The land handed over to Ram lalla will never be the same, for it is where our constitutional values were threatened.
I have no ‘hot takes’ on the Ayodhya verdict.
The more I read ‘hot takes’ the less I understand what it really, truly means.
Immediately after the verdict I read a flurry of jubilant posts and messages struggling to square them with my hometown. It is difficult to imagine home as the epicentre of a seismic change in your country and history. Because home is always simply what it is – home.
A place so unique in your imagination, so full of peculiarities and specificities that it cannot easily morph into Xanadu in a hegemonic generic narrative of Hindu nationalism.
“India’s Mecca has been liberated!” read a forward in Hindi. As I read it, I longed to be in Ayodhya, to walk the lanes I know so well, to feel reassured in their complete familiarity.
I did the next best thing – I started to call up people I have known for a lifetime.
Bittersweet Responses to Ayodhya’s Verdict
The nameless anxiety I had been feeling subsided as soon as I heard the dialect of Awadhi we speak from the other side of the line.
The first person I call was Rakesh ki dadi. She must have had her own name but she is very old now and no one remembers. She is bringing up three grandchildren after her son and daughter-in-law were killed when an ambulance hit their cycle.
Out of a tiny platform on the side of a lane leading up to what was until yesterday the disputed site, she sells bindis and bangles.
My first memory of buying bangles from her is from when I was eight. My mother says I first made her buy them for me when I was four.
I asked her if she had heard that the temple is coming.
“Yes, I heard. If it comes, good. Let us see.”
“Country’s Mecca Ayodhya will become”
“What is Mecca?”
“The most important dham (pilgrimage) of Muslims.”
“Good they should also be happy. Where there is happiness there is Lakshmi.”
“No, no, amma. It will be the greatest Hindu dham like Mecca is for Muslims.”
“No, bitiya, we have only four dhams. I could not go in this life time.”
“You might still go.”
Rakesh ki dadi and everything she says feels like home. As do others I spoke with yesterday.
Grounded, bittersweet, even stoic responses to what was playing out as grand victory or the worst tragedy in the eyes of the rest of the country.
Some were concerned there might be curfew in town for an extended period again, others wondered if victorious members of Hindu organisations will come and take to the streets because they always cause a lot of disruption. Will their tiny platform shops selling temple ware be demolished because they are in the way of a world-class temple, others worried.
‘Hard For me to Find Ayodhya’s Idea of Ram in Those Who Claim Victory on His Behalf’
There was also hope. Maybe now hotels will come up. There will be work opportunities. There might even be a functioning hospital.
Everyone is happy the idol of lalla will be in a good place but as many of them said to me yesterday, they are not sure why outsiders needed to come in to protect lalla.
Were Ayodhyawasis not enough to know what is good for him?
When I was a child I once asked my father’s older sister where Ram lived now. “In the hearts of every single person,” she said. “Except Ravan,” I said. “Even Ravan”, she replied. “Then why was he evil?” “No one is evil. Ravan’s heart was like a dark room. If he had lit a diya like we do in Diwali he would have also found Ram.”
I was satisfied with this explanation and for the longest time believed it to be the only truth. It made sense in Ayodhya.
In Ayodhya, Ram is everywhere, in homes, in names, in the ideas people have of themselves. In Ayodhya, he embodies the qualities of an ideal human being. He is dignified, empathetic, and deeply compassionate. He lives with us, we feed him a little of what we eat, he reminds us that we must do right by others.
It is as hard for me find to Ayodhya’s idea of Ram in those who claim victory on his behalf today, in their schadenfreude, in the protracted battle over a piece of land that brought my country to its knees, in the thorny issues with the Supreme Court’s dealing with evidence law, in the humiliation of India’s minorities, and in the fear and uncertainty they are left with.
There is a relatively new gigantic statue of Ram that has come up where Yogi Adityanath’s grand Deepotsav is now held. Satyendra Das, head priest of the Ram Janmabhumi temple, did not take well to the construction of the statue.
“Who will feed him and worship him there? He is not a political leader for you to put up his statue in the town square,” he said to me when I last saw him.
A man who sells flowers by the Saryu temple has other misgivings. “It is a strange statue. From some angles it looks like Ram. From other angles it does not.” I think of this distorted, misplaced, untended to statue as an imposition on Ayodhya and a useful reminder of the grotesque distortion of the lessons of Ramayana in present day India.
‘Ayodhya of my Childhood Was Blessed’
Next to this statue is Ram ki pairi. Some years ago, residents around the pairi awoke to an unbearable stench. Thousands of dead fish were floating on the water. The sight was grotesque. No one knew what happened.
“It is the curse they have put this town under,” one of them told me later. “Blood flew into the water of Saryu in the 90s. You were too small,” he said.
The manifestations of that curse are elsewhere too in the forms of checkpoints and barricades and a heavily guarded lalla whose devotees view him through a barbed wire cage for one tiny moment before being heckled by armed guards pointing guns to move on.
Perhaps now the visible siege will end.
But the land handed over to Ram lalla will never be the same again for it is also the site where our constitutional values were threatened; where an “egregious violation of the rule of law”, in the words of their lordships, took place when the mosque was brought down.
I knew that mosque well. I prayed to lalla inside it as a child.
But my favourite temple in the precincts was Sita ki rasoi. There were other favourites too – Sumitra Bhawan, Ram Janki mandir, Kanak Bhawan, Hanuman Garhi, and a dargah where locals believed the remains of Noah were buried. The Ayodhya of my childhood was blessed. Jain, Buddhist, and Muslim pilgrims roamed its streets alongside Hindu devotees and sadhus.
Almost every one made a living doing god’s work. I don’t know what Mecca is like but to me nothing could be holier than the town of my forefathers as I remember it.
Sita ki Rasoi crumbled when the debris of the mosque fell on it. Other temples and holy places around it suffered damage too.
I don’t know what will come up in the place of what has been destroyed but I am nearly certain the Ayodhya I love cannot co-exist with the idea of Ayodhya fermented by the political movement for the temple.
I am a devotee of Ram much like my family. I will continue to visit the janmabhumi as I have in the past. But the impending grand temple will always leave me cold. It cost my country too much.
There is but one refuge for this deeply ambiguous moment in history. A poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz from another deeply ambiguous moment in history – Subah e Azadi. It begins –
Yeh daagh daagh ujaalaa, yeh shab gazidaa seher
Woh intezaar tha jiska, yeh woh seher to nahin
(This light, smeared and spotted, this night‐bitten dawn
This isn’t surely the dawn we waited for so eagerly)
And ends –
Abhi garaani-e-shab mein kami nahin aayi
Najaat-e-deedaa-o-dil ki ghadi nahin aayi
Chale chalo ki woh manzil abhi nahin aayi.
(The moment for the emancipation of the eyes
and the heart hasn’t come yet
Let’s go on, we haven’t reached the destination yet)
Originally published in The Quint.