Vikram Seth‟s novel “A Suitable Boy”, set in post-independent India, revolves around four deeply intertwined families in the province of Purva Pradesh. The novel explores many fields starting from culture to cricket and crowd psychology. It is phenomenal in the aspect of storytelling too. Seth, with unassailable truthfulness, has portrayed the essence of India in his story. He presents the panorama of India in a rich and epical style. The whole way of life, with all its variety, is described with unhurried pace. The purpose of the paper is to focus the causes of such riots and a possible solution or perspective of tackling them.
The riot that is portrayed in the story in Misri Mandir, is the result of an unexpected violence. It is the consequence of the earlier brawl in a cheap drinking place. The place is more frequented by Jatavs, The whole atmosphere sparks when a man who gets fully drunk, falls down and is laughed at by the Jatavs. The resulting fight is just a lead to the ensuing riot. The Home Minister is briefed up the situation by the District Magistrate. The real cause of worry is not the brawl itself but a possible disturbance near a partly constructed Shiva temple.
“Sir, we may not be able to spare such a large number of police at short notice. A number of policemen are stationed at the site of the Shiva Temple in case of trouble. Things are very tense, Sir…” (A Suitable Boy, pg. 232)
But the Home Minister brushes it aside saying that the God Himself would take care of the temple.
The building up of the Temple to the west of the Mosque aggravates the congregation‟s frustration. A case against the Raja of Marh‟s title to the land contiguous to the Mosque2is filed by the hereditary Imam of the Alamgiri Mosque. This prevents getting even a stay order to build the Shiva Temple. The Imam of the Alamgiri Mosque, in fact, is certain that the stay order is not a possibility. This provokes the Imam to render the most inflammatory speech to the Muslims of the area… The Imam‟s fear of their religion being in danger, his anxiety, is reflected in his words. He calls the non-Muslims „infidels‟.
“They prayed, these infidels, to their pictures and stones and perpetuated themselves in ignorance and sin…They had brought their beastliness near the very precincts of the mosque itself. The land that the kafirs sought to build on – why sought? Were at this very moment building on – was disputed land- disputed in God‟s eyes and in man‟s eyes- but not in the eyes of animals who spent their time blowing conches and worshipping parts of the body whose very names it was shameful to mention…”(A Suitable Boy, pg. 233)
The wrath of the Imam further infuriates the listeners. One more allegation is that the Home Minister himself supports the temple committee. The crowd passively listens to the furious speech of the Imam but the seeds for a future riot are sown within.
The antagonistic behavior is developing slowly between the two religious sects. It sets the ground for the riot. The evening prayer call from the Mosque is interrupted by the conch sounding from the Temple several times. A normal clash of the two sounds would have been shrugged off as an unfortunate coincidence, but this time it has serious repercussions. The gathering men in the Muslim neighborhood discuss the latest signals of provocation. The men who have gathered for an evening prayer turn out to be a mob. The mob is in no mood to reason out things. At this juncture, many policemen are stationed in Misri Mandir as instructed by the Home Minister, leaving only fifteen in the Chowk police station. The mob gathers momentum, shouting “Allah-u- Akbar” in a fit of rage. The mob starts moving towards the partly constructed temple, as their target is to3wound and destroy the “blasphemous” structure. Some of them carry sticks and some have knives with them.
The District Magistrate, who has gone to ensure the safety of the police station, is worried about the tensed situation, especially after the sermon of the Imam. The District Magistrate is left with a mere twelve constables to tackle the mob as the Deputy Superintendent of Police leaves to Misri Mandir along with two lower officers. Many thoughts crowd his mind concerning the control of the situation. He has once served the army but he is doubtful about his ability to think tactfully in such lawless situation.
The District Magistrate gives orders to his policemen to fall in line and be ready to fire when instructed by him. He is totally gripped by fear when he hears from few men that there are a thousand men in the mob. The District Magistrate could see death before him whether he fired or not. He briefly thinks about his wife and parents. The head constable, a Muslim, at this point, asks if they should necessarily shoot. The policemen who are with him and a major chunk of the police force are Muslims. The British have viciously selected more Muslim policemen to see the Hindu Congress-wallahs beaten up by the Muslims. But now the head constable‟s advice astonishes the District Magistrate:“Sahib, if you take my advice- we should not stand here where we will be overpowered. We should stand in wait for them just before they turn the last bend before the temple- and just as they turn the bend we should charge and fire simultaneously. They won‟t know how many we are, and they won‟t know what‟s hit them. There‟s a ninety-nine percent chance they will disperse.” (A Suitable Boy, pg. 237)
The District Magistrate says,” You should have my job”.The firing and the attack finally leaves two from the mob killed and no policemen hurt.The District Magistrate with the advice of the head constable has successfully tackled the riot with minimum loss.
The entire scene calls for a study of human behavior. The behavior of an individual alters when he joins a crowd. The mob turns volatile after the fiery speech of the leader. Making a stirring speech would incite a silent gathering. It works from within every individual and produces negative impacts. Religion, the purpose of which is bringing harmony, thus becomes the cause of disharmony. Respect to other religious beliefs and non interference is the crux of all religions. Just as freedom to breathe and freedom to exist, freedom to worship is also every individual‟s right. The failure to understand the basis of a religion leads to communal unrest in a society. This has been the practice for not years or even centuries but for more than a millennium. There are evidences of such demolitions of religious structures dating back to the days of Mahmud of Ghazni and Muhammad of Ghor in the 11th and 12th centuries. The Somnath Shiva Linga is demolished and the pieces of it are used by Mahmud Ghazni as footsteps in his mosque to be trampled and defiled. This proves the unscrupulous and inhumane nature of Mahmud Ghazni who set his eyes on India‟s opulence. These riots which are but the inhumane acts of people in a society always have been a cause of panic. Such a realistic scene in the novel has one lasting effect on the readers. Seth has subtly conveyed through the scene that even though religious antagonism runs high among the two sects, the mob is controlled by the timely advice given by the Muslim head constable. The head constable is unafraid to shoot his own people for the larger cause of maintaining peace and protecting a place of worship, in this case, protecting the Shiva Temple. His tactful suggestion in a bid to save his police force is real heroism. Facing such an unruly mob with a meager force requires immense courage and cleverness.Vikram Seth, in a way, has proved through the head constable‟s character that humaneness is far above man made religion. The characters presented in such manner, heroic and selfless, are examples to show the world that humaneness is still there in some extraordinary people. They don‟t have to be religious leaders or famous people but just common men with a sense of respect for their fellow human beings.