Of late, I’ve been hearing just too much about communalism, Hindu-Muslim clashes and all that sort of thing, which brings to my mind an incident from school.
It must have been the last day of the second Pre-Board exams in class 10, or some other joyous occasion which called for an atmosphere of revelry. We were filling out autograph books, reminiscing about incidents that happened in class 1, playing truth-or-dare and things like that which brought Myna ma’am at the door, threatening us to shut up or she’d see to it that she’d “royally screw each one of us personally in the lab exams”.
While that was an unsuccessful attempt at maintaining the peace, a more successful one came in the form of Nalini Ma’am who came in to announce that she’d be distributing the Pre-Board papers shortly.
That did it. Half the class lapsed into prayer. Next to me was Huda Shirani, tense and nervous and praying as hard as she could. God alone knew why, she was good at the darn subject.
Mrs. Nalini Gopalan entered with an armload of papers, and a purposeful look on her face. The more cocky of us were expecting a good show, her faux pas weren’t to be missed. However, they weren’t nice when you were at the receiving end, coz you would be embarassed in front of the whole class for your deeds, which would then start sounding real hilarious.
“Huda, stand up,ma”
And I thought nothing could aggravate her tension.
“Taha, tell me, Is India A Secular Country?”
“Yes ma’am, it is.”
“Because everyone is free to practise their own religions, ma’am.”
“Sit down. Mohammed, Is India A Secular Country? Why, or Why not?”
“Yes ma’am, because there are people of all possible religions living in harmony in India, ma’am.”
“Ok. Fazeela, in your opinion, is India a secular country?”
“Yes, ma’am, it is, because there is no specified official State religion.”
“Now, Huda, when all these people say that India is a secular country, why do you say it is not, ma?”
I guess this seems puzzling without the context. Which happens to be that there was a question in the Social Science Pre-Board paper for three marks, which was “Is India a secular country? Justify your answer.”
“NO, ma. ” [to the rest of the class] “Just see what she has written..” [reads out from her answer paper] “No, India is not a secular country. The country is plagued with communal riots with people of one religion not allowing the followers of another to follow their religious customs and beliefs. Hindus and Muslims fight each other, and disturb the peace of the land….”
“Why, ma, don’t you feel safe living in this country? Don’t your classmates of other religions treat you well? Aren’t you free to follow your religious beliefs and customs? What happened that you wrote this? [shakes the paper in her face].
The rest of us were in a state of surprise, for we hadn’t even thought of being creative with a Social Science paper. And we all said we were a secular country, coz that was what was said in the Preamble to the Constitution which we were made to write as an assignment for a teacher who didn’t know what to allot five marks of continuous evaluation for. The whole class was stifling giggles [My condition was especially bad, being right next to the spotlight] other than a bunch at the back who had no clue what was going on, for they were doing problems from some Question Bank.
But what almost made me guffaw was this:
“Please ma’am, I’m really sorry ma’am, I won’t repeat this anywhere ma’am. I’m really sorry I said something like this, ma’am…..”
“No, ma… How can I forgive you? How can you say sorry to me… WHY say sorry to ME, ma?”
“BE SORRY TO THE WHOLE NATION!”
Edit: Nalini ma’am, if you ever get to read this, I’m letting you know I have nothing but the highest regard for you. I very well understand why you did what you did, and don’t hold it against you or anything. I know you are not one of those who came in the way of creative answers as long as they made a valid point. The only thing that beats me is why you chose to give this question in an exam…..