In the last couple of months or so, the subcontinent has seen a ghastly and violent migration of human beings that is comparable with the partition of the sub-continent in 1947 and then again in 1971. It’s playing out on our TV screens and the internet. Huge masses of Swatis leaving the Swat valley in Pakistan and huge masses of Tamilians trudging their way out of their villages from Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka. Thousands have been killed-maimed, raped-shamed. Both these people, poor rural folks, caught in the cross fire between terrorists and security forces, are in all probability going to be refugees for the rest of their lives. Many may return, be ‘rehabilitated’ and so on…but refugees they will be for ever.
I think ‘refugeeism’ is for keeps. It does something to your core. You or at least a part of you, takes an extreme decision in response to the extreme decision that was imposed upon you. While each refugee is affected uniquely, I think there is a pattern in which certain groups /communities react to ‘refugeeism’. Of course, history-geography-economics-politics-sociology….all play their respective pivotal roles in shaping the collective response of an uprooted- mauled people.
In a very petty, inane and highly middleclass way, I experienced a 0.1 % attack of ‘refugeeism’ in 2005. During the Mumbai deluge, our ground floor flat got completely flooded. In a matter of an hour, there was three and half feet water inside our flat. Gutter water, sewage water gushing in, bursting out of our drains, commodes and taps.
Rescuing just essentials like documents and some valuables, we spend the frist night in the house of the first floor neighbors. My wife, me and our two little kids. Our neighbors tried to cheer us as best as they could. We smiled bravely. But in the dead of the night, the kids sobbed. And then there were strange, really strange sounds emanating from our flat, bang below. I went to investigate, wading through the water. I saw furniture of the house was floating around and banging against the walls. Floating in the water, were photographs of our children, our marriage, my scripts, children’s school books, DVD’s of films…. Standing there in waist deep water, flashing a torch around (no electricity) I could only see bits of what had happened. Not the whole picture.
The following week, one stayed at different homes. Friends and relatives. One saw the sheer scale of destruction that had been caused. Dead humans and animals. Rotting and floating.
A few days later, the wife and I returned to the flat. It was in daylight and one saw the whole picture. Our dear home of 11 years had been violated and how. It lay there like a helpless, loyal animal, howling a silent apology to us for having let us down. I felt the same way towards the flat. While I cried, the wife chose to roll up her sleeves. It took us a week of downsizing, cleaning and more cleaning before we could get the kids back.
Half their stuff was gone, the floor and walls were cold, yet the children were happy to be back ‘home’. The stench bothered them a bit. Made no difference to me at all. (I lost my sense of smell all together to an illness in childhood) But for the wife, it mattered a lot. (Super sensitive nose and a woman to boot!).
From our modest savings, we managed to rebuild our material lives. What we went through was nothing as compared to what had happened to the poor in the city, and what happens to the poor in every natural calamity, be it riot or war.
However, this experience had changed something fundamentally inside me and the wife, don’t know about the kids. We were avid monsoon lovers. We had met and courted during a rain two decades back. Oh how we cherished sharing an umbrella in a downpour. That was history now. The slightest drizzle would send a chill down our spines.
Both of us had lived on the ground floor all our lives. We cherished that position for the sheer ‘constant contact with life’ experience it offered. That too, was history.
Moving to a higher floor become the most important agenda of our lives.
I took up three to four TV shows and wrote for like….26 hours a day. The wife kept looking for a ‘higher floor’ apartment, with one vigilant eye keeping tab on my pay-cheques, ensuring they come on time.
Then one day she told me to come and have a look at a fourth floor apartment a couple of blocks away from where we lived. It was ideal for us. It had two bedrooms. And it was just about affordable.
Selling the old flat, adding the ‘soap opera money’, we bought this place and moved it. This flat, from where I type right now, is just five minutes away from where we stayed before.
The old flat was where the wife and I had spent our first night as man and woman. It was where our babies were conceived and raised. It was where I sat and wrote my first script. It was where we had seen good times and some bad times. It was where we knew everybody and everything. Eleven years!
The wife goes there almost daily, as there are common spaces like the vegetable market and the milk center. Her tailor is in that building. She has friends there. Initially the children would howl day and night in the new flat, dramatically calling out to their old friends, threatening to run away and stay there forever etc. The wife would escort them daily to the old building during play time and then get them back. Gradually they made new friends in the new building and now hardly go to the old building.
As for me, trust me, I cannot bear to step into that colony. I pass by it daily but try my best not to even look in that direction. I prefer not to bump into residents from that building in the fish market or meat shop. But yes, when ever I meet children from that building who ask me how my boys are and when will they come and play with them, I feel a lump in my throat. At one time, I knew each of this kid by name. By quirk. By lisp. By eye color. But now it takes me a few seconds to recall their names.
So yes, I cannot but reiterate that my ‘refugeeism’ is just a speck as compared to millions of people who memories are flooded not just with stinking sewage water, but with the screams and visuals of seeing family members hacked and raped.
Ideally, with the levels of scientific and economic advancement the world boasts of, there should and could be systems in place that can tackle the worst kind of natural calamity in any part of the world. Even better, prevent it from happening in the first place.
But what can one say about the ‘refugeeism’ epidemic arising from sheer cruelty, hate and complete disregard for human life and dignity on part of so-called human beings? This man-made disease plagues huge portions of our world relentlessly. I know this sounds bloody simplistic, but cannot the entire world develop a ‘zero tolerance vaccine’ against mass violence and destruction? Can every human beings life and dignity be no less important than a T20 match, a Palm’d Or, TRPs, stock market figures, dog shows, flower shows, beauty pageants, temples, mosques, churches, penis and breast enhancements, social networking and all other such ‘important’ things?
Yes, there is history and geography and all of that. But can’t it be a cardinal rule to sit and talk and only talk to resolve conflicts? Can’t creative and bright people come up with different ways of protesting and breaking protests, which do not involve activities like bayoneting pregnant women and pouring acid into eyes? That do not involve people trekking for miles and miles with out food, water, medicines AND having bullets and bombs fired at them as they walk to ‘nowhere land?’
See, we evolved from walking on four legs. We evolved from eating human flesh. Logically, we must evolve from violence.
Conflicts won’t and cannot disappear. But ‘refugeeism’ surely can. It better. Because it’s just a matter of time before every human being in this world will experience this deadly disease. It would be rank foolishness to believe that one is insulated from this disorder.
Victims of refugeeism show three behavioral patterns that are not mutually exclusive. One group forgives, one group forgets, and one group neither forgets nor forgives.
One in three displaced Swati kids is going to join the Taliban.
One in three displaced Tamil kids is the next Prabhakaran in the making.
What are we waiting for? Huh?