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Hussain Thata - Reflections

Hussain Thata - Reflections

24 mins 17.2K 24 mins 17.2K

Allah the merciful has granted me a fulfilling life I was born in Palyamkottai in this very house, my father Abdul Ali carried forward the family business of supplying timber, teak, rosewood and sandalwood to major constructions and furniture makers in Tirunelvelli district. My great grandfather started this business on a small scale and through the generations we have established ourselves as prominent merchants in the district.

As I grew up I witnessed my grandfather, father and uncles work very hard to expand the traditional business and make entry into new avenues too. My uncle (father’s elder brother) started a farm which supplied rice, life stock and vegetables. My elder brother started a bakery near Tirunelvelli junction and with time he expanded his business to become one of the most renowned bakery and sweet stall in Tirunelvelli.

From what I have outlined so far anyone could guess the extent to which my family was affluent, apart from growing the business my grandfather, father and everyone in my family strongly believed in giving back to the society and helping people in need (that meant anyone and not just Muslims).

My family strongly believed in the words of Allah and my grandfather donated land for the construction of a mosque, he completely oversaw the construction of the same and was very happy when the mosque was built and prayers were offered. That was the happiest day for all of us in our family. This mosque now close to 40 yrs old still stands and it gives a lot of joy and peace to offer my daily prayers at this very mosque.

My brothers and cousins have now moved out and are now spread in all corners of the globe. Guess I was more deep rooted than the others and I have chosen to stay right here at my ancestral home right through my 73 yrs of existence.

Palayamkottai in the month of May can get very hot with the mercury touching 40 degrees C, braving this heat I slowly step out of my house. There are men going about their tasks, of sweeping the courtyard, Rahim my trusted help is supervising all the activities, my Rajapalyam (a hound and a rare breed of dog) greets me with a wag. Rahim on seeing me gets me my umbrella and stick. It's 12 noon I am heading to the St Ignatius convent to pick up my grand daughter from school, today is her last exam and I look forward to spending the next two months in the company of Ayesha, my grand daughter.

Her school is close to my home... say a 15 minute walk for an old man of 73 years. Though I have others in my family and domestic help who can do this task for me, I feel compelled to walk down to her school, exchange small talk with people who are part of my neighbourhood and take in the happenings and updates one gets when walking down a road of one’s neighbourhood. As I slowly amble along holding my walking stick in one hand and my umbrella in the other hand. Am surprised to see most of the shops closing down at this time of the day

I know almost everyone around this place and from the tea stall Nair calls out to me saying “Ayya (means sir) do you want to have your ginger tea early today, I will be closing the shop in 10 minutes as that the Ram Yatra van will pass through this junction shortly and the police had asked all of us to shutter down till the van is gone.

I am little taken back and could stop myself from telling that Lord Ram brought peace and prosperity to his kingdom and we have people spilling blood in his name what an irony this is. I tell him I will have my tea once I come back with my grand daughter just before my afternoon prayers I ask him to keep the glass of rose milk ready as my grand daughter loves it.

Nair nods and tells me to take care and to go back home and come out after 20 mins or so as the school will also open the gates a little later owing to this Yatra van passing through our town. He also adds that he wishes everyone understood what the country needs and people stop quarrelling over temples and mosques. I shake my head in agreement and walk towards the main road

I also tell him nothing will happen and continue ambling towards my grand daughters school, I met Narayan who is the deputy commissioner, standing near his jeep right at the junction of where my street & the main road meets. He greets me and says that we have a group of our town people following the Ram Yatra van and the district collector has issued orders for police deployment to ensure nothing untoward happens.

I know Narayan since he was a little kid, I helped by funding Narayan’s school and college education. He was a brilliant kid and his father worked in my textile shop as attender. I also helped him gain admission in a leading IAS training institute in Chennai and he cleared the IAS exams and joined IPS in the 2001 batch.

I always cherish my conversations with him but today seeing the concern in his eyes which speaks volumes about how bad things have gotten in this country especially in Palyamkottai a place know for peace and harmony. He requests me to wait near his jeep till the Yatra van crosses which should be in the next 10 mins or so.

He tells me the Yatra van has been asked to move as a normal vehicle and no permission has been given for the Yatra van to carry out a procession in Tirunelvelli district as done in other places in the country but still he is worried that the people from certain political parties can cause unrest over this. He is directing the movement of traffic in the busy Palai bus stand junction and his team of policeman are assuming positions all through the stretch of the busy junction.

I tell him that I need to go across the junction to pick my grand daughter from school, he says not to worry all schools have been instructed to keep students inside till 12:30 today so that the Yatra does not impact school students. He asks me to stand with him and wait. I decide to listen to him and we waited for the Yatra van to pass.

Just then a town bus from Pettai, stops across the street and bunch of college students get down at the junction. I straight away notice a group of 4 burka clad girls talking and laughing among themselves as they get down from the bus and walk towards their college a short distance from the bus stop.

They too are surprised to see the large deployment of police and they just stand under the shade of a large tree and to watch what Is happening. A crowd of people is now forming across the busy junction, normal people who were going about their work now have all stopped to see will happen.

I heard the police radio squeak something and Narayan is now all alert and signals his team to be ready. We heard roars of motorcycles and turn to see about 40 to 50 motor cycles leading and flanking the Yatra Van.. The men on the bikes wear saffron color headbands, they have slogans proclaiming various things about the temple that is to be built and so on. A few anti Muslim slurs are being yelled too. I am growing progressively uncomfortable and then it happened.

The last biker from the Yatra escort saw the group of Muslim girls standing and they started passing lewd comments along with shouts, whistles. They pulled off the road and went near the group and the man sitting in the rear pulled the hijab of one of the girls, she was scared and in the scuffle that followed she fell down and dashed against a milestone near the place and started bleeding profusely from her forehead

The men on the bike now panicked and wanted to rush from the place but were intercepted by the standing public, the policemen too rushed to the place and grabbed the two men riding on that bike and started pacifying the crowd.

A couple of lady constables were helping the girl and were checking on her injuries. All this was happening when the Ram Yatra van had just zipped past, the junction looks like they were informed of what happened and the van gathered speed as it vanished from sight I offered a silent prayer thanking God that nothing worse had happened.

I along with Narayan now crossed the road and went to the injured girl and her startled friends. I told Naryan that it will be great if these girls are sent to my home and I will ensure they will be taken care and I will have their parents informed about this incident and shall ask them pick their kids from my home, will also have the injured girl attended to first

I called home and had Rahim, my caretaker prepare things and send word to a doctor who has a clinic near my house to attend to the injured girl. Narayan agrees and instructs two lady constables to take the injured girl and her friends to my place.

In the meanwhile the police holding the two bikers sense unrest and the crowd which was taken back as to what happened to the girls turned their attention to these two young men.

A man stepped forward and slapped the biker and then crowd wanted to thrash these guys. This triggered everything and crowd was now getting restless and all of them wanting to give these bikers a sound thrashing.

The police quickly form a huddle around the two young bikers and Narayan steps right in asking the crowd to disperse peacefully and allow the police to handle the duo appropriately. A few shopkeepers run in to join me sensing the unrest in the gathered crowd they are my tenants and want me to move to a safe place. I ask them to go about pacifying the crowd and clear the path for the police to move out and take these two bikers safely to the station Given my familiarity and social standing (not that I was proud of it at that moment) the crowd listened to me and Narayan, they gave way to the police

The police take away these men in a jeep and Narayan too takes leave and says he will call in a while. He is worried that there will be clashes and needs to keep the district officials informed. He says he might request anti rioting forces for backup too. I am too stunned to reply to Narayan and ask him to keep me posted.

The police force slowly disperse the crowd and I ask the shopkeepers I know to keep a watch on things and ensure that the party members escorting the Yatra van do not come back and cause disturbance. A group of policeman too stay back at the junction to ensure nothing untoward happens.

Hard to believe that all this happened in a matter of minutes and I now had to walk ta little faster than usual to reach the school and pick up Ayesha. I reach the school on time and spot my little girl, the apple of my eye my little treasure all smiles walking out of the gate.

She is animated and can’t stop talking about her exam and upcoming holidays she has apparently asked her friends to come home this evening, she wants to know why the school let her out later than usual

I simply nod as we walk back and Ayesha asks me why I am so silent and disturbed, I tell her we need to rush back home and we have a akka (elder sister) there who has had a fall and her rose milk from Nair uncle’s shop will have to wait today.

I quickly add that we will talk further on reaching home as It is difficult for me to speak and walk fast. We reach home and I see a small crowd gathered at the portico of my house, most of them muslims who have lived in my street for generations. As it is closer to the namaz time a lot of men on the way to mosque have stopped near my house.I hear voices from the crowd urging the girl to file a police compliant, saying we need to teach the two bikers and all members of that party a lesson, people commenting how bad things have gotten, the police and the Government being useless and so on. They give way seeing Ayesha and me. I tell the men to leave things for now and carry on to the mosque for the afternoon prayers as our Imam renders the Azan from the mosque my grandfather built. The call for prayers fills my heart with peace and strength to overcome the events I witnessed today that could have got escalated into a full fledged riot in no time.

The men move out and I enter my home. I see a group of ladies from my neighbourhood inside along with my wife watch the doctor treat the girl who had a fall. Her friends are gathered around her. Upon seeing us the ladies step back and I see Ayesha upset by the whole thing. I tell Ayesha to sit next to the fallen girl and take care of her.

Don’t be surprised my grand daughter may be just 8 but she has a charm that I am sure will put the scared girl at ease and will lighten up things too, I was right, Ayesha go straight to the girl and starts talking to her telling her to be careful while crossing the road and talks about her dolls, her plans for vacation and soon all the 4 girls, the lady constables and other ladies are laughing and things look normal just as any other day.

The doctor is all smiles as he finishes dressing the wounds and tells us that there is nothing to worry. He refuses to take money for this treatment and starts packing things. He hands a chocolate to Ayesha and says she is a true angel, I ask one of my servants to escort the doctor back to his clinic. I thank him for his timely help.

I ask my daughter, Ayesha’s mother to call the families of all the four girls to reassure them that their kids are safe and they can pick them from my home, when things have settled.

With all this settled, I tell my wife and daughter to take care and I will head out for my afternoon prayers. Rahim calls out to the men working in the backyard to stand guard at the gate till the afternoon namaz is done.

I felt this was not needed but then understood why Rahim was taking precautions, I nod to him and we then step out of the gate and walk towards the grand mosque.

Afternoon prayers are done. I request all the men to stay back, together with the Imam I give them a run down of what had happened during the day and told the gathering that I did not want anyone indulging in violence. We have a long standing tradition of peace and brotherhood in this place and I do not want this episode to further create any incidents. I reminded all of them that we as community maintained peace even when our mosque was demolished in Ayodhya and we will have this incident resolved peacefully too. Though a few voices seek revenge, the imam reminds them all that standing in the house of God one should not speak of revenge but of forgiveness, peace and love He says today we have a climate of hate and the best way to combat hate is through maturity, showing tolerance and have the willingness to forgive. He adds violence brings forth more violence and not peace. We quickly obtain assurance from all the men & boys gathered that there will be no retaliation or violence from their end.

With the prayer and meeting done. I walk back home along with Rahim a group of men from the prayer meet along with the Imam follow me home.

As I reach home, I find Nair handing out tea and rose milk to all people assembled at my home, seeing me he says my ginger tea is ready and hands me a staring glass of tea and two butter biscuits. I nod my thanks and that super strong tea completely revives me. I can hear people appreciating Nair for this gesture and Nair the usual person he is, says it is nothing and all of them are welcome.

As I finish my tea I get a call for Narayan, I have been waiting for this call and he says the police have completed the initial questioning of the bikers, and they are residents of our town and one of the bikers is the son of a bank manager a person who is know to me for many years. I unable to believe that Swamy’s son would end up doing something so disrespectful. Narayan also adds that the Pandian who is a local politician is at the station and wants me to bring the girl to the station for a formal identification & to collect a statement from her.

As I listened to Narayan, a thought flashed and I asked him straight away if it would be possible for him and Pandian to come home and discuss things before having the girl come down to the station I was afraid that Pandian and his men or the others might harm the girl, a risk I was not willing to take that risk. I could hear Narayan speak to Pandian and he says they will be here in about 30 - 40 mins.

I close the call saying I will be expecting them. I turn around and tell the assembled men what is going to happen and request them to disperse as I do not want anyone to have an impression that we are assembled to start a fight I request the Imam and an old time friend and his son to stay back. The men agree and tell me that they will waiting next door and if there is an issue they will come to support.

Most of the assembled ladies also leave after drinking Nair’s tea. I request the remaining ladies to also leave so that the house looks normal and non threatening to Pandian. Only the lady constables, the four girls and my family members remain.

I ask my wife and daughter to quickly arrange lunch for the people here so that we have something to eat as the discussion might go well into the evening. We decide to have a quick lunch right here in the portico I ask my daughter to take the girls inside to ensure that they freshen up and have their food inside and wait inside my home till they are asked to come out.

For an old man like me lunch means pecking at food, I finish eating lunch and then step inside and see the girls eating their food with nervousness all over them. I sit next to the injured girl and I learn her name is Mariam. I tell her to be brave and we will now be meeting with the police and the party head post which we will make a police complaint on the bikers and they will then be arrested once they are formally identified by Mariam and her friends. I reassure her that nothing will happen to her and all of us will stand by her. She just nods. I pat her and then step out of my house and walk towards the pandal in my courtyard and settle down there.

I then call Swamy, the bank manager and tell him to come to my place. He is very distraught and tells me that he is on the way to the police station, he will see his son first. I tell him that it is better he comes to my home directly a little more sternly I am sure for the banker he is, he will be sure to understand cues better. He promises to be at my home for the discussion in 30 mins.

My daughter informs me that the mother and brother of Mariam, the girl who got hurt will be coming home shortly. She tells me that the girl is the daughter of Rahim, who had once worked with our family. The parents of the other girls also are on the way. I just drink a glass of hot water and see Narayan and Pandian arrive.

I welcome both, Rahim has already laid out chairs for everyone in the shaded pandal I have in the courtyard right outside my portico. This shaded pandal has witnessed so many conversations and business deals. These days I prefer the comfort of the pandal where the warmth in the air keeps my bones happy. The pandal has fans and all it is almost like an open air lounge. All of us settle down.

We have Pandian, Narayan, my friend, his son and the imam all settle down. Ayesha sneaks in and sits on my lap. I want to send her back inside but let her remain I feel this is the best way to teach children the ways of the society. All of exchange small talk and Pandian to my surprise is not his usual aggressive self and he is unusually silent. The small talk continues as we wait for Swamy and the parents of the girls to come home.

Soon they all arrive. Rahim then serves everyone water and light refreshments. I then start the discussion saying it is really unfortunate that we are witnessing such an incident like this in Palayamkottai, a place that has been an epitome for communal harmony and peaceful existence and all of assembled here should ensure that our decisions today should reinforce this.

The first to speak is Mariam’s brother, saying he wants strict action and the highest punishment to given to the bikers. This will ensure no youth in Palyamkottai dares to do such acts in the future and all muslim girls will travel without any fear. He also goes on to say a few things about Hindus, before anyone says anything I cut in and tell him and the gathering that we will not bring religion into the discussion for now. We need to get things resolved and not antagonise anyone or their religious sentiments. That silences everyone for a few minutes.

I ask Narayan to outline what are the formalities from a legal point of view and what is his or the police’s plan of action over this incident. Narayan is quick to summarise that his team needs to collect a formal complaint from the girl and witness statements basis which they will file an FIR and chargesheets against the bikers.

Pandian speaks saying both the bikers are his party workers, they had recently joined the party and he never expected his party workers to do such an act. Both of them being educated he expected better behaviour from them. He also states that his party workers are also anxious about facing violent actions against them by muslims and others and if any thing happens to any of his party workers then controlling things would get difficult for him as he and his party workers will not hold back and shall retaliate if the need be, lives will be lost and he is not afraid to retaliate even if the police does not stand with him or his party workers. Narayan jumps in and asks Pandian to stop and I join in too, letting Pandian know that these words are very uncharacteristic and unnecessary right now. I tell him the incident is about men who do not have it in them to respect women and it is not about the muslim community vs him, his party or party workers.

Swamy the banker and father of the biker joins in saying he is ashamed of what his son has done and a police case filed against him will completely spoil his career and he hopes that things do not escalate to that level, he seeks mercy for his son.

These conversations continue for the next 20 - 30 minutes on these lines and finally I stand up and ask Rahim to bring Mariam, the girl who got hurt and the other girls out to join us in the pandal This silences everyone and there is so much one can read from everyone’s face who had assembled here.

The girls along with my wife and daughter join us and I ask Mariam as to what she wants to do about the whole incident, I tell her she can file a formal compliant against the men and her decision will be final.

Mariam is silent and I coax her to speak her mind and no harm will come her way. She is hesitant but then starts speaking, she says that she has thought deeply about the whole incident and all she wants at this stage is to focus on her education. She is keen to complete her college, pursue her post graduation and prepare for civil services. She does not want to get into all this and is actually not bothered about the bikers. She just wants everyone to allow her to pursue her studies and realise her dreams. She is anxious about her brother and mother discontinuing her studies and getting her married over what has happened. She also adds that she is not keen on filing a complaint with the police on the incident that has happened and wants to move on

Mariam’s decision took me by surprise I never expected that girl to show such restraint and wisdom. It brought a sense of relief to everyone. Pandian addresses Mariam saying that he is thankful to her and will ensure that such incidents do not happen. He will discipline his party cadres and going forward such things will never happen to any lady. I can the see relief on Pandian’s face as he and his party are now spared of negative media and I also see a resolve in Pandian to bring discipline among his party workers.

Narayan though not happy, agrees that this is the best way to resolve things, he appreciates Mariam and tells her not to hesitate in reporting anything to the police if any incident happens in the future and not worry about the backlash or other things. He adds that the police department wishes all women to be entitled to their freedom and will not tolerate anyone or anything that comes in the way of women safety and their freedom & entitlement to public spaces He wishes Mariam the very best and is very happy to know of her career plan. He also adds that there will be no formalities required now.

Swamy literally falls on the feet of Mariam, his relief is so pronounced. He says he and his family will be forever indebted to Mariam for her kindness and he is ashamed of what his son has done. He says he has failed as a father in instilling good values in his son and he will ensure that his son never resorts to such cheap behaviour.

Pandian, Swamy and Narayan along with the lady constables start to the police station to complete formalities to release the bikers. I ask Mariam to come sit down next to me, I cannot help but admire the wisdom and poise this young woman has in her. I promise to bear all the expenses of her education going forward and tell her that she is now like my grand daughter and it is through youngsters like her our town and country will prosper.

I reassure Mariam’s mother and the parents of all the remaining 3 girls that nothing untoward will happen and they go about their lives in peace. I tell them not to hesitate in approaching me for any help or concern. I wish all them the very best.

I instruct Rahim to make arrangements to drop the 4 girls and their family members at their homes. I ask my friend’s son to accompany Mariam and her family home. He agrees and steps out. I tell Rahim to have a few our men from our mosque to accompany the families of the remaining three girls. It is not necessary at all but today I do not want to take chances.

Bidding them farewell I cannot help but smile at the Imam, my friend, my wife & daughter saying that It is through the wisdom of that little girl that we saved this town from communal clashes. I also add that we have always under estimated what our present generation is really capable of.

Just then my grand daughter Ayesha speaks - she throws a question why does God allow such things to happen? If he does then why should I pray to him and read the Quran, I am stunned and never in 73 yrs of existence have I felt so lost and defeated.

The Imam gives a smile, nods at me and along with my friend walks towards the gate. No words are exchanged between any of us. Ayesha looks a little scared, I sit next to her and pat her head and I promise her that I will come up with an answer to her question. We decide to walk down to Nair’s shop to get Ayesha her glass of rose milk and my tea. I hear the call for the evening prayers but today I decide to sit at Nair’s shop and watch the setting sun, Ayesha continues to talk and looking at her I cannot hold back the tears that stream down from my eyes and the grand mosque that my grandfather built will not see me offering my prayers this evening.

Sometimes it is true that God teaches us humility through the words of our children.


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