Lessons from that school near the Mumbai blast site (First Person) (A month after the July 13 blasts)

August 12th, 2011 - 2:35 pm ICT by IANS  

The hoarding of Amul ice cream on the bus shelter has managed to survive the vile July 13 bombing at Dadar, Mumbai. It advocates an ice-cream bar for Rs.10. Most of the panels of the bus shelter and a part of the roof, where the bomb was positioned, have blown off. The steel grid surprisingly survives. Five passengers stand in the queue, waiting for a bus to pick them up.

A month ago, on that fateful day, there was a bomb blast here, at the peak hour of 7 p.m., as tired officegoers waited to board a bus back home to their loved ones. Then there was a ball of fire. Hands, legs, limbs lay scattered. The ambulances were slow in coming; so passersby handlifted victims and ferried them to hospitals in taxis and pick-up vans. At least 26 lives were claimed by that day’s serial blasts.

A large black banner pays homage to those who lost their lives and limbs at this bus shelter. Now life has become routine again on this narrow street called Portuguese Church Street. The street is named after a Portuguese church founded 400 years ago in 1600.

A few yards away is a landmark which has always signified the diversity of India. In the middle of the road stands a Hindu temple dedicated to god Hanuman. On the rear side, embedded in the temple, is the cross sign of Christianity. Moreover, a few yards across the temple is a mosque. This is India — Hindus, Muslims and Christians praying within a few feet of each other. This was a symbol of India’s secularism.

Barely two yards behind the bus shelter is the wall of Dr.Antonio da Silva High school, where I studied for 12 years since the age of five. It was at this wall we stood and waved when Queen Elizabeth visited India in 1961 and drove by in a motorcade. Again, we stood at this wall and cheered when Pope Paul VI visited India in 1964.

Behind the wall is the school playground. For 12 years we played on the tall slide, merry-go-round, swings and wooden seesaws here. It was here that I first discovered the magic of these games and of sportsmanship.

Though it was a Christian managed school, the students were predominantly Hindus, like Sunil Nadkarni, who always topped our class. There were many Muslims too in the school like my schoolmate Hamdullah and my classmate Iqbal. In the recess, we would share each other’s tiffins. Every recess, we could see people praying at the temple, cross and mosque, in harmony, outside our school.

In these very grounds, we had camps, meetings, cooking competitions as scouts and cubs, where we learnt the motto, “We will do our best!”

After the blasts, the school had a condolence meeting to pay homage to those who lost their lives. The primary sections’ students had gone home barely 30 minutes before the blast.

We never thought along religious lines all those 12 years. Before the exams many of us would pause nervously on the street and pray for success, looking in the direction of the temple, cross and mosque. They were clustered together, so I guess we prayed to all the gods.

In all my 12 years at school, I do not recollect a single instance of any religious discrimination or favouritism. The most important celebrations in the school were “Independence Day” and “Republic Day” parades when we received delicious slices of plum cakes and hot coffee as refreshments in the canteen!

And, now I am very angry that someone planted a bomb on a bus shelter a few feet from my school, in front of the symbol of India’s secularism. Clearly, some nefarious person or agency is trying to sow discord between communities in our society. We will fight this cancer. The lessons of secularism we learnt at our school between 1955 and 1967 will not be forgotten.

(12.08.2011 - The author is the managing director of a consulting group. He worked for 28 years with Unilever in Africa, Latin America and India. He can be contacted at rajendraaneja@hotmail.com)

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