II. The Mosque of the wire
Next day evening, after the exam and a brief visit home, we collected back at Ali's house. The crowd was still there. It was like they hadn't moved from there at all. They were still standing around the tree talking in murmurs. We went up to Ali's room and looked out the window, the only change was that there were several milk saucers kept around the base of the tree today. The snake had gone back under the tree, Henna told us. Everyone hoped he'll come back again soon.
During next couple of days, the snake showed up randomly and disappeared within a few minutes each time. The milk saucers kept getting empty and refilled. "Such stupidity. Snakes don't drink milk", "Snakes can't drink milk", "It's definitely the cats taking care of that milk", "I think I screwed up the fifth question today", said Nabbu, Vikku, I and Ali.
Snake is Shiva's symbol. His garland, his favorite, his pet, his weapon. On Naag Panchami snakes are worshipped and milk is offered to them. There are a truckload of movies about snakes with mystical powers or with snakes as some sort of a symbol in India. In a land where rivers, trees and mountains are worshipped, where cows are sacred, snakes are not far behind. So what happened next was not totally unexpected.
Tar Wali Masjid was the oldest known building in the entire area. No one around had seen a time when it was not there. Older people remembered when the tree was not there, or when a particular road was still a dust road, but everyone remembered the mosque. A single story medium sized small square of a building with one minar. It had always been there, and for about a mile in each direction, it was the only non-residential structure besides the Ghaziabad Railway Station.
Therefore when someone declared that he has understood the 'sign', he has calculated events and can see the meaning of it all, when murmurs turned to whispers, and whispers took form of legible loud sentences, when someone finally said it clearly instead of beating around the bush, the fact that the clear sign from Gods above was that a Shiva temple should be built in this area, the eyes looked around and settled on the mosque. The loud voices fell back to whispers to murmurs to whispers to loud voices again. And one sentence, in several voices took form, like a snake from under the tree, a sentence from under the whispers came out. The mosque should be replaced with a temple. It's the only way. (Snake, that creepy creature, he doesn't need apples anymore.)
Maulvi Sahib, local muslim voice and regular visitor of the Tar Wali Masjid, was a common figure in the area. He was often seen riding his bicycle towards or from the mosque, or sitting outside the mosque on a cot smoking hukkah, greeting every passerby. He was standing with the crowds when the illegible voices took ugly shapes, he knew this was a very dangerous turn of events. Since the Jasma incident, there was a silent tension betwen the two communities of the locality. This area was Hindu dominated, but had a sizeable population of Muslims too. Maulvi Sahib knew as well as anyone else in the crowd, any small religious conflict there could spark a riot. He fell silent, and so did everyone else. Everyone knew it's opening a can of worms, but the words had been said, the bullet had been fired, the snake was out of his pit.
Just then the mosque started to call the believers, "Allaaaaaaah U Akbar Allaaaah u akbar". Maulvi Sahib walked with heavy feet towards the mosque and the crowd listened silently. "It'll be nice to get rid of that nuisance for one", someone whispered. No one nodded or uttered a word in response. Maybe they were scared to open their mouths, maybe they feared only venom would come out.
We were watching from the rooftop. "If this turns into a riot, I'll take some pictures from here. This place gives a good angle all over", "That was so sick. So sick yaar", "That's if my house would be left standing, we are just next to the mosque. They might torch my house to just make a point", "Let's go get some Samosas quick. If this heats up, shops around may not open for days", said I, Nabbu, Ali and Vikku.
We counted money in our pockets. Samosas were brought and Henna made us elaichi tea. For a while we sat silently in a circle in Ali's room, dipping samosas in spicy green chutney and sipping hot tea.
"You think anything would happen?", "Nah. This will cool off in a day or two.", "You never know, people from both sides are still mad over the Jasma incident, and the Ayodhya issue is getting hot by the day. It's on front page everyday.", "I would really hate it if we spent tonight studying and in morning it becomes impossible to reach college", said Nabbu, I, Ali and Vikku.
We looked out the window with tea cups in hands, sipping with slurping sounds. Several milk saucers were still around the tree base but there was no crowd. The unsaid having been said, people had returned to their homes to contemplate. "This is scary, such tension can result in some random panic act", "Do these people feed their kids as much milk as they are offering the snake?", "Don't go by their lifestyle, these people make a lot of money. More on the side than at regular job. Working for railways is great that way.", "This is scary".
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