Imitiaz was a brown skinned ten year old boy who lived in the city of Pamar. His best friend was a tall gangling boy of the same age who went by the name of Ravi. They were both studying in the same school ever since the first grade. Both were reasonably studious but not inordinately so. They loved to play cricket if you ever went to sector 3, you would see them at the end of the graveyard playing as if their lives depended on it. They never mingled with a whole lot of friends, but they always had each other.
It would be remiss if we did not dwell on the innocence of Pamar. It was a small town situated in the western ghats of India having a total population of around 25000. It had a good collection of farmers most of whom had been handed agricultural land over centuries of ancestral rule. The town was divided into ten sectors with each sector covering an area of 25 acres. The town decked itself with the usual accoutrements of temples, mosques, churches and roadside eateries. People knew each other, houses did not need addresses and roads carried no names.
Ravi and Imitiaz used to study together and homework was a joint affair spent under the yellow sodium filled street lights. Ravi was terrible at Hindi and Imtiaz was equally worse at Tulu. But with mutual assistance which included completing each other’s assignments; they were usually successful with their schedule. They would always celebrate their birthdays on 1st of February every year much to the discomfiture of their families. On their 12th birthday, Ravi gifted his dear friend a brass amulet with intricate diamond shaped lattice work. Imtiaz not to be denied, bestowed on Ravi an old copper wristband that was part of his family’s heirloom collection. The tokens claimed a preeminent place on their bodies and were present every single minute irrespective of the occasion.
If there was a single discordant note it was that their families were aloof with each other. Neither boy could explain it, but they cared not a whit.
Ravi’s parents were doctors while Imitiaz’s family ran a clothes business. Imitiaz stayed in sector 4 which was a good two kilometers away from Ravi’s house. Each day one of them would visit the other’s house, wait outside patiently for him to show up and then off they would go on their jaunts. Neither of them ever went inside the other’s place. It was assumed that the families never mattered as far as their relationship was concerned. It was rumored that Imitiaz’s grand uncle had been attacked by Hindu men when he was a young man. Naturally the whole family was always wary of communal threats. The exception was Imitiaz’s sister Rehamwho would always stare at him from the window and for some strange reason that made him hot under the collar.
Imitiaz was the serious type and read the sacred texts of Koran every single day. Ravi was a happy go lucky fellow who led a charmed life. In a strange and meandering way their friendship was as improbable as it was inimical. They would set out every day in the morning to school and return back in the same manner. At school; they would eat together, sit next to each other and even go to the toilet together. The class bully Shivaram once caught them holding hands and he forthwith christened them Mia and Biwi. Taunts of Mia and Biwi would rent the air whenever and wherever they were spotted together. However, it had the exact opposite effect hardening their resolve to remain as true friends.
There was a time when Imtiaz would walk to Ravi’s house and ring the doorbell. When Ravi’s mother opened the door, he politely asked about her health. Ravi’s mother was a rarity in those days being a woman of very few words. She soundlessly gestured asking him if he needed anything. Imitiaz could never decide whether she was genuinely friendly,so he decided to be a little conservative. From then on, he would stand near the gate waiting for Ravi to make his appearance. He was not aware that Ravi’s parents had frequently expressed some pretty harsh opinions about the entire Muslim community.
Friends they remained all through their young lives as they graduated from school and attended Moorni’s college. They both played for the cricket team and regularly used to open the innings together. Both of them had grown into strapping young men bringing an automatic smile to every girl in the college. Since they were sportsmen, they attracted their fair amount of adulation as well as a sprinkling of envy.
One day when the year was still young, Ravi had gone to pick up Imitiaz from his house. He called out to the house, “Imti, let’s go.” He then sat on the violet colored compound wall waiting for his friend to show up. He suddenly heard a rustle of a burkha and looked up to see Reham standing before him. She said “Imtiaz has gone for bath and he should be ready in a few minutes.”
Ravi was tongue tied for Reham had let her veil down and he could not stop staring at her dusky loveliness. Before he could think of something to say, Imitiaz came up and said in a teasing voice, “Ravi, please spare my sister. She may melt away if you keep looking at her like that!”
A deep scarlet blush spread across both their faces and Reham ran away inside the house. From then on Imitiaz would always tease both of them but that did not stop Ravi from tarrying a bit whenever he came to their house. Life had taken a pleasant turn between the two erstwhile friends turned brothers. Ravi was truly in love with Reham and Imitiaz could not have been happier. Reham would always try to meet him when Imitiaz was around thus not giving cause for any suspicion to her parents.
The future shone bright like the pole star in a cloudless sky. Life however is nothing if not news worthy. In the year of 1986, a curious event happened that would go on to have a deep effect on Imitiaz and Ravi.
A girl walking alone through the dusty streets of sector 5 had been teased by a couple of boys on a motorbike. They had thrown water at her body and shouted obscene things to her. No one knew who those vandals were but there was a general sense of uneasiness that formed like mist around sector 5.
When Imitiaz met Ravi later on, he recounted the event. Ravi knew his friend was feeling very sad and tried to comfort him by saying, “Don’t worry, I am sure they will be caught.” Imitiaz clasped Ravi in his arms and said, “Spoken like a true friend! I knew you would support me.”
Ravi was a little confused and asked him, “Imti, where is the question of support? No girl should be treated in that manner!” Imtiaz said, “But Ravi, that girl was a Muslim and generally it is always the Muslim girls who are harassed in this area.”
For the first time in their fledgling lives, religion had intruded into their conversation. Ravi, did not know how to deal with this new element and just kept quiet. Normal service resumed however, and life went on as idyllic as it had always been. Reham had told her parents that she was not interested in marrying anyone only because she did not have the courage to state the truth. Ravi’s parents had no inkling of his romantic conquest and naturally tried to make other plans only to be constantly rebuffed.
Exactly three weeks after the eve teasing incident, Imtiaz came running to Ravi’s house and shouted excitedly, “Ravi, Iqbal caught those fellows and thrashed them. From now on they are not going to bother any of our girls!” Ravi said, “I am glad because no girl deserves to be ill-treated. I hope that no serious harm was done.”
Imitiaz instantly became angry and huffily started walking away. Ravi caught up with him and said, “Hey what’s happening? Why are you leaving me?” Imtiaz replied, “You are more concerned about what happens to those boys, aren’t you? Is it because they are Hindus?”
Ravi was quite shocked and for a few seconds speech refused to flow from his mouth. Eventually he said, “Imti, I did not even know that they were Hindus! I just did not want Iqbal to have committed any serious crime by taking the law into his own hands!” Imtiaz was instantly ashamed and apologized to Ravi profusely. But sadly, the first seeds of self-doubt had been planted and it sprouted into a tiny little sapling soon after.
The next day when Ravi woke up, the air felt thick and heavy. He saw a number of people standing in front of his house along with his father and they seemed to be talking about how two Hindu youth had been beaten up. As he listened it became increasingly clear that both boys were critically unwell. In fact, one of them was not going to survive for much longer.
Ravi instinctively knew that the incident must have had something to do with Iqbal. The town of Pamar had just given birth to its first communal incident in more than 200 years of recorded history. As all deliveries go, this one was painful, prolonged and parsimonious.
Ravi had an uneasy feeling as he proceeded along the winding lanes towards sector 4. It rankled that the streets were deserted at this morning hour. He hurried forth crossing over the bridge on the canal and through to the other side of the graveyard. When he came to Imitiaz’s house, he was not surprised to see an identical gathering of men. Hard eyes greeted him as he walked up to the door and the hubbub dwindled down into a deathly silence. Imitiaz saw him and came running out. He said “Ravi, what are you doing here? You must go away right now!”
Maybe it was Reham’s anxious face inside or perhaps it was Imitiaz’s fevered entreaty, Ravi knew that he could not let this happen. Bloodshed crackled in the air and all it needed was a little bit of flint to catch fire. He turned to Imitiaz saying, “Imti come away with me. Let us catch the first bus out of town. You don’t want to be a part of this!”
Imtiaz looked at Ravi with contempt saying, “You are abandoning your community at a time like this? What do you think I am? I am not going to desert my family. I am going to protect them and so should you!” Ravi’s face turned pale and he was about to retort when suddenly a large group of people approached from the direction of sector 3.
They two groups of people stood their ground and faced each other angrily. Ravi’s father was there and so too was Imtiaz’s dad. A few people carried sticks while others had stones in their hands. A loud voice shattered the silence with, “Hand over that bloody rascal to us. He has killed my son and he will pay with his own life for this atrocity.” That belonged to Heblikar who was always angry with the Muslims and there was no reasoning with him. An equally stentorian voice boomed from the other camp, “Iqbal did not kill him. They were fighting, it was by accident that one of the boys fell on a stone and hurt himself.”
However, like all rabbles that babble, the reply was woefully inadequate. Neither side was willing to listen and at times like this, reason diffuses into the stratosphere. Blood shot eyes glittering with hatred and laced with blood lust glared at one another. Arms flexed their muscles twirling the sticks in lewd anticipation. Stones were tossed in the air and caught again preparing them for the fusillade. Imitiaz’s father turned and said, “Imitiaz, what did I tell you? That traitor of yours has led them here. This is what you get for being friends with him for so long!”
Ravi walked up to Imitiaz imploring him to talk to him. He said, “Imti, look at what they have become. You and I are not like this. We are friends for life!” Deep inside, Imitiaz knew that what Ravi said was true and he suddenly embraced his friend in front of everyone. They both turned to the crowd, held hands and said “Please don’t do this anymore. We are not Hindus or Muslims. Let us resolve this like ordinary people. Let us not fight each other!”
But scores of people from either side had gathered and the warring fever had not yet abated. The police had conveniently failed to make an appearance and the sanity of Pamar was stranded on a knife edge. Shivaram their erstwhile classmate armed with a hefty stick shouted loudly, “Mia and Biwi, you can’t run away now. You are both a disgrace to manhood and need to be taught a lesson!” The jeers turned ugly as the friendship between a Muslim and Hindu became a flashpoint for the entire mob. The crowd had become uncontrollable and their focus shifted to Ravi as well as Imitiaz who had no place to hide.
They saw the two of them as traitors to their own religion and a kangaroo court was now in session.
Imitiaz and Ravi were carried by the mob to the center of town and tied to the flag pole. Their families stunned by the course of events and tried to rescue them, but they were no match for the frenzied crowd. Madness gripped the entire assembly as Shivaram started hitting them with his stick. The boys screamed loudly but no one cared and even if they did, it would scarcely have mattered. They were hit with stones, iron rods and all kinds of things. The fury of the crowd was so great that they did not stop until the boys were nothing more than shapeless mounds of flesh. When the deed was done, the murderous horde stood tired by their exertions. In a mute testimony to their warped sense of justice, the boys had breathed their last.
The two families finally were allowed into the center of the crowd and a great wail of suffering rent the air. Their parents were struck down by the brutality done to their offspring. Reham was devastated and ran pell-mell into the crowd screaming in pain, “Now that you have killed them, do me also. Send me away for I wish to live no more. You filthy cowards, you killed the only two men who mattered to me in my life. I curse you to rot in all of eternity!” She started sobbing and throwing herself on the formless bodies that were still tied to the pole.
Guilt washed over the entire populace of Parmar like the rotting seepage of the town’s sewers. They stood frozen knowing that they had committed a crime for which was there was no earthly salvation. Everyone hung their head in shame for they could not bear to look at their grisly handiwork. The pain of being infinitely wrong would weigh on their brows until they died. Death itself would be no solace to souls who had sold themselves to their abased selves.
Slowly the crowd frittered away leaving only the families around the horrific tableau. Reham was inconsolable and her mother clung to her with fear and despair. In a moment of insanity, Pamar had killed the two souls who had shown them the path to unity. A selfless irrevocable journey that would have elevated their senses and enhanced their sensibilities.
Years passed by as Pamar slowly returned to normal. The people had reconciled themselves to the burden of their crimes as most mobs do. They had justified to themselves that Ravi and Imitiaz had sacrificed their lives for the cause of the town. However, their guilt had been deep enough to have sown seeds of real friendship between Muslims and Hindus. They lived in amity once again. Pamar had recovered from the earthquake that had threatened to rip it asunder. History had sown up the great crack that formed with fibers made of civility and kindness.
If a fortunate traveler were to enter the town of Pamar today, he would not fail to see a single sign board with the words Imitiaz and Ravi written in gold letters. Upon following the sign, he would end up at an unused graveyard guarded by a polished metal gate. When he enters the graveyard, he would be confronted with a plaque that read “There are no gods in Pamar. No temples or mosques exist here. If you wish to pray, then please remove your footwear and enter this hallowed ground. You may pay your respects to our beloved Mia and Biwi!”
The traveler would see a single statue of two young men. One was wearing a copper wristband and the other a brass amulet. The two me were looking at each other smiling with an indescribable expression of affection in their eyes.
Occasionally, it is said that travelers to Pamar also found an old woman sitting at the base of the statue with a garland in her hands. The woman could not see nor hear anyone. She would spend her time whispering to the young men.
Life stories are always about real life experiences which are collected from real people. Sometimes I do it myself and at other times I get it second hand. Names/places are generally fictitious so that the subject’s identity is not compromised.
In case you are interested in my collection of life stories, they can be found here: