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The Destruction of an Institute

In 1992 the Babri Masjid was demolished in Ayodhya. The repercussions were felt across the nation and even beyond our borders. I was in Mumbai at that time and I had two problems. I lived very near the headquarters of Shiv Sena in Shivaji Park. The second problem was that around October 1992 I had shaved all the hair on my head. To protect myself I wore a thick ‘skull cap’. This make me look like a member of a different community. By January 1993, the first wave of rioting had concluded and the second wave was on its way. The second wave was strategic. Whereas the first wave was a free for all between human beings, the second wave was targeted against businesses. In the midst of this I was relegated to being a mute spectator.

Green Restaurant is an icon even today. But when I was growing up as a child, it was a melting pot that didn’t discriminate against community caste or creed. For many years I didn’t know that the owners were Bhori Muslims. I thought they were Parsis because it was called ‘Babaji’s or Bawaji’s restaurant’! Their owners had a boy who was my age. We were mates who went to the seashore together. We built sandcastles, played hide n seek etc. From 1991 I spent a lot of my evenings sipping ‘cutting chai’ and ‘Bombay Toast’ here. When the incident in question actually took place, I had picked up my friend and all his family and kept him in my house. At a point I had even picked up a hockey stick when a stone was thrown at my house.

The article I have reproduced below is what I wrote when the restaurant was plundered and part of it burnt. It describes my helplessness and talks about my state of mind then. Not much has changed even today. I value human life and friendship above all man-made barriers. I am told I sometimes sound one-sided. It is then that I remind people and myself, that fighting any sort of injustice is actually being one-sided. You have to fix the injustice and it is obvious that the people who don’t see this, see just one side of the coin.

I am reproducing this article in the hope that in this time of insanity, we don’t lose our values as human beings. We need to be one in the fight for our sanity and survival.

Green Restaurant, Shivaji Park, Mumbai January 1993.

Bang! No, it was no accidental tire burst nor was it an inflated plastic bag being burst. The sound of a rock crashing against the steel shutter has a characteristic dread to it. Yes, the destruction had begun.

The days of persuasion and talk, convincing and accepting over, in wain. All sanity had departed laying a red carpet to welcome the tragedy to follow.

The steel shutter provided little resistance to a well wielded crowbar. It was iconic that the last semblance of a barrier had been so easily removed. The arsonists, but a handful, watched by a crowd of silent spectators conspicuously displaying their impotence, and I. Yes, I, the strong willed; I the strong bodied; I the speaker. Ha! The yawning gap in the restaurant door seemed to say to me as man after man came out of it spewing the streets with the looted debris. The carnage lasted five hours which have been haunting me as the sins of the past five births. Why?

Why was it that I didn’t react! Why was it that the only reaction was an excuse that it had to be done! Done to not just any restaurant, done to an institution spanning thee generations. ‘Green Restaurant’ was not just the name; it was a landmark that gave an identity to the very house that I was born in. It represented the place where comradery prevails over religion, caste, and creed. And now it was been systematically destroyed. The ones who sat in sipping their coffees were today mute spectators. The destruction was not caused by any near or dear resident of the area. Oh no! heaven forbid, these prodigal sons would not want this insanity on their hands. Outsiders were allowed to defile sanctity while those who enjoyed the cool shade and warmth, stood by. Why?

Why them? Why not me? I was there too, in the serenity of my home watching the carnage from afar!!

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It was insane, the rioting. The zeal which rioters were showing. I still feel that some may have hidden emotions, which come out in such matters, and turns into anger and then wrong actions, against a community by the other community. However, ultimately these actions are wrong. It damages and paralyze the trust, the love, the togetherness, which has been nurtured over the years. What you felt was not unusual. It were feelings of a good soul. What you thought was not unusual, that is what should actually be expected one should think.

The irony is that the action, the thoughts, the emotions or the helplessness felt at such times do not do anything and leaves one scarred and asking…

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