At 90, Hashim Ansari seems to be the voice of wisdom. "Masjid se pehley hummey Mulk dekhna hai (we have to look at the nation before the Mosque), he says. Many would call it ironic. Others may even term it pretence. Considering Mohammad Hashim Ansari is the lone surviving petitioner in the Ayodhya title suit case -- filing a case in the court in 1961 for the restoration of the Babri Mosque. But for Ansari, it is neither. Ansari is unfazed. Even irritated, with the constant probing from the stream of journalists, visiting him the past few weeks.
"Phir aa gaye, (they have come again), is how Ansari greets us. He’s seen the entire media circus in Ayodhya in the last one decade, often even finding himself in the centre of it all. But says he dreads that it is starting all over again.
Just up from his afternoon siesta in his mostly bare house in Punji Tola, Ansari wants to talk about everything else except the Friday verdict. "Jo hoga, dekha jayega. Court taiy karega. Hum maneingey (we will see what happens. The Court will decide and we will abide by it). Ask him what he expects and he just smiles. No answers for now. Instead, he wants to talk about old friends and camaraderie from the past. "Parso main Gyan Das se milney gaya tha. Bahut der baithey. Baat ki (I went to meet Gyan Das the day before. We sat together for a long time. Chatted).
The mention of a meeting with Gyan Das may surprise one. At least now, with the judgement, just days away. Gyan Das after all is the president of the Akhara Parishad and also the mahant of the famous Hanumangarhi temple in Ayodhya. Many may even think, perhaps the meeting between Ansari and Gyan Das was a last ditch attempt to find a solution. A formula, to settle the dispute and the ongoing battle between the two communities. Not for Ansari. He is far removed from these conspiracy theories. Gyan Das is still a friend, he says. "The court case is a separate issue all together. We don’t let it come between us."
There is a certain amount of passion in Ansari’s voice when he says that. You wouldn’t doubt it for a minute. It’s also something that makes Ansari visibly happy and open up. Almost as if shoving the court case aside, Ansari is eager to recount old days. "There was never any bitterness. We were all friends when the case began and we have remained friends through it," is how Ansari describes his relationship with the other petitioners. Local residents who knew Ansari back then are full of stories. The most popular being, how Ansari and Ramchandra Paramahans Das, keeper of the Digambar Akhara and also a petitioner in another suit filed in 1961 were regular card players. Every evening Ansari would cycle to Paramhans’s place and then would begin endless rounds of card playing.
Ansari himself recalls, "Paramhans and I used to go the court together. I would cycle to court and Paramhans would ride pillion. I remember there was once when he didn’t have documents to present in the court. I gave him my copy. On another occasion, he stood witness for me in one of the hearings. We were also together in jail once." He adds, "Koi maahol nahi bigda tab (the atmosphere didn’t get ruined then) But that was then.
Today, four layers of barricading separates Ansari’s house from the disputed site, just across the road, making it absolutely inaccessible for the likes of him. Looking at the barricades from his door, Ansari recalls the last time he went to the Babri mosque to do namaz. "Isha ki namaz thi. Masjid gaye the namaz adaa karney. Sab kuch shaaant tha. Shehar mein koi gadbad nahi thi ( we had gone to the mosque to do the namaz. The town was quiet. There was no sense of danger)." This was December, 1949. Ansari along with other Muslims came back from the Mosque as usual. Late in the night, he recalls, "Ram Dev Dubey who was the kotwal went to his neighbour Zahir Abbas’s house. Dubey told Abbas that he sensed trouble. Together the two locked the gates of the mosque for safety sake. Lot later Abhay Ram Das, a local sadhu jumped the walls of the mosque and kept an idol of Ram lalaa there."
Ansari adds, "I filed a case in the court 12 years after all this happened. It was a local issue. The politicians jumped in much later. They changed the face of the dispute. If we knew that politicians would milk our mosque for their own gains, we would have done things differently." The politicians keep coming back to Ayodhya. Ansari calls them fish and describes Ayodhya as their favourite pond. "How will the fish stay out of the pond?" he laughs.
Outside Ansari’s house the town is quietly going about its business. PAC jawans dot the bylanes. Many of them posted in Ayodhya, for over a month now, to maintain law and order. Ansari seems to be untouched by the tension building in Ayodhya. He cares little about the security forces pouring into the town, taking positions behind the many pickets that have now been put up. Even less, about the rumours regarding the judgement. The September 17 surprise attempt of an `out-of-court-settlement’ did little for Ansari. "If it had to be decided out of court through mutual consent and discussion, we would have done it long back," he says, dismissing the attempt as a gimmick.
As the PAC keeps vigil from their pickets, Kuldip Singh, a jawan says, "it’s as quiet here as it has been for the last one month since we arrived. But things can be very different after the verdict. Our job is to keep a watch. We are doing that."
Keeping a watch, is also what Ansari is doing. "I am waiting for the 24th and I want this to finish. This has been dragging on for too long. Before 1947, Hindus and Muslims were called brothers. I want Hindus and Muslims to be called brothers again. The 24th verdict should be the final word on the dispute," he says.
I ask Ansari if he will go to the Supreme Court in case the verdict is against the Muslims and he shoots, "I will not. Let the politicians play more politics over it and go to the Supreme Court. I have lived with this for 49 years. I want it to be over." Ansari’s fatigue is perhaps best reflected in the board outside his house. A faded shade of green with the writing almost illegible, it says, `Mohmmad Hashim Ansari, Petitioner suit number 4/89’ The sides of the metal board are visibly rusted and the frame it was mounted on, long gone.
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Assignments usually require a lot of chatting up. They take one to people that one would otherwise miss speaking to. And these informal conversations with absolutely unknown faces, sometimes throw up far more interesting facts than one would have expected.
A shopkeeper in Ayodhya had a similar gem to offer. The judgement for the Ramjanam bhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit is just two days away. We were in Ayodhya to do a story. As we walked around talking to people, 55-year-old Jeetendra Kumar walked upto me. ``Are you from the press?,'' he asked. When I said yes, he smiled. Adding, ``A lot of you are here these days.'' Jeetendra, has a small makeshift shop in Hanumangarhi, selling CDs, DVDs and tapes of Ramayan. As we got talking about the disputed site, the tension building in the town, forces pouring in as part of the sarkaari bandobast in case of a flare-up, post the judgement on September 24th, Jeetendra quietly slipped in, ``You know what Ayodhya actually means? A-Yodhy: A place where there is no yudh (war).'' The irony was too stark to be missed. Jeentendra went back to his shop, selling CDs to tourists.
We turned around to talk to the PAC jawans sitting by a chai shop. Funny how Ayodhya has turned into a battleground for so long now.
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