A few days ago I went to watch Bajrangi Bhaijaan, in what happened to be my first movie outing since the 1980s. Bollywood flicks have improved by leaps and bounds in the past couple of decades, though melodramatic quirks still dominate along side the irrelevant song and dance routine. Bajrangi Bhaijaan retains all the elements of a Bollywood potboiler. Nawazuddin Siddiqui has done a commendable job in a masala movie that tries to deliver a rare message in these divisive times. The story is not without flaws, interspersed, as it is, with highly unrealistic situations.
Yet, its highpoint is a rather simple message that while politicians create rifts between communities, the common man, irrespective of his faith, still remains simple at heart. Which is why a devout hindu intoxicated by the righteousness of his faith, finds a higher purpose in serving humanity, transforming from an orthodox Bajrangi to a beloved bhaijaan in rabid Pakistan. And humanity triumphs in the end.
Most of us lay citizens are aware how political parties and governments deploy religion to spread communal hatred. Yet, the spirit of humanity guides our soul.
Recently on id, the Pakistani Rangers reportedly refused the traditional exchange of sweets with Border Security Force personnel at the Wagah border, even though India’s prime minister Narendra Modi graciously accepted the mangoes gifted by his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on the occasion. The rift between Pakistan and India has its roots in the years long before partition separated the people in 1947, when at the height of the freedom struggle, politicians incited communal hatred to carve out their respective territories of influence among the ordinary masses. Partition only resulted in the slaughter of millions of hindus at the hands of muslims and vice versa. I strongly believe that this could have been averted and we the people could have shared a common destiny had our leaders chosen humanity over bigotry.
The Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 could never be won had India not aided the citizens of East Pakistan to vanquish the oppressors from the other extreme of the subcontinent. Without India’s intervention, the death toll in the liberation war would have been several times higher than the officially recorded three million. Yet strangely, as it often happens with the turn of the wheel of history, many Bangladeshis now consider India an enemy, rather than a friend and benefactor.
A few days ago I happened to chat up a progressive young Bangladeshi living in Norway. For better connect, let’s call him B, but not Bajrangi, of course. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation:
B: Whenever we get into an argument on the trial of Bangladeshi war criminals, there are many who invariably argue that only islamist leaders are being brought to trial and sent to the gallows. Few are willing to concede that only those people are being tried who collaborated in the massacre of three million innocent lives by the Pakistani army in the name of islam. That might have been then, but even today, I can’t accept that Bangladeshis should be friends with Pakistanis all over the world.
Me: I understand your pain, but why must every Pakistani be blamed for the atrocities carried by their army at the behest of their masters? What’s wrong with Pakistanis and Bangladeshis living in peace and harmony in distant Norway?
B: I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments. But when Pakistanis still consider Bangladesh as a part of their country, it’s hard not to take offence. It’s not possible for Bangladeshis to forget their past and embrace Pakistanis, when there is still so much of residual hatred among us.
Me: Why generalise? Certainly all Pakistanis can’t be thinking alike. There have been several Pakistanis who have strongly condemned the massacre. Not every Pakistani is a bigot; the few who still sow hatred, are usually misguided… If you look at it carefully, you can find a fair share of progressive individuals in the Pakistani society, as in any other, who raise their voice against injustice. It’s another matter, of course, that stringent islam has no place for liberal thinkers.
B: I agree that generalisation doesn’t work. Yet, I am not in the game with Pakistan.
Me: That’s generalising again. What’s the harm in two like-minded liberals being friends, irrespective of their nationalities or their histories?
As I bid B goodbye, I couldn’t help wonder why even educated people living in progressive societies far away from home, carry the heavy baggage of hate. Perhaps, hatred, not love, is the second nature of us humans. Which is why, only a select few among us who overcome hate walk a higher purpose in life.