students were leaving the hall. He pretended that he was suddenly interested in his laptop, and stayed in the hall. She came down to where he was standing. “Sir,” she said “I was interested in what you mentioned about our social responsibility as a citizen. May I ask, how can someone be interested in voting in this country? This country is ruled by corrupt politicians. This country has never stood by for me and my people. I do not have faith in this country of yours. I am sure that whoever comes to power in this country will not do anything for my people. I have not cast my vote for electing this country’s government so far and I never will.”
Arnab said “And who do you mean by your people?”
“The people who speak the same language as I do and have the same background as I are my people.”
“And that makes them your people?”
“Yes, them and those who speak my language who belong to any other country. Especially the ones were butchered when your government watched on in silence, when you could have stopped that. And we have taken our revenge on you for watching by silently the murder of innocents. Our heroes are in jail for that, and to free them, we are willing to take the life of more of your countrymen.”
“So,” said Arnab “what about the rest of us Indians? Do you not consider us your people? What about the woman who died in the train explosion in connection with ‘freeing your heroes?’ She was a woman with dreams and hopes for a new life. She did not get to live the life she had been waiting for. Are they not your people? Isn’t she innocent? Tell me, when have we seen you as any different from any of us? Do you not have the freedom to make your own laws within your home state? Don’t you have the same rights that everyone else in this country gets? Who taught you that you are not a part of this country? Why do you think of yourself as any different from any of the rest of India?”
“Because we are one people and we will stand by for our state and our people.”
“That is the same philosophy that Hitler used to start the world war. Religious extremists use that kind of thought to poison the minds of the young. Your so called leaders use such propaganda too, so that they can have young people at their disposal, so they can twist your minds to think as they like, to make you do their bidding without you being aware of it yourselves. They will give you a cause and ask you to fight for them, for their political leverage and personal gain.”
“No, our leaders care about us, they have showed us who we are, and we will fight for ourselves. We will make our voice heard.”
“And how do you plan to accomplish that?”
“We have influential people everywhere. They will provide us with the materials we need to make our presence known.”
“The way you speak of, will get nothing accomplished. You will be hated by the rest of this country for your actions. Violence and hatred can bring only more violence. When will you think of yourself as an Indian? See that we are all the same. We are the ones that share the same fate as you, not those who live beyond our borders. If every state in India wanted to separate itself from the motherland, we would all become weak. And our enemies can take advantage of that. It is to this cause they fund separatist groups, to make Indians fight among ourselves. So that they can strike when we are weak. Don’t you see, they are making us Indians fight their battles. Do not play into their hands.”
“The India you speak of exists only in textbooks. Nobody cares about the country but you.”
“You are wrong there”, answered Arnab. “India is not a mass of land. Neither is it the politicians that make the governments. India is an idea, a vision that our forefathers had. Those sons and daughters who were first willing to give up their lives in sacrifice for that idea, to inspire many more to join together for a free, secular and better country as one. And India is made up of every person that still believes that those sacrifices have not been in vain. That we still share their dream, and we will make true what they started. We will uphold those values they believed in, whether those we have elected to do the job do it or not.”
He continued, “You said that you have never taken part in the process of election. I am truly sad for you because we do not go to the polling booth to decide who should rule us. Instead, we do that because we believe that we can still make the India of our dreams a reality. That, despite those who try to make that idea a failure, we will try to rebuild the nation, no matter how hard it is or how long it takes. It is that hope that brings us out to vote. Vote for someone or a political party who you believe can keep the values that India was founded on, from your heart. And the feeling that I get when I have cast my vote is one that cannot be expressed in words. I doubt if having scaled the Everest or sailing around the world could match it. You feel like you have done something worthwhile. And if you have never felt that, I really do pity you for what you have missed.”
Maya was almost shouting when she replied “You cannot change my mind. I have no faith like you do. I will never fall to your deceiving words. Nothing can change my mind.”
“Then you have my sympathies. I tried to show you the truth. You are like a teenager who does not want to believe that a story she has been told her entire life is not real. You never got the chance to think out of the confines that the haters have put around you. You will always be their slave, they have poisoned your mind too much.”
“I am leaving,” said she. “This does not change my convictions.”
“For your sake, dear, I hope it does” said Arnab, his voice sad.
Arnab did not see his student again. He came to know from the authorities that she had got a transfer to a university in her state. Months passed. He was at his home one day, working on the next day’s lectures when he received an email from Maya. It read “On my way home, your words about the feeling one gets when one casts the vote kept coming into my mind. I could not resist myself. For the first time, I cast my vote, just to see whether I would feel what you felt. You were right. I did not think I, of all people would feel that way. It was a strange feeling, but it felt good. I do not know if I am being any less true to my state and its people. But I think that now I can call myself an Indian.”