Thursday, February 23, 2006

Her name was Sunshine

Her name was Sunshine. Or, at least, that's the name she gave herself because she thought it sounded cute and made her seem a little more attractive. She enjoyed all the attention it gave her and the way it made men and women bask in the warmth of her presence. There was a spunkiness about her that made her stand out in a group, and often drew people towards her. She enjoyed it and revelled in the adulation that followed.

I thought she was nice, intelligent and a pleasant company for conversation. I had known her for only two years and during that time had grown to like her as a person because she was always full of interesting anecdotes whenever I had a chance to talk with her. She, also, had a very engaging style of talking that made one feel that she actually cared what the other person was saying.

Perhaps it was her profession that made her a good conversationalist or maybe it was natural curiosity that made her talk with such deep insight. An HR professional for many years and a trained counsellor, she had taken a break from the rat-race and was now involved in training youngsters for call-centre jobs. She loved interacting with these young men and women, and often told me that this work gave her the kind of fulfillment that her previous day-jobs lacked. Determined to carve out her own niche in the new corporate India on her own terms, she was confident that her experience, qualifications and personality were sufficient ingredients for success.

A widely travelled person, she had developed an eclectic taste in the fine arts and was seriously involved in theatre. Literature, arts, theatre and cinema were one of our favourite topics of discussion, and she could talk for hours and hours about new genres and new theatrical experiments and new books. She was so full of information that it was, always, fascinating to sit and talk with her.

But sometime last week, she disappointed me.

We were talking about the cartoon controversy, and for the first time we talked about the role of Muslims in the body politic and her voice slowly hardened as she began to explain her opinions. The kind and genial person I knew disappeared, and in its place a rabid right-wing monster took over and shocked me with her worldview. Her views would have easily matched Hitler's in passion and ferocity because she suggested, more or less, the same solutions.

I was surprised how a person with her supposedly liberal background could have developed such regressive views. I didn't expect her to agree with Islam or count Muslims as her favourite people and it would be ridiculous to have such expectations anyway. Disagreement and acceptance of those we disagree with is the stuff modern society is made of, and if it isn't, then, it better be. But to suggest ethnic cleansing for a group of people you disagree with is a different matter altogether. It comes from a warped mind that stubbornly insists that Hitler's 'final solution' was the best way to score debating points.

How could I have not sensed that this warm person was, also, a dangerous racist? Swayed by her talk on culture, literature and theatre, I assumed that she could never be a reactionary. It didn't seem to be the right chemical mixture to have gone in the making of a person like "Sunshine". Racists, I imagined, were made out of a different mould. Stern faced, without humour, dull, spartan and very unattractive. Popular perception has created this repulsive image of racists that our internal radar fails to detect racism if it comes in the guise of a person just like us. We like to believe that people like us are people like us in every possible way. It's a comforting thought because it makes us feel secure about the world in which we live and thrive. It makes us confident that the people who surround us are incapable of murder, mayhem and hate crimes. Such things, we are sure, are done by others who live on the fringes of our society. Not ours. Definitely not ours. But reality is rarely the way we imagine and when we get to see the real picture we are left dumbfounded with shock and disbelief just the way I was when I spoke with Sunshine.

I would have liked to talk with Sunshine again, and find out why she held such narrow views and what forced her to adopt such rigid stance. It would have satisfied my curiosity to know how an ethnic cleanser's mental clockwork operated but, sadly, I cannot find out any longer.

As soon as I switched off the phone, I deleted her number from my contact list and now I'll never find out. But strangely, I doubt if I'll ever miss her.

7 comments:

Manju Nair said...

I thought this was one of your best writing...not for its literary merit but for the stand you take with it...I am in full agreement with you about sunshines that hide dark-secrets.
Manju Nair

Ashish Gorde said...

Thanks for your comment and I am glad you are in agreement about the views expressed... I was, basically, furious and thought writing about it was the best way to get things out of my system. Next time, I guess, I need to focus on the literary structures, too.

Anna said...

its not just racism that upsets...
i think most people tend to think tht their friends/family think the same way they do... even if they don't.
i was also shocked recently when i heard a close friend proclaiming that homosexuality was natural and its well that it is banned...
guess you felt the same with sunshine...
shocked. and in some way... hurt ?

Ashish Gorde said...

I suppose, shocked and hurt would best describe my reaction but - if truth be told - it was 'fear' that someone jsut like me could have views such as the ones Sunshine expressed.

fido said...

hi ashish a v poignant blog.

gypcywoman said...

Hello Ashish,

It is a wonderfull piece of writing. I would like to give Sunshine benefit of doubt. Instead of reacting negatively and removing her from your friend's list, you could have tried to understand her stance and circumstances. But this is my personal opinion. I am not being judgemental about you or her. I really appriciate your liberal outlook and sensitive nature.

Preeti P

Alaka Yeravadekar said...

hey, this sounds real close to the heart.. yes, these kind of things hv happened to me too..