Dear Anonymous Leading Industrialist, You know who you are. I met you at a recent Mumbai party. You were three drinks down. You were tired and emotional. It was late.
Politics is always a tricky subject to discuss under these circumstances. But what the hell, we were old friends who liked the same American TV shows.
It began by us discussing the latest bit of news to emanate from the Narendra Modi camp. That he was hiring IIM grads to man his election campaign. You told me you’d lost two middle-level managers in the last week.
So far so good. I trotted out my standard befuddlement about the limited choice people like us had in the coming elections. An inefficient and scam-ridden incumbent versus a regressive communal challenger.
You jumped on the inefficient scam-ridden incumbent bit, of course. Your anger and frustration was palpable. The crumbling rupee, the international downgrades. The buttressing of personal Swiss accounts by politicians in power, they were all par for the course at parties like these.
I was prepared for the post-dinner vent. What took me by surprise was how you found no need to challenge, let alone apologise for my perception that your leader was anti-Muslim.
In fact the longer we spoke, the more alarming your diatribe became. From being somewhat feeble but sincere at expressing dismay over the state of things in our country on my part, it rapidly became a monologue in which you revealed the extent of your suspicion and resentment against Muslims.
Frankly it took my breath away. Not that you felt that way – but that we had reached a stage in our nation’s life when men like you were not embarrassed to express hatred against a community or a class of people.
What left me shaken and stirred, and unable to sleep that night was that I was hearing these words not from a person who had horns on his head and went around with a pitchfork, but a person who had attended the best universities in the world, possessed one of the finest collections of jazz and shared my passion for St Emillons.
How could such a person not see the fallacy of discriminating against people or be unaware of the deep and dark consequences of that kind of thinking?
In that chilling half-hour of your diatribe against Muslims, I found myself thinking of Germany in the 1930s. Before the Holocaust and the killing of six million people. Before Auswitchz and gas chambers and the awful wounds of genocide. I wondered if there had been conversations like ours – and I wondered if there had been industrialists like you, who had lived to regret their words.
Because even though you expressed such a disturbing regressive streak, I still cling to the fact that it is only frustration that makes you talk like that. That beneath and beyond it you, like me, know that hatred and discrimination can never be the way out. That boundaries and walls of any kind diminish us. That wisdom lies in the strongest amongst us standing up for the weakest.
Forgive me if these cliches sound like the banners on a passing truck, or if what you describe as my bleeding heart, pseudo-liberal secularism sounds naïve and effete to your ears. Perhaps some day we will meet again and all my fears and apprehensions will have been proven to be misplaced and alarmist.
Till that day though, you will have to forgive me if I don’t seek you out for such conversations. Or raise another glass of St Emillon with you.
Your average bleeding heart, pseudo- secularist.
Malavika Sangghvi is a Mumbai-based writer firstname.lastname@example.org