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Holocaust Express

Gujarat is a place where the Jaish-e-Mohammed and Jaish-e-Mahadev dance together, a hell that is not possible to create in any fiction, writes novelist Ruchir Joshi

The Holocaust Express continues to sear through the stations of our lives. It departed in the last century from the platform of Partition and its terminus is still far away, still invisible, perhaps still to be built. I am in Australia, reading from my novel at a literary festival, when I hear about the train carriage, the death chamber called Coach No S-6, and the murder of innocent children. Then, rapidly, I hear about how thousands of Muslim homes in Gujarat are being turned into coach No S-6. More murdered children, this time with rape and other variations thrown in.

I call friends in India, I read e-mails, I stumble over the Gujarati words in my novel - words, images, ideas that are precious to me but which, obviously, now belong to some other period of time, something that's long gone. People ask me what's going on in India, in Gujarat, and I try my best to explain, but words like 'genocide' and 'ethnic cleansing' don't quite manage to convey the horror. The phrase 'gas chamber' takes on a whole different meaning, the gas not Zyklon B but cylinders of our reliable Indane or BP, and the chambers not on the scale of Auschwitz or Dachau but mini charnel-houses, precision picked by the butchers, months, perhaps years, ago for this great moment of reckoning.

This is a different kind of earthquake, where the societal ground opens up and swallows its own people Try as I do I can find no adequate language to explain to people who have never been to India or Gujarat what exactly it is that we are cremating in this pogrom. Garavi Gujarat! The phrase I had heard many times as a Gujarati child growing up in Calcutta - Garavi Gujarat - Proud Gujarat - rattles loose in my head as I walk around Adelaide and Sydney. Wandering among the sunlit and suntanned I am thankful that no one around me can tell I am a Gujarati. I am, in their eyes, a generic brownie, an undifferenced South Asian, and I am thankful that I can hide my shame in that identity. I could be from Lahore, or Laldanga or Cochin, anywhere but Gujarat, and they have no way of knowing that Godhra was where my mother was born, or that my parents were basically from Ahmedabad, that obscure town in India which is now burning.

There is a short passage in my novel that I had almost cut out. It comes in a chapter that takes place largely in Ahmedabad and I nearly dropped it because I thought, then, that it verged on the melodramatic. Now, by some macabre fluke, it seems like a perfectly normal bit of writing. One sentence in the passage goes: ''And time would then reinvent itself, reappear like some clown Dracula, rise out of its coffin with bits of dhokla, shrikhand and human flesh hanging from its fangs.''

Dhokla, shrikhand and human flesh. I call a friend in Ahmedabad and he tells me what a well-known Gujarati folk singer and savant said to him - ''Aa to bhai Khappario Kaal sharu thayo.'' Khappario Kaal, impossible to translate properly, a kaal [time] with the top of its skull torn off, a mad-evil time, a time even worse than when the earthquake hit Gujarat last year. The sign welcoming you to Gujarat should proudly read - The most un-Hindu state in India.

This is, in a sense, a different kind of earthquake, where the societal ground opens up and swallows its own people. The switch between the normal and the unimaginable becomes a daily thing. Strict vegetarians become cannibals. Smart bombs are precision-delivered by hand. Businessmen strive to create loss. Devotees of Amba mata rape little girls. And alongside all this is the real obscenity: life continues as normal in many areas of Ahmedabad - people continue to throng to Khau Gali behind Law Gardens for their evening bhelpuri and kulfi, offices do business, India plays Zimbabwe on the television, posters of Aamir and Shah Rukh sit on the walls of teenagers' rooms,people stop their cars and scooters to do pranaam at mandirs and dehrasars before carrying on with their lives.

Who are they praying to, the citizens of what proudly proclaims itself as the only Hindu state in India? Which god allows them to pour petrol down the throats of young children so that they burn more easily? Which part of the Upanishads or the Ramayan or Mahabharat, which smaran of Sita or Draupadi, encourages them to rape women before stabbing them to death? Which sense of honour, or justice, or dharma suggests to policemen that they lead the slaughtering of innocents?

The more I think about it, the more one thing becomes clear - this Gujarat is a state of unbelievers, of genuine, 24-carat, barbaric atheists. Someone who is really worried about the wrath of Allah cannot throw a Molotov cocktail into a train carriage packed with kids, equally someone who actually believes in karma and rebirth cannot cut open a pregnant woman's belly to pull out the foetus and kill it. Whether they call themselves Hindu or Muslim, 'God' is an excuse for these men, a smoke-screen behind which they carry out the material smash and grab of life. The correct sign welcoming you to Gujarat should proudly read: 'The most un-Hindu state in India.'As the VHP and RSS leap to embrace their blood brothers in the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, as they move to emulate and out-do the Khomeinis, the bin Ladens and the Mullah Omars, the scenario that forms itself is out of hell, a hell that is not possible to create in any fiction. It is a place where the Jaish-e-Mohammed and Jaish-e-Mahadev dance together on the corpse of humanity. It is a place where the Al-Qaeda and the Al Bajrang Dal plan their destructions in tight synchronisation with each other. It is a place where there is a horrendous symmetry between children being killed and children being handed Kalashnikovs and rocket-launchers. It is a place where the Khappario Kaal never ends.The only hope I can claw out of this dreadful future is that things will come a full circle

Placed against this, the only thing I have is the obligation of a writer to imagine things differently. I have to answer the demand of my art that pessimism does not swamp optimism. The only hope I can claw out of this dreadful future is that, through human agency or otherwise, things tend to come full circle. It is also what the religion I was brought up in teaches me. The organisers of the ongoing killings should also know their Hindu mythology, and they should remember what happened to Krishna's uncle Kans.

I have an unreasonable faith that soon unlikely people, Gujaratis especially, will make a red and black column calculation for their souls and figure out that there is no cosmic profit in putting up with what's going on. At which point what will come at the sponsors of this butchery won't be in any day or night they recognise, it won't be as easy as inside their house or outside it, it won't be 
classifiable as violence or non-violence, but in the end it will come and get them. At which point, perhaps, the rail tracks under the Holocaust Express will start to come apart. (Source: Indian Express, 31 March 2002)

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