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Stories. 
Humans First
by Ramendra Kumar

“What are you doing, Karan?” asked Sharmila, Karan’s mother.

“I am making a card for Aslam, it’s his birthday next week,” Karan replied.

Karan and Aslam were class eight students of Jeevan Jyoti High School, Deenpur and the best of friends.

Karan was travelling with his parents by train from Shivacharan to Deenpur. They had gone to Shivacharan on a pilgrimage. In fact two of the compartments of the train had been reserved for the pilgrims coming from Shivacharan. It was the month of July and it was raining heavily. The train had been stranded in the middle of nowhere for almost two hours. Karan was very good in drawing and always carried a set of crayons and his sketch book with him. He had put his father’s suitcase on the berth and placed his sketch book on it. He was now bending over it trying to capture the lovely scene outside. The undulating landscape was dotted with trees and shrubs - all bathed in rain. The pristine beauty of nature, completely untouched by man, was truly worth beholding.

His father Mahadev who had gone out to investigate the reasons for the delay came back and sat down a worried expression on his face.

“What happened?” Sharmila asked him.

“The track ahead has been washed out.”

“Where exactly?”

“Two kilometres from where we are?”

“Can we not go back?”

“It is not safe. There too the position is much the same.”

“Hey bhagwan, then we are stuck!” Sharmila said.

“It has been raining continuously for the past twenty four hours in this region. Since we were travelling in the night we didn’t realise.”

“Will they not try to repair the track?”

“It won’t be possible in this rain. Only when the rain stops and the water subsides can any repair work be done.”

“What do we do till then?”

“We can’t do much. All we can do is wait patiently and pray.”

“But how long can we wait in the middle of nowhere? Whatever food and water we are carrying will also be exhausted. How will we manage?”

Mahadev was silent, face tense.

“Let me talk to the others. If need be few of us can try going to the nearest village or town and ask for help.”

~*~

Mahadev went straight to Parsuram who was the chief co-ordinator of the pilgrimage. He was a tall and muscular man with a thick moustache.

“I have found out there is a village around ten kilometres from where we are stranded,” Parsuram said.

“Then few of us can go and request them to give us water and whatever food they can share. We can pay them for it.”

“It is not that simple Mahadev. That village is completely dominated by Muslims.”

“So?” Mahadev asked. “We are not asking for charity. We will buy from them whatever they can offer.”

“You are missing the point. If they know there are more than a hundred pilgrims stranded in this lonely spot they will finish us.”

“What nonsense? We have not caused them any harm. Why should they have anything against us?” demanded Mahadev.

“You fool, have you forgotten Godhra? A compartment full of Kar Sevaks was torched by a Muslim mob.”

“That was an isolated incident.”

“Of course it wasn’t and you know it. Anyway I am the Chief Co-ordinator and I am not going to allow anyone to go anywhere close to the village. I cannot take the risk. If anything happens I will be held responsible.”

“But ...”

“No, buts Mahadev. Instead of arguing let us start praying to God to help us. He is our only saviour.”

Mahadev went back to the compartment.

Just then there was a shout. It was Parsuram.

“Mahadev come out quickly!”

Mahadev scrambled out. The rain had stopped. Parsuram was at the door.

“What happened?”

“Look over there,” Parsuram said pointing towards the horizon.

Mahadev strained his eyes. He could see a group of people marching towards the train. They were more than fifty in number.

“See, what I feared most is about to happen. The Muslims have ganged up and are coming to attack us. They are armed to the teeth.”

“They only seem to be carrying buckets and some baskets, Parsuram.”

“But I am sure they have hidden knives, axes and hatchets inside.”

By then the group had come quite close.

Parsuram jumped down.

“Halt. If you think you can attack us because we are stranded and unarmed you are mistaken. We are more than hundred pilgrims and each of us is equal to ten of you,” he thundered.

“Mian, you are completely mistaken. We came to know a couple of hours back that the train is stranded. We started preparing some food for you. We realise you may be struck here for several hours. As soon as the rain stopped we came across. We have brought you something to eat and drink. I know our standard is not too high but we hope it will serve the purpose in this emergency,” said a fat, middle aged man who was sporting a long beard and was clad in a lungi and kurta.

“I am not going to fall for this bait. For all I know you must have poisoned this stuff,” Parsuram said looking to his companions for support. Most of them nodded. “None of us will ever trust a Muslim,” he added.

“But I trust, because my best friend is a Muslim. His name is Aslam and I love him,” shouted Karan and jumped down from the train. Before his father or Parusuram could react he went running to the fat man who had spoken.

“Chacha, give something to eat. I am very hungry,” Karan said holding out his hand.

“Sure beta. Here take this malpua. It is hot and I am sure you’ll like it.”

“Wait Karan don’t eat it,” Parsuram yelled running after the boy with Mahadev close behind.
By the time Parasruam reached Karan he had already gobbled half the malpua.

“It is very tasty Chacha. Who has made it - Chachi?”

“Yes, beta. She will be thrilled when I tell her you liked it.”

Parsuram placed his hand on Karan’s shoulder and twisted him around roughly.

“You rascal. You think you are extra smart do you. Drop that thing and get into the train,” shouted Parsuram.

“I won’t.”

“I’ll -” Parsuram raised his hand to strike Karan. Suddenly he found he couldn’t move his hand. It was being held back by a fist as large as his.

“No Parsuram, you will no touch my boy,” Mahadevan said very quietly. “It is people like you who unnecessarily create differences between brothers. If you want to share this food you can join us or you can go back to the compartment and starve.”

Parusuram glared at Mahadevan. For a moment Karan felt he was going to strike his father. But seeing the look in Mahadevan’s eyes he turned back and stomped off. The pilgrims started trooping out followed by the passengers in the other compartments.
Mahadevan turned to the fat man, “Bhai jaan. I am sorry for what Parsuram said. We are really grateful to you and your friends for coming to our rescue.”

“It is our duty mian, and I am sure if we had been in trouble you too would have done the same thing for us. Let us not forget that we are all humans first and Hindus or Muslims only later.”

Later after they had shared the food Mahadevan invited the fat man, whose name was Jaaved Sheikh, and a few of his friend into his compartment.

“You know mian I believe that our basic nature is to love and share and be happy. As we grow older we start cultivating a lot of prejudices. That is why I always tell that we should be like children. Today if your Karan had not been there we probably would have ended up going for each other’s throats rather than sitting and chatting like this.”

“You are right,” said a gruff voice. Everyone turned around in surprise. It was Parsuram with a sheepish grin on his face.

“I am sorry for the way I behaved. When I went back to the compartment my wife and daughter both shouted at me. They called me names and went out to share the food brought by you.”

“Please don’t ask forgiveness. Instead promise me that wherever and whenever you get a chance you will relate this incident to as many people as possible. This is the best way to turn every Parsuram into a Karan,” Jaaved got up and embraced Parsuram.

“I promise,” Parsuram said.

~*~

It took another ten hours before help arrived and the track was repaired. Finally when the train was about to start, Mahadevan, Parsuram and the other pilgrims bid a fond farewell to their new friends. As the train started moving Javed mian was handed a drawing by Karan.

It was a sketch of two men embracing each other.

The two men looked very much like Javed and Parasuram.

Below it was written - Humans First.   

Image under license with Gettyimages.com

3-Sep-2007
 
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