The views expressed in this article are not those of a single writer but extracts taken during a debate held on Saturday October 13th 2001, within a group of young dynamic and experienced business entrepreneurs.
One fine Saturday evening as I was preparing the table for my friends to come over for a drink and get along with our most awaited Saturday debate sessions I could feel that this evening was not going to be one of those usual talks but one that could bring a change in our lives.
Before I could even set the table I could hear Steve on my door while I could see Latif pacing up my garden steps with a bag full of bananas. It was very usual for us to wait for Balwinder, the young, bold and fearless Sardar with whom we often talked our Santa and Banta jokes. While we were waiting for Balwinder or Ballu as we often called him, Latif addressed to us how embarrassing it was for his brother – in – law who was residing in the USA, and often travels with his job. “Things were not as they used to be before 9/11. After 9/11 every thing around us has changed, the world is different. Suddenly now people look upon us (Muslims) especially in the west”, said Latif.
“But was this something new for us Indians? Have we not often gone through the same phase in our lives before? Does it not sound like the days when our late Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi was assassinated by an Akali supporter, who claimed his fight for his religion or his Jihad! And led to the riots of 1984? Didn’t the Sikhs of India go through a similar situation and in fact even worst? Have we all forgotten how young girls were raped by dozens of men, in the open streets? Don’t we all know how those Sikh boys were stripped to their naked butts and their hair and beard were shaved and burnt? Sikhs in India have always been considered as hard working honest inhabitants, most of them having small business in the category of transport and motor spare parts. We all know how their businesses were robbed over night and also that the insurance companies had refused to pay for their claims”, said Ballu, while standing with his back resting on the door frame. “Whereas these incidents were not reported and neither were there any such riots during the 9/11, so isn’t that a reason to be happy and thank the GOD for the peace around us”.
It was all so quiet now. Suddenly, I felt that the world had come to a stop. All we could hear around us were our pacing heart beats and see the daring face of Ballu, who was trying to make his point clear to us. The tall well built Sardar wearing his big turban and with his bearded face, now standing in the corner while pealing off the banana skins and chewing the fruit slowly, once again got into action with his words, saying “The problem is not the situation that is around us, but those few idiotic leaders that we have voted. It is they and their egos that clash with each other while we suffer, sometimes for the rest of our lives”. Once again we were all silent because what he just said did make sense to me.
Ballu now turned his face to Latif and asked him, “What were you talking about your brother – in – law? Did you say how embarrassed he feels when the FBI or the City Police asks him questions about his activities? Questions? Questions makes you feel embarrassed, for your brother – in – law? Did you ever think for one moment, how would a family feel who saw their young daughter getting raped by dozens of men, one after the other while the others who stood by were rejoicing and waiting for their turn to come? Is that not embarrassing? Where were the human rights organizations then?” Before Ballu could even stop to take a breadth he grabbed Latif by his neck and pressed him hard by his chair. We were shocked and tried to stop him, while Latif, picked up the flower vase by his side and tried to hit Ballu on his turban. Ballu, who probably knew the flower vase was coming his way, stretched his arm to hold the vase while with his left hand held Latif’s neck and kept him to his chair.
At first I could not understand why Ballu had made such an attempt. But then, Ballu who was always prepared with his answers came up. “Latif, the Americans have done exactly what you just did. They tried to strike their enemy too. The only difference is that you know who your enemy is and you made the strike right away. Whereas, these Americans have to hunt their enemy who is hiding some where across the globe. I had only pressed your neck with an intention to bring the fear of death in you. While those Americans were attacked in their homes! Do I need to say innocent lives were lost during the 9/11?” all of us were silent till our every beat of the heart and were looking at each other, expecting that any one of us would now make a remark. While Ballu was busy grabbing the bananas and biting to his delight.
“Have you ever thought that the world is quiet when we hear the American Soldiers die fighting for their Country? Whereas when the soldiers in Iraq die’s the human rights come up with their rules and regulations”. Said Ballu. “Which Country in this world first declares a war and then builds up the Country for the well being of its citizens? Have you ever wondered how the local people of Iraq have suffered all these years in the rule of the Great Saddam who lived in his Palace with facilities one cannot even dream in that desert Country?” continued Ballu.
“The United States of America is always considered as the land of opportunity. For the skilled people a dream come true. For those hard working immigrants, who travel from across the globe to look for one decent job in order to support their families back home” said Ballu. “And, remind you guys, when I say a decent job, I mean a job which keeps you skillfully occupied even though you are driving a cab, cleaning toilets or working those blue collar jobs with the MNCs. Millions from across the world, pay exorbitant amounts of money to get a VISA into their passports and then dream for a job that may keep their families running back homes.
“And many are aware that if their luck does not favor them, with that visa they might even end up serving a life sentence behind the prison walls while their family may live on with the glorious though that their son will one day arrive with a bag full of Dollars, and furnish the old family house, add on a helping hand to marry off his sister and take care of his old parents.”
“9/11 was not an attack to the USA, but an attack to these naïve dreams that people had being building over the years, in a country that was assumed to be free of all terror attacks. Now every one wakes up in the morning not with a though, what he has in his schedule but with a relief that he has survived another day! Have you ever wondered the ever growing challenge for that government who has to keep the country free from all terror attacks” said Ballu, while extending his long arms to grab another banana. Then suddenly he turned his face towards me and very politely asked, “Dear sir, do we have to settle this Saturday with bananas or have you arranged a bottle for these delegates that are present here to make history”.
I knew this was coming up. For it was very regular of us to gather together every Saturday evenings over a bottle of Scotch Whiskey and some crispy talks. We were all surprised to see that Ballu, as usual was highly energized with his talks because he would share his vast collection of jokes and humor with us while we debated over some topic. Well, 9/11 indeed was the topic around us, so why not? We decided to go along and see where and how it would end.
Ballu would often start to talk after 2 to 3 shots of whiskey straight on the rocks, and would open with his humor talks, but I guess today these bananas had energized him enough to take the lead. However, what comes further is more interesting as we had never known our friendly Saturday chat would lead to such a disaster.
By now, almost all of us were present. Latif, an expert travel agent, whose fingers worked on the computer key board faster than the thought process and never ever refused to make a reservation for flights. In fact he would often challenge us, saying “when you do not get your tickets from the air lines, and you have to travel, come to me and I shall reserve you a flight”. Well none of us ever knew how he managed to do that, but we had tried him on several occasions and he was good in his job.
Steve was an honest sales manager with an MNC. I say honest because he was one sales representative who would never speak anything but the truth. Ballu, of course the man of the evening was an ambitious business man who had started his career as a sales man, and today had his own full fledged advertising agency handling some of the largest MNC and other national clients who were present in the media most of the times. And of course myself, I still write and teach a profession that has been in our family tradition since decades.
Although I still do not find any combination of scotch whiskey with bananas but some how I must say that Ballu was in his full form holding his glass of scotch on the rocks while biting on to his banana continued to say; “My friends we have an example here in front of us that we have been living since decades. We all know that during the partition of 1947 Kashmir was declared as a part of India. But not to mention our neighbors have ever since tried to cheat us and have fought several times on that piece of land. Further, we have had several militant attacks with the related issue but what has our Government done on this issue, nothing. Hundreds of innocent lives have being sacrificed on that beautiful land of Kashmir. And hundreds of our military has died for that reason too. But unfortunately neither the human rights organization nor any have ever mentioned a word on that”.
He continued further, “Ever wondered which is one Country that has never advertised in our rural markets yet the consumers there know the name of the Country?” to this I wanted to take a wild guess, but before I could, Ballu himself came up with the answer proving his point clear that he was not seeking for any answer but wanted to make his point clear. He said, “America. Yes, I have personally been involved into several market research related projects where we had been to the rural markets seeking for the consumer buying behavior etc. and surprisingly I have seen and realized, that some how the people there have an immense trust in America. When you tell them that a particular product is from China, or Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, or any other Country, they some how do not feel encouraged but when you tell them this is from America, you can see their faces glow up, with a gesture, Oh! This is from America then it must be good”. “On an average every 9 out of 10 people have this belief that American products are more quality based and consumer related. An average of 7 out of 10 would like to immigrate to the States and 9 out of every 10 is a software engineer from India” he continued “some of the finest doctors in USA are from India” and he continued with his charts and figures.
I was trying to look into Ballu’s eyes and understand to what he was saying, and trying to relate his say with the 9/11. But what he said further clearly justified his talks on the rural market and consumer behavior.
He said further, “If given a chance, 7 out of 10 people around us would like to work and live in the United States of America. And not because they don’t have a job here, in their own country but because some where deep within they have this desire to change and live for a better life, and seek for social benefits which have been promised by governments after governments and never even tried to be implemented. There is belief and trust on the American soil and every day some where in this world people look and seek for a chance to immigrate to the United States of America. Ask any one around you, if you were to choose to immigrate where would you go, and the answer will be the USA.”
We were silently listening to Ballu and trying to understand to what he was saying. He further highlighted some points that not only changed the topic of the debate but also led to a quarrelsome situation amongst us all.
Ballu said, “What is religion? Is it not or shouldn’t it be a guideline for us humans in order to live and be a part of society where we can seek and learn from our fellow beings? Where we form a team in order to share our skills and provide the society with developments in order to add on towards the quality of life. Where there are no needy because the system is developed such that there is enough work for all and thus the basic requirements are met. Where there is love and harmony amongst us all”. “If this is religion, then what is a religion that teaches its followers to fight for the GOD? What religion in this world will ever teach and encourage its followers to fight or carry on with a Jihad”.
We were not expecting some thing like this to come up, before any one else could say a word Latif, came up saying “Ballu are you trying to say that my religion is at fault?” Ballu said, “Think and try to answer your question without being biased”. Ballu continued, “I have often heard some so called great Muslim leaders saying that we must carry on with our Jihad. What is this Jihad? Is this your Goal and the only objective in your life? Are you going to fight for a reason that was probably meeting its objectives centuries back? Will you not try to except the fact that we are in the 21st century and that the world has changed and we need to change for the better or would you like to continue with the belief that you must fight the Americans or the world for your Jihad?”
Latif was now angry to what Ballu had said, and he made a remark which of course was shocking to all of us. Because we considered a Saturday debate to be friendlier and to update our communication and understanding skills rather than get too personal. He went beyond to say, “All you guys are attracted by the Americans and now want to fight the Muslims. A fight to my Muslim brothers is a fight with me, and if America has declared a war to my Muslim brothers it has declared a war on me”. To this Ballu replied, “Latif, this is the mistake which is bringing us all to this situation. Why do you take things so personal? And if you are so against why don’t you tell your brother – in – law to move out of USA and live in Iraq and carry on with the Jihad. Why did he pay Rs. 10 Lakhs to buy a visa and move to states? You first want to move to the states to work and then you blame the Americans to be what they are?”
This statement of Ballu had made matters worst for that evening and Latif was not what he used to be anymore. He made remarks against us all and I was frightened and wanted to control the moment so that things remained calm amongst ourselves. I had to butt into the situation and asked Ballu to stay quite and calm. I asked Steve to change the topic and take over. Which he gladly did and, I could see how Latif had taken to this debate. I could see that he was not interested any more neither to continue with the debate nor in the moment.
Before I could say any thing further, Latif stood up from his chair and walked towards Steve and asked him for his lighter to light his cigarette. All eyes were on him, because we wanted to let him know that we just wanted to share some thoughts and not discuss and be personal towards his religion and his beliefs.
After lighting his cigarette, Latif turned around facing me and said, “Well, thank you my friend. I just realized that I have an important work and I shall get back to you guys soon. I shall call you later”. Usually, we would greet us all and shake our hands and hug each other before saying farewell and some times we even used to drive to a near by pan shop to grab the flavor of a pan after our Saturday debates. But that day, Latif just walked away.
We, Steve, Ballu and I were all looking at each other. Embarrassed and not wanting to blame any one for anything. Ballu seemed to be very hurt because I believe that he had not thought of this situation and I know for sure he did not mean to cause any harm to any person or religion.
Before that evening, we had had several debates but it would get summarized at the end and we would thank our selves for the thoughts and feelings that we had shared together. But what went wrong that day was not known to any one of us.
Today September 11th 2004, I am waiting for my friends Steve, Latif and Ballu to come along for our weekly debate sessions. But ever since our last debate on October 13th 2001, this group has never been together like the days before 9/11. As I sit all alone on my chair with the bottle of scotch and ice, waiting for my friends, tears roll from my eyes because somewhere I know what we have lost. I miss my friends and our Saturday talks.
I shall however, continue every Saturday to wait for who knows, one day we shall all meet again?
Contributed by: Mohinder Pal Singh
Date: March 24, 2010