Do read Chapter 1 to know the beginning of this story.
VedPrakash Shastri or Babuji as Aarav called him was a pandit (priest). He was the vice president of the local pandit’s association. He was the head priest of a Shiv mandir which was very popular in Rampura. He was a very well read man. His knowledge of the shastras was thorough. He could quote any shloka, at any given time, because thousands of shlokas were committed to his memory. He was a hindu scholar.
After hearing about Aarav’s meeting with the Hindu Sammelan, Shastriji said, “I think if they believe in you, then you should believe in them.You should fight the elections.” Aarav mused for a bit. Then said, “Babuji they said that they had bigger plans for me. What do you think they meant by that ?”
Shastriji thought, then told his son, “I think at some point they may want you to stand for some local body elections.” “But Babuji I don’t want to get in to politics.” “Well my dear you may call it politics but some can also call it serving the poor and the less fortunate. Politics is also a way of doing social service, helping the poor and the downtrodden. Isn’t it?” “ No Babuji. If I have to help the poor and weak in my town or my country I will do it directly. Don’t need to get in to politics for that. Politics is a Chakravyuh (labyrinth). You get caught in it. Can never get out.” Shastriji looked at his son and nodded, though not in agreement. Then he said, “That you can decide later. After a few years. Don’t need to take a decision immediately. Do you ? My son man changes in every seven years. All the cells of his body change, and so do his thoughts and emotions. So you have a lot of time to take such decisions which may effect your life. But for the present I think you should take up their offer and fight the university elections. The rest is up to you.” Aarav sighed, he knew that he would soon have to decide. The Hindu Sammelan will be soon be back to know what’s his decision. But something was bothering him.
It was Fahad, who was also contesting the election for the President’s post.
Fahad and Aarav were the best of friends in school. In fact Aarav’s mother Saras had saved Tabassum, Fahad’s mother, during the communal riots which broke out ten years back in Rampura. Aarav’s mother had passed away two years back due to an illness. Fahad was fortunate to still have his mother’s love. Tabassum was alive because of Saras’s bravado. She had shielded her from a violent mob. Once Fahad had been very grateful to Aarav’s family.
But with time Fahad had changed and drifted away from Aarav. The demographics of Rampura had changed. The population of the minority community (Muslim ) was now at par with the majority community, which was hindu.The aggressiveness had increased in both communities. The social fabric had frayed with the widening of gap between these two communities in the town. Gone were the days when Fahad would go with Aarav and his family to the Shiv mandir. Or would be a part of the Laxmi puja during diwali at Aarav’s home. Similarly Aarav would spend the Idd with Fahad and his family. As cliché as these exchanges may sound today, but back then they were celebratory and heartwarming.
Inspite of changing attitudes, Fahad’s father Shadaab Siddique had not changed. Whenever he met Aarav in the marketplace he was the same loving Uncle, whom Aarav called Chacha since childhood. Even now he would invite Aarav home, where Fahad’s mother would treat Aarav like a son and feed him kheer, an indian sweet dish.
But Fahad was aloof and distant at these meetings. He was so cold towards Aarav that now Aarav started making excuses when Chacha invited him home. Aarav could sense the chained violence in Fahad’s eyes when they crossed paths in the college.
Now he was being asked to stand against Fahad in the elections. He brought up Fahad’s candidature with his father. His father became thoughtful. Then he said,
“I don’t think that he is your friend anymore Aarav, is he ?” Aarav sadly shook his head. Shastriji continues “I have nothing against Fahad. He has practically grown up here like a second son. But today he represents a different ideology. He has forgotten what your mother did for his family. She fought against her own hindu brethren to protect his family. But anyway that’s all in the past. You should not allow the thought of Fahad to stop you from making a decision about the elections. Krishna has said in the Gita,
श्रेयान्स्वधर्मो विगुण: परधर्मात्स्वनुष्ठितात् |
स्वभावनियतं कर्म कुर्वन्नाप्नोति किल्बिषम् ||
‘It is better to do one’s own dharma, even though imperfectly, than to do another’s dharma, even though perfectly. By doing one’s innate duties, a person does not incur sin.’
“So my son you will have to decide what is your swa-dharma at the moment. Does fighting this battle in the university feel like its your life’s mission at this moment? The answer will help you decide.”
As Shastriji was leaving the room, Aarav without looking up asked, “Babuji is Hinduism in danger ?”
Shastriji stopped, turned back and asked, “What do you think ?”
“I don’t ..know Babuji. Bhalerao ji was saying its in danger.” Shastriji looked from Aarav towards the sky, then at a statue of Krishna in the small outdoor mandir. “Aarav we hindus certainly don’t have a country to go to, incase we are driven out of this country. Because there is no other hindu country in the world other than India. Yes there is Nepal, but then I guess it is smaller than our Uttar Pradesh. So it certainly wont be able to accommodate the hindu population of this country.” Aarav looked confused and hesitantly asked, “But why will we be driven out of our own country?” Shastriji looked at him, then asked, “Why were the Kashmiri Pandits driven out of Kashmir. Wasn’t Kashmir as much their home as India is ours?” Aarav was speechless because he felt punched in his stomach by the truth. “Weren’t our temples like Somnath and many others destroyed by the barbarians a few centuries back ? So what stops history from repeating itself ? And this time it can happen for good. Like Buddha’s tallest statue in the world was made to fall in Afghanistan. If that happens on a mass scale, and the hindu is outnumbered and cant protect himself or his idols, he will run. And what will a religion be without its idols and symbols ? And Without a country to call their own ? A religion never survives on mere words or philosophy. So work it out for yourself if hinduism in danger or not today. I would hate to impose my views on you Aarav. You are a big boy now.”
Saying this his father left. Aarav was lost in deep thought.