So we ran out one hot, dusty, desert afternoon in flapping Hawai chappals on the burning sand towards a rickety bridge.
Look, look they pointed towards the placid waters below.
Except for our panting & giggling there was no sound, no movement, nothing. The waters were quiet, thick & green.
Take this stone & throw it in the pond they urged.
So with all my might I did.
As soon as it hit the surface a sight that has never left me all these years emerged.
A mass of writhing, squirming, jerking, intertwined, twisted, coiled serpents came up with such force almost hissing in our faces, twelve feet above.
Recoiling in terror I could hear someone screaming till I realised it was I.
When I found the courage to look down again, the waters were thick, green, placid once more. No sign at all of what was beneath.
Over the months a sort of a nervous nonchalance crept in.
While passing one would plop a stone and on cue the mass of hissing serpents would rise & then slither back quietly into their lives below.
It became an initiation of sorts for anyone joining this little band of friends to be taken to the rickety bridge.
This mere dot on the map, at the tethering edge of the Rann Of Kutch had lived alongside the putrid waters for decades.
Not many remembered when the snakes took over & began dictating their lives – when to cross the bridge to avoid the sunning reptiles, how hard to tap the stick to warn them of approaching humans, how to collect the rich dark clay from the banks without getting bitten.
With years came the stories, myths & legends & the snakes took on a life of their own.
Not one Additional District Commissioner could take the decision to clear & clean the place. Either because of his own fears of terrible repercussions or because the citizenry who wanted to let things be.
In May 2014, once the Lok Sabha election was done & dusted & the euphoria of the mandate had barely seeped in when the placid waters began hissing with activity.
We woke up one morning & discovered that the Christian community felt insecure & threatened.
Julio Rebiero poured out his angst in a national daily.
On cue breathless Barkha Dutt had him on her show & then Admiral Sushil Kumar reiterated similar sentiments.
Aamir’s Khans wife wanted to leave India, or so he said & then with a little prodding Shahrukh Khan was not far behind.
For two shattered glass panes an entire country was tarred intolerant.
A close Christian friend in Singapore called one evening wondering whether she should make that move to her sister in Canada & only return to India to pack her bags.
Another friend recounted her surprise on how Christmas morning at a Delhi Church ended with the young Priest warning them of terrible times ahead & how only Arvind Kejriwal was that wall between the Believers & the Hindu hordes.
What happened overnight & how did it ?
Confronted with a completely unexpected onslaught, Social Media was quick on the uptake & tore into the narrative that was being constructed. Challenging & countering it all the way till the hissing stopped & the serpents receded into the turgid, green waters……
The second stone plopped on the pond & Dadri’s beef episode hit us in the face.
The incident, the victim, the villains were ready & waiting when every media fatcat & his camera man descended upon this moffussil town.
Now suddenly we all had become a nation that killed people for what they ate. Never mind the theft.
Writers, poets, filmmakers came out to return awards.
That is the certificates, but not the cash which they had spent & enjoyed.Or for that matter, the accommodations in which they were ensconced.
It was a message to the Government, so to speak, only to the extent that was convenient.
Shrill voices of panic from sound proof tv studios gave the impression that the country was burning, man was turning on man in the name of faith & food.
NDTV journalists asked loaded questions of visiting foreign CEOs poking & prodding them to get the reactions they wanted.
A small scale industry of journalists wrote dramatic school essays on Secularism, The Idea Of India, the India of their Childhood while Arundhati Roy with a chilling sweetness recited a litany of crimes committed by the new government & its controller ‘RSS’ with no regard for facts & dates.
Inane, obscure people were plucked out & presented by the Opposition parties in cahoots with certain influential sections of the media as the Next Big One to take on Narendra Modi.
The desperation was almost pathetic considering we all had barely recovered from the Last Big One, Arvind Kejriwal.
By the time the Surgical Strike took place & the panic stricken howl from the usual culprits emanated, most people in the country understood that this was something much more sinister.
These episodes, the build up with doomsday op-eds was not merely a noisy, argumentative, circus democracy where a billion opinions were clawing to be heard but a cabal, a dangerous & incestuous club that had been deeply threatened & was going to fight to death for the lucre it had sold its soul for. Damned be the country & its national security…. And they didn’t even make an attempt to hide it.
At that epiphaneous moment it became crystal clear.
The enemy was within and the surgical strike should have first cut off this gangrenous limb that poisoned the body.
Venom knew no bounds after an initial state of dumbfounded-ness that Demonetisation reduced us all to.
Those most effected showed themselves up with spluttering rage & predicting doom for Narendra Modi’s political life while assessing the devastation in their finances.
To its credit the country stood behind the Government.
The ordinary man reconciled himself to queues & the inconveniences for the greater good.
And yes, the people believed & trusted the Prime Minister for working towards something unimaginable, almost impossible till now.
There’s no doubt a fatigue of sorts had set in at the amateurish, ham handed attempts at propping up paper tigers, reasons & agendas for questioning decisions & of course the rah rah team of a reluctant heir who would rather be on some beach than at an election rally.
We also came to recognise the names & faces of the old order who had been till then supremely content in their genteel environment which camouflaged a mercenary grittiness.
A tight little tribe, secure in the power they held & vicious in their fight to keep it.
They have been victories big & small. There have been missteps too.
There seems to be sometimes a certain discomfort with power.
Modi Govt in Office Not in Power by Minhaz Merchant
Whatever said, this four year journey has been a watershed.
How many of us realise its historic importance?
The big names we have always known, even grown up with – so many writers, authors, poets, Intellectuals, historians, social commentators, political pundits have fallen by the way side. Did they let us down or did we out grow them?
Today what was to be a Hunkar Rally was reduced to a damp squib.
Aspirational India it seems will not be distracted by caste despite ancien regime writers & intellectuals force feeding us.
Today, what could have been a stirring visit by an Opposition leader on foreign shore was just a weak & feeble attempt for him to gain much lost ground. The only interest, if at all, was if any hilarious bloopers could be shared.
However what has not escaped the people is that though the Opposition Leader & PM aspirant lacks intellectual depth, his Machiavellian handlers are not to be taken lightly.
The new young District Commissioner who took over from his predecessor was warned to leave the waters untouched, to skirt around the pond & to avoid the snakes.
However, one morning the people woke up to a bulldozer, a dredging machine & huge fishing net.
The entire exercise took a few days as we watched aghast the protesting mass of writhing, squirming, jerking, intertwined, twisted, coiled serpents were scooped up & taken away.
Was this even possible? How could something unimaginable such as this have happened?
But it did.
The waters & banks were cleaned & green. The rickety bridge reinforced & strengthened for vehicular traffic.
Before long, the snakes were part of folklore & we learnt to dabble our feet fearlessly in the pond.
The young District Commissioner was remembered for years as the man who undertook the impossible task & then his name faded away as others took on the mantle & saw to it that the pond remained clean & the snakes didn’t return.
Perchance one day, several years later, in my adulthood I learnt that water snakes are probably the least poisonous.Yes, dying of shock was possible but dying of water-snake bite improbable.
Drain The Swamp