July 15, 2001


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Dilip D'Souza

No Fault Of Mine

I owe such driving skills as I have to a friend, Matt, whom I once shared a flat with. Through several teaching sessions in his Dodge Colt, he suffered in a kind of agonized silence. He tells me I sorely tested his conviction that the best way to teach me was to let me make my mistakes and learn from them. Despite that, despite my grinding gear changes, despite my all-round ill-treatment of his snappy little car, we remained friends.

We also remember clearly the one time in our lessons that he could not stay quiet.

We were on a particularly narrow road that took us steeply uphill. Another car was careening downhill towards us. Ignoring Matt's quiet suggestions -- terrified entreaties, they became -- to pull over and let the other guy pass, I drove on and up. The cars swished past each other, missing a collision by inches.

Matt was speechless with rage, his face like a sheet, his fingers moulded in elemental distress to the arm-rest. A minute passed. Then, another. Then he exploded: "What were you trying to do, kill us?" "It was his fault," I said smugly, "I had the right of way!" Which I did, actually, going uphill.

"Right," said Matt, and what he said next is branded in my brain even all these years later, "and will you care who had the right of way after the accident? Will you care whose fault it was when you're dead?"

The simple lesson hit home: I rarely drive any more.

But I'm reminded of it almost daily. Not long ago a minor accident happened near my home. The two drivers stood there nose to bloody nose, screaming at each other. "You were driving so fast," said the scooter man, "it was YOUR fault!" Mr Car Driver was no less vehement. "You turned suddenly," he yelled, "it's YOUR fault!"

Forgotten in the shouting was the freely bleeding wound the scooter dude had. He himself was more interested in proving it was the other guy's fault -- or at least in yelling it to the world -- than in getting to a hospital, stopping the blood.

As Pervez and Atal deliberate in Agra, as they inevitably come around to the subject of Jammu and Kashmir, is it too much to hope that there has been a Matt in each of their lives? Someone who has reminded them that sometimes, pride is less important than solutions? Someone to tell them that if both countries persist, as they have for half a century, in pointing fingers at each other, both countries will, as they have for half a century, bleed without pause? Bleed, it's not too far-fetched to imagine, to death?

The truths are simple. In J&K, we are locked in an imbroglio that is more intractable every day. Thousands of Kashmiris have been driven out; the way they have been forced to live in the last decade is one of India's great modern tragedies. More thousands have been killed in these several years.

The people of the state are increasingly alienated from and hostile to both India and Pakistan. They are angry at the way Pakistan funnels death by terror across the border; they are as angry at the way India spouts an endless stream of empty legalese ("accession", "constitution", what might these words mean in a place where death is never far?) at them. They are angry, because the only interest it seems both countries have is to prolong the suffering. And finally, our armed forces in the state drain enormous amounts daily from our treasury, not forgetting that those brave men are dying daily as well.

This is the way it is in J&K, and it's time we all saw it. I can't speak for Pakistan. But I know it's time we in India saw what our own attitudes and perceptions and vanities, regardless of Pakistan's doings, have brought about in J&K.

"But why don't you understand," someone once asked me in a heated discussion on Kashmir, "that we didn't cause any of this? Can't you see it's all Pakistan's fault!"

As if showing that "it's all Pakistan's fault" will save one single life in the state. As if, assuming we are ever able to prove conclusively to the world -- assuming anyone cares -- that Pakistan is the villain, that intractable imbroglio will right itself immediately.

Like the scooter man whose bleeding wound was unimportant, we are ignoring the very blood we are shedding: our own.

Then again, there's that old familiar calling card: it's patriotic to point the finger at Pakistan. In fact, it's not just Kashmir that has come to lie, as Jaswant Singh pronounced sonorously, if wrongheadedly, last week, at the "core of our nationhood." Blaming Pakistan for our ills is also now profoundly part of our ideas of who we are as a nation. As patriotic Indians, we must believe the worst about Pakistan, hate its citizens. Just as much, no doubt, as patriotic Pakistanis are asked to hate India and Indians.

Somewhere in there is the true Indian tragedy of Kashmir. After all, every single Indian who dies there was an integral part of India, was part of what makes us a nation. With every Saurabh Kalia and Nawang Kapadia and Abhimanyu Sikka -- sturdy soldiers cut down in Kashmir when they might have lived for India -- dies a little bit of India itself.

Yet we have been persuaded that something called territorial integrity means more, infinitely more, than blood spilled, lives lost.

And because we are persuaded, we nurture a strange vision of patriotism indeed. As Pakistan yells at us, accusing us of misdeeds, we must shout louder still that it is really all their fault. As patriotic Indians, we must stand toe to toe with those patriotic Pakistanis, screaming so loudly that neither side can hear the other. If they care to hear the other. Isn't that just what has been happening since 1947?

Meanwhile, Kashmir and its people slip through the cracks in our consciousness. Nobody hears them -- residents and refugees alike -- either.

On November 2, 1991, in the middle of war between Serbia and Croatia, Boro Todorovic, an actor in Belgrade, made a dramatic speech to the Serbian government. It ended with these words:

You won't teach me to hate anyone. To tell you the truth, the more you call on me and remind me of my nationality, the less I feel I belong to it. The more you appeal to my patriotism, the less patriotic I feel because of you. There you have it. That's my stand.

I don't know if Serbia's leaders had anything to say in response to Todorovic. They were probably too busy trying to prove the war was really Croatia's fault. In the misguided name of ethnic nationalism, thousands were slaughtered there; a Butcher of Belgrade stands accused of horrifying massacres. A decade later, and regardless of whose fault it was, we know all about the calamity that swept that part of the world. Swept away quaint ideas like Todorovic's as well.

As Atal and Pervez shake hands, let's understand: we are all at fault, but now it's time to find answers. Jammu and Kashmir is in no sense at the "core" of our nationhood. (Nor is it at the core of Pakistan's). People -- vibrant, thriving, *alive* Indian people -- are. Somehow I am sure: Boro Todorovic would agree. So would my friend Matt.

Dilip D'Souza

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