Smoke filled his eyes as the gigantic figure burnt.
The miniscule people cheered in thousands. Year after year this sight amused him. Could they really kill Ravan, if he appears before them? The thousands standing below would run away but not him.
He, Sohrabuddin, would stand there out of respect for the king of kings. He will bow before him.
Sohrabuddin walked out of Ramlila Maidan. His motorcade raced through the streets of Lucknow and came to a screeching halt near his house. I followed him. As a journalist this was my first independent assignment. I had to interview the king of land-grabbing business in Lucknow. He was now ready to grab a seat in the political arena.
Sohrabuddin gestured me to come along as he walked up the stairs of his bungalow.
We sat in the verandah dimly lit due to the adjacent street lamp. He did not seem to be bothered by darkness. Not knowing whether to ask any of the surrounding men to switch on the light, I initiated the conversation.
“Why do you contribute so much for a Hindu festival? Are there any political aspirations?”
For years Sohrabuddin had been the biggest contributor to Lucknow’s largest Dusherra Mela, only on one condition – their effigy of Ravan should be the largest in the entire city.
“What political aspirations? Can’t I contribute for the people? They are my people, I am because of them.” replied Sohrabuddin.
“But it is a Hindu festival.”
Sohrabuddin grew up listening to tales from his Hindu caretaker. He was entrusted in her care by his father after his mother died. Four-year-old Sohrabuddin loved listening to the stories and his favourite was the story of Ram and Ravan. The caretaker described the characters with such glory that the little boy was awed.
Ravan was his favourite.
“It is just a festival. Everyone comes to enjoy the mela. Do they enquire about religion when people are eating the chaat or pakoras in the stalls? You journalists do nothing but try and create a divide.”
“Why, this obsession over having the biggest Ravan effigy? I heard from one of the organizers that you have this as a precondition from the time you started donating for Dushhera Mela.”
“It is to remind us that no matter how powerful evil is, good will always prevail. It is to inspire people to fight against oppression.”
I smiled. I could recognize the politician in making.
“Weren’t you jailed for the first time
during the Babri Masjid demolition? You were caught attacking the Kar Sevaks”
“I was caught holding a stone not attacking somebody.”
An uncomfortable silence prevailed momentarily.
Sohrabuddin did not clarify any further. I avoided probing on the question. Here was a powerful man entering the political arena.
“Some people feel that you idolize the Hindu demon … err king Ravan. Is it true?”
“Sometimes you say I have political aspirations and then you say I idolize Ravan. I wonder if I am a novice in politics or you in journalism.”
“Ravan has been wrongly depicted as the antagonist. He was in fact a supreme being. He was self-made, he was powerful and he was learned. Ram on the other hand had life on a platter. He was the son of a king, he had access to the best education of those times and he did not have the guts to claim what was rightfully his – Ayodhya.” Sohrabuddin had stated this point during a debate held in his engineering college. He won the college debate just by the mere sound and longevity of the applause.
“You haven’t answered the question, Sir.”
My journalistic sixth sense told me the man wanted to answer this question. Sohrabuddin was not a seasoned politician. He was a crime lord. He was itching to boast about himself.
Sohrabuddin’s gunman walked up to me. The interview seemed over.
But Sohrabuddin gestured the man to wait.
“Do you know the details about my Babri Masjid arrest?”
“What do you exactly know?”
“You were arrested for stone throwing and attacking the Kar Sevaks.”
“I was arrested because I was involved in the Masjid demolition. I was on the side of the Kar Sevaks.”
I could not believe my ears.
“B… but why?”
“Ayodhya as a site must be preserved; because as long as people know Ram, they will know Ravan.”
“I don’t believe it. You are a Muslim and you tried to break the mosque down; that too for Shri Ram.”
Young Sohrabuddin stood amongst the crowd listening to the heated speech by the Hindu leader. “Ram needs to be kept alive. Ram is needed to identify Ravan. Ram will guide us to Lanka … to conquer.”
The rest of the words floated in air for Sohrabuddin. ‘Ram is needed to identify Ravan. Ram will guide us to Lanka’ kept ringing in his ears.
He started moving with the crowd.
“Jai Shri Ram” shouted the crowd and started hurling stones. Sohrabuddin joined them.
The police did not believe when he claimed to be a Kar Sevak. His name defied his claim. It took him fifteen days to get a release. Those fifteen days determined his future course. .
“Not for Ram. I did it for Ravan.”
“For Ravan! Why will anyone support a villain? You must be aware Ravan was a demon.”
“ Ravan was defeated because Ram could not be considered a great king as long as a man greater than him existed. Ram knew this well. He bowed before the fallen King, whom we all consider a demon. Ravan never pleaded before Ram.”
I couldn’t stop myself and blurted, “But Ram is an incarnation of God. He represents the triumph of good over evil.”
“The one who wins the war writes history; the truth dies with the one who lost.” he remarked.
“People believe Ram Rajya will happen again. May be Ram has already taken birth somewhere.”
“Maybe even Ravan has.” replied Sohrabuddin and stood up.
All of a sudden something struck me. The dusty haze had settled. The light from the street lamp was brighter. It spread a golden sheen on everything it touched. I could see more than the obvious. – the carefully sculpted thick moustache, the black silk pathani suit, the thick golden chain and the heavily built silhouette standing against the bright golden light.
The vision completely blinded my eyes to the rest of the world for a moment.
My interview never saw the light of the day. What should I have written? Whom did I really meet?
Disclaimer: This is just a piece of fiction with no intention of hurting any religious sentiments.