Us and Them

September 8, 2015
Mahesh Bhat
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On 30th of August, a Sunday, I drove from Bangalore to Goa. The 600 Km drive was pleasant. The first 400 Km was on the expressway, which skirts the town of Dharwad. Few decades ago it was the cultural capital of Karnataka. Great litterateurs, Dattatreya Bendre, V K Gokak, musicians Bhimsen Joshi, Mallikarjuna Mansur, Kumara Gandharva, Gangubai Hangal and many others hailed from Dharwad.

On 1st September,  I read the news of the murder of the noted scholar, writer and thinker M M Kalburgi. He lived in Dharwad. He opposed ldol worship and was quite vocal about it. As a result he had recieved several threats. Police had provided him with security cover and he had asked them to withdraw it few days ago. In the morning of 30th August, two young men knocked on his door, asked to meet him, shot him point blank and fled. Mr.Kalburgi was 85, his assailants were in their 20s, according to news reports.

S Divakar is one of the prominent Kannada writers. In a forward to a collection of short stories Katheyadalu Hudugi (The girl who became a story) by the great writer Yeshwanatha Chithala, he had said “If there is love in today’s turbulent times, it can only be expressed when we face the living nature and confront the cruelty hidden in ourselves” Poignant words..ever since I read these lines in the late 80s, I have thought about them. The lines have haunted me and I have often asked myself if I have confronted the cruelty that might be dormant in me.

When I read about Mr.Kalburgi’s assasination, I thought of Divakar’s lines. They have come back to haunt me whenever I have reported from the conflict zones of our sub continent – the then war torn Srilanka to the seemingly peaceful but a simmering aftermath in Nagaland. Most of our conflicts – arise from our inability to deal with dissent and different points of view. Our inability to listen to each other adds fuel to the fire. Why can’t we tolerate and accept dissent, another point of view? And understand that others have the right to their opinion? Well, this is not just confined to us in India or the sub-continent but is seen around the world in almost all continents. We think as tribes and are capable of both tribal good and tribal evil says David Berreby in his book ‘Us and Them Understanding Your Tribal Mind’ which examines why are we guided by an ever-present sense, in any situation, of who belongs with whom and what that belonging means.

Well, We keep utterning the words “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (The entire world is a family) rhetorically without understanding or believing in it. This line is from a verse in Mahopanishad, which says that

”अयं बन्धुरयं नेति गणना लघुचेतसाम् | उदारचरितानां तु वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् || ”

ayaṁ bandhurayaṁ nēti gaṇanā laghucētasām | udāracaritānām tu vasudhaiva kuṭumbakam ||

” Descriminating between a relative and a stranger is for the mean-minded. For those who are magnanimous, the entire world is a family”

As I try to complete this essay, I read a post by one of my ‘Facebook friends’,  Priyanka Jain, She asked “Why a cry for help is seldom heard? Why the voice of reason seldom heeded? Why the prayers for mercy seldom answered?” There are no easy answers.

Colombo, 2007

Colombo, 2007. Every site of a suicide bombing attack used to be marked by a large painting.

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