Old City of Ekta Nagar. Janak Puri and Ibrahim Mohalla, two adjacent lanes off the main Chaurasta. Sitting like two ancient sages with their backs to each other, watching with eternal patience the hustle-bustle playing on in front of them. One lane was inhabited by Hindus, and the other by Muslims. While garlic and onions were stolen secretively into the homes of one, the smell of chicken roasting wafted freely through another. Young women from one lane burnt the midnight oil, studying for their PG degrees, while most of their former classmates from the ‘peechhe wali galli’ were busy tending to their ever growing brood. Cows restricted themselves to only one of the lanes, for they were no longer held sacred once they crossed their threshold and ventured into the adjoining one. Apart from this, the Gallis looked identical. Small, dingy double or triple storey houses, with small windows opening out into the the galli, the absence of anything remotely green throughout their length and collective breadths, heaps of rubbish adorning both their alleys, kids playing cricket in both of them, ever ready to run at the sound of rubber meeting glass. The same churan-toffee, biscuit-chips, cigarette-bidi, gutkha-supari, chudi- bindi, atta-dal, samose-kachori were sold from the generations-old shops, little more than holes on the walls really, which lined the two gallis.
In both the gallis, people screwed in the nights, went to shit in the mornings, pissed 5-7 times a day, tucked themselves under quilts in the winters and turned the fans on in the summers. Red blood would ooze out if you cut through the skin of a person from either galli, and to each would it hurt just as bad as it would hurt the other.
In Janak Puri, a red-faced kid monkey, in his restless playfulness, one fine eleventh day of the month of the Hindu Calendar, in front of the Ram Mandir of Janak Puri, decided to hold two parrallel running electric wires with both his hands simultaneously.
As his charred, brittle remains fell on to the road in front of the Bhagwan Ram ka Mandir, and the smell of his burnt flesh carried into the homes, the emotions of the people welled up. And as usually happens in such situations, the flow of emotions quickly took a reverent turn. People poured out of their small homes in the Janak Puri to pay their homage to this incarnation who had decided to bless their galli by giving up his life on the Ekadashi day in front of the Ram Mandir. Some offered him sweets, other offered him money. While in his living avatar, the monkey would have lived his life bearing the brunt of the local children’s sticks and stones and surviving on stolen edibles, after his death he became divine. The local MLA promptly arrived at the scene, and keeping fully in mind the upcoming elections, announced, to the utter gratification of the gathered residents, a handsome grant so that a temple in the memory of the martyred incarnation be built.
The temple was built, a statue was bought and a priest duly appointed to look after the proceedings. On the auspicious day, a group of higher priests did the ‘Pran Pratishtha’ of the 3 ft high marble statue. The temple had been built exactly on the spot where the divine life had released its bodily prison on its way to meeting the Supreme. Of Course, the road regulations had been conveniently forgotten in this process and the new temple was built entirely on a piece of land where traffic had been running all these years. But devotion is higher than physical comforts. The pedestrians can hold their pajamas up and step into the drain, the motorists can slow down and pass through the already much encroached upon, and now further narrowed alley. They ought to slow down to pay a silent obeisance to the lord, anyways. The monkey, who would have been regarded as a nuisance in his life, was given a new life of the divine kind by no less than high Brahmins, the representatives of God on this earth. Every morning, carefully scrubbed Hindus passed walked through the muck of their lane, past the garbage heaps, to offer flowers, fruits and money to the ‘Karant wale Balaji’, a thoroughly clean and purified elevated ground at one end of which stood the small Mandir. The inconvenience of the motorists was compensated for by the divine happiness that each person who prayed to the Balaji felt.
There was another galli, the one just adjacent to this one, to whose residents the Karant Wale Balaji made little difference.
A bearded, skull capped youth once during the time of the evening Aarati, was riding through the main road after shopping for his dinner. Nafees never entered the Hindu Galli without any purpose. But the shop on the main road was out of green chillies, and he knew that a Mali in Janak Puri would be the only one selling it at this hour. Blissfully unaware of the existence of the Karant Wale Balaji, he entered the Hindu Galli at the usual speed.
He saw what he was about to hit, but never got the time to react.
The left bumper of his motorcycle rammed into the side of the elevated ground on which the devotees were standing and singing their evening Aratis. From the impact, Nafees was flung at the feet of the devotees, and he felt a warm sensation inside his mouth as his bearded face hit the white marble floor. The packet of his dinner shopping flew straight through the small gate into the Mandir itself.
As Nafees steadied himself, he felt his mouth, and as he opened it, one of his teeth came out. Unable to control it, he watched helplessly as a stream of blood mixed with saliva flowed from his mouth on to the sacred chabutra. In the meanwhile, a huge ruckus had arisen at the mandir gate. A full freshly culled chicken, the output of Nafees’s evening shopping was lying at the feet of the Balaji. Some blood from the dead chicken had joined the coat of saffron paint adorning the Balaji’s profile.
The devotees, with their ever so sensitive devotions, could not stand this outrageous and unacceptable insult to their deity. Not only had a lowly, filthy Muslim destroyed the sanctity of their Balaji by spitting on his Chabutra, he also had had the audacity to flung a dead animal at His divinely alive statue, thereby corrupting their religion (Bhrasht their Dharma)! The floodgates of rage burst out, and among feeble protests from some ‘weak’ members of their community, the members of the vegetarian group wreaked havoc upon the hapless Muslim man.
This scene did not escape a group of Muslim boys standing at the end of the Galli, smoking cigarettes and enjoying a cricket match at the Pan shop. While a group of more hot blooded boys hastened to show to the vegetarians their true place, the mobile phones of a few others became active. Soon, a large group of Muslim men, armed with whatever weapons they had at their disposal assembled in Ibrahim Mohalla. The group of Muslim boys, some beaten black and blue, and others bleeding, were slowly trickling back into their Galli. The few Hindus going about their business in the Muslim Galli sensed the danger, but for some of them it was too late. They were caught by the Muslim mob, and thoroughly beaten up. A hindu thela wala managed to escape, but his wares were looted by the mob and his thela hacked to pieces. A Hindu Auto Driver, who was dropping some passengers to Ibrahim Mohalla, was beaten up and his Auto Rickshaw set on fire. The lone Hindu shopkeeper in Ibrahim Mohalla was stabbed and his shop plundered and later put to arson. Similar was the fate of the Muslims who had had the ill-fortune to be present inside the Hindu Galli.
The police had been notified soon after the riots had started, and as night was falling, both the Gallis were put under curfew. The Karant wale Balaji had stood a silent spectator to the ruckus. A small portion of the side of the Chabutra had broken off, where the motorcycle had hit it. The Blood from the chicken had been cleansed off from the Balaji’s profile even through all this confusion. On the Chabutra, the blood from the first muslim mouth had got mingled with the blood of several more from his ilk.
Ramesh had been one of the hapless few caught up by the Muslim mob in Ibrahim Mohalla. A stave had hit his head, and his skull had burst open. He was admitted in the City Hospital, fighting for his life. It was late night, and the Gallis were still under curfew. A young woman stepped out of one of the houses, taking hurried, tentative steps towards the broken Chabutra of the Balaji. She was Sujata, Ramesh’s wife. In her hand was a lota.
Looking left and right, she quickly climbed the steps and walked into the Balaji Temple. Hurriedly, she poured the pure milk from the lota at the feet of the Balaji, and with folded hands and closed eyes, the pallu of her sari firmly on her head, she proceeded to fervently pray ‘Hey Karant Wale Balaji, mere pati ki raksha kerna, hey Karant Wale Balaji, mere pati ki raksha kerna…’ (O Karant Wale Balaji, please look after my husband, O Karant Wale Balaji, please look after my husband…)