Man, by virtue of his extreme Intelligence has created so many ways and means for his survival. One such way is Religion. By following a particular religion, he is creating a strong group which he utilises to fight other groups owing allegiance to other religions. In India, there was a near civil war between two major religions during Independence, because of Partition. Its effects were awful when thousands of innocent people were massacred in both the sides. While the effects were very severe in North India, it was not so in South. There is still the great menace of Caste divisions which cause deep rooted animosity among people. After Ayodhya dispute, communal violence spread all over India. But these communal differences did not affect the true friendship of two school students. This is the story of those two students who had friendship and affection which were beyond the barriers of religion and the bond was carried over to future generations.
‘Guru Prasad’ was the name given by my father Viswanatha Iyer to me on my birth. My father owned a sweet stall which, though small in size, attracted customers far and wide. Viswanatha Iyer sweets were popular all over the country. Being a very orthodox Hindu Brahmin, he used to worship Guru (Master). For Hindus, the order of reverence is mother, father, Master (Guru) and finally God. Especially Brahmins have the habit of worshipping Master as even above God because they are the dispensers of all bliss and knowledge. They are the real guides for devotees to attain the Lotus feet of God. That was why I was named Guruprasad which meant ‘gift of the Master’. Soon my name was shortened as Guru by friends and relatives except my parents who preferred to call me using full name till they died.
“Guru, it is already time for school, leave immediately”, my mother was shouting from inside the kitchen which was her usual way of giving instructions. “O.K amma”, so saying I started to school, carrying my school bag. I was late by ten minutes. My friend would be waiting for me in the street corner. Soon I joined him.
“Sorry Meeran, I am late.” We walked as fast as possible. Yes, he was a Muslim with the name Abdul Meeran which was shotened as Meeran. He belonged to a very orthodox Muslim family who prayed in mosque five times a day. His father was a bakery owner. It was very odd for our people to witness a Brahmin boy with a ‘tuft’ in the reverse head and holy ash in fore head walking hand in hand with a Muslim boy with a ‘kulla’ (Cap) on his head. People around our neighbourhood were unable to digest the fact that a Brahmin, accepting a Muslim as his best friend and vice versa. Unmindful of their discontent, our friendship developed thicker day by day. It was only because of the excellent character of Meeran, his intelligence and his understanding of the subjects that I considered I was very lucky in getting his friendship. We used to share ranks among us in alternate examinations and allowed nobody else to break our records.
Our place was a semi urban centre having a population of around two lakhs. Most of the evil effects of modernisation were yet to reach that town. Yet, people were frowning at us saying, “See, this orthodox Brahmin boy is holding his hands with a Muslim boy. This is Kalyug and a sign of destruction.” Without giving any heed, we walked fast and reached the school when the bell was ringing.
It seems our class teacher had entered the class in advance. We entered the class just in time and the class teacher was waiting for all the students to take their allocated seats. “Welcome friends, are you coming slowly watching all cinema posters?” he sarcastically remarked. Both of us entered with a shy face. I occupied my seat in the first row and Meeran, the seat in the last row, as usual.
After regular lesson was over, teacher announced, “look students, tomorrow you should come to the school cautiously. There is going to be a dharna (Protest) in front of our school by some political parties. Please be cautious and if you are unable to enter, you can return home.”
We were perplexed. Later my father told me during supper, “my son, this is against some castes especially we Brahmins. They plan to cut the tufts and ‘Poonul” (Holy thread across the chest) as a protest against the Brahmins”
I was worried. But I was determined to go to school.
Next morning, as usual Meeran and I reached the school. Luckily only handful of protesters were there, shouting slogans against Gods and Brahmins. Only one Police was posted for security.
My master came and told us, “Don’t take risk, go away, go home immediately.”
We started our journey to go back.
It was my bad luck that two protesters saw me.
“Look, here is a Brahmin boy. Catch hold of him”
They approached me. I started trembling. People were watching helplessly.
“You idiot Brahmin fellow, Why should have a tuft? Why should you have a cross thread? Is it for insulting us? Do you want to prove that we are inferior to you? No, it can never be.” He roared and pulled me to his side hold tightly. He forcibly removed my shirt such that I was standing with bare chest. His co protester took out a scissors on his hand and he approached me with menacing look. Although dozens of people were around me, none came forward to help.
Next moment, the scissors should have cut my holy thread, but for a heavy blow on his hand which made him throw the scissors and yell in severe pain.
The blow was given by my friend Meeran. I was surprised to see his ‘Viswaroopam’ (magnificent and gigantic look), who was otherwise a calm personality.
“Hei, What is this? You are a Muslim. Why are you fighting for a Hindu?”
Meeran’s reply was “get out from here or else I will kill you”.
They were ready for a fight. But the siren sound indicated the arrival of police van and the violent protesters fled the scene.
Meeran accompanied me to my house. On seeing that I was crying, my parents were shocked. Then they came to know the sequence of events. My father told, “Meeran, you have not saved the life of my son alone, but you have saved the prestige of our religion.” So saying, he gave some packets of sweets and bade him farewell.
My friendship with him continued for another four years only. After completion of school final he went to Calcutta and joined a college there. Later I came to know that he became an I.P.S officer and joined Police service.
Some tragic events took place in our family. My father died due to a massive heart attack at the age of 50. Within two years, my mother left for her Heavenly abode. I had to abandon my studies and I took charge of my ancestral properties and the sweet stall.
Times have changed a lot. Incidents in Ayodhya, wherein a mosque was demolished to give place to a Ram temple have renewed the Hindu-Muslim enmity all over the country with more vigour and heat. There was a clear animosity between the two sects and in my town, they moved to a separate colony outside the town. From that day we do not know what was happening to the people in that area.
Even a petty quarrel will trigger a major riot. Our place was declared as a sensitive area in communal violence by the Government.
In spite of the vigil, again a communal violence broke up. It was reported that a boy from one religion eloped with a girl of the other. Shops were set ablaze. Nearly a dozen people from both sides were killed in the mindless violence.
I was sitting in the shop. There was no customer and I was alone. I saw a lad running to my shop in utter panic.
“Sir, please save me, they are coming to kill me”
I observed that he was a Muslim boy. The noise of the frenzied people chasing him was clearly audible from the next lane.
There was no time left for thinking. I asked him to enter my shop.
In five minutes the mob reached my place.
“Ayyar, did you notice anybody from the nulla (Muslim settlement) entering here?”
I did not reply. They looked around the shop.
Only one boy was taking his position on the ladder arranging the sweet packets. On seeing the holy thread on his chest and back, one hooligan declared “Hey, he is a Brahmin, leave him”
“Where could he go? We will not allow him alive. We shall look in other places”
The boy came down the ladder.
“Thank you Sir, you have adorned me with the holy thread, removing it from your body, which no Brahmin dare to do and thereby saved me. My entire family is indebted to you. Let me take leave of you Sir.” He started to walk.
I stopped him and asked, “Where are you going?”
“To my colony Sir” he replied.
“Don’t go alone, they will locate and kill you. I will take you in my two wheeler”
He took the pillion and I drove my scooter to his place, which was a fifteen year old settlement,nearly five kilometres away. I was able to see a great devastation along the entire route.
“Sir, this is my place, I will get down Sir”
I saw his people were guarding the colony like fortress with arms.
“Okay. Get down”
After he got down, I asked him “What is your name?”
“Sir, Abdul Meeran”
I was shocked. With little belief I asked him “Are you related to Abdul Meeran I.P.S?”
“Yes Sir, I am his grand son.”
I was taken aback. “Are you, really?” In utter disbelief I fought for words
“Where is he now?”
“Sir he was killed in an ambush with terrorists In North India Sir. After his death, we moved to this place”
My heart broke. What a pity! The communal divide did not allow me to know the supreme sacrifice my dear friend made for the country.
At least, I was able to save the life of his grandson, by adoring with the holy thread and making him a Brahmin for some time.
Abdul Meeran, the boy I saved was unable to understand why his saviour, with tears, paid a royal salute to him.
That was my homage to a great friend who fought for the helpless, till his end.