It is early morning in the hills beyond Shimla around Mashobra. The world is fortunately not yet awake; the sun just about is. Its first rays reach out and languorously caress the faraway snow-covered peaks and slopes, wiping away the shadows of the night. They probe the dark green of the deodar, the sharp needles of the pine; the dew on the leaves glistens in gratitude at their touch. A Kalij pheasant tentatively crosses my path, and then takes to sudden flight; the forest welcomes it back.
The only human being I meet on the path is a child of five or six, waiting beside a parked car. Dressed in a woollen hoodie and track pants—he could at that moment belong to any nation, any community, any religion. Instinctively, automatically, we exchange smiles. His is the smile of innocence, an unimpeachable embodiment of trust.
As I walk on, I wonder what kind of men would make that innocence a currency of war. Who are these people who could kill children, take them hostage, deprive them of food and water, or crush them under rubble? No reason, no cause, no vengeance seems to make any sense. Does it really matter whose Book is older, whose prophets wiser, whose temples holier or whose priests more virtuous? Or who the child-killer is, or where his gun was made or his knife sharpened, or in which language does he pray, and how many times a day? Or to what God? Surely, no God would want the sacred innocence of a child’s smile to be strangled in His name. And if indeed He does, then I don’t need that God, for that smile is as wondrous as Creation itself. It is worth more than any line in the sand, all the wisdom of the wizened sages. To crush that innocence is to confess that we learnt nothing from any Book, any sage, any God.
But such thoughts will vanish in the clear light of day. The world in its abhorrent ugliness will land at the doorstep with the sickening thud of the newspaper. The television anchors will grow hoarse as they match point to counterpoint. Analysts and apologists will dredge out every last “But what about…?” Powerful men will take their place at the political chessboard on which grey half-truths compete with white lies. Not one among them is capable of rising above the fray, of admitting that he could be wrong, of looking into his own soul. Their moral compass stops at the next election, their skill lies in dressing up hypocrisy as sincerity, their art is that of personal survival. The dice that they roll is always loaded; the chalice they proffer is tinged with poison. Their truth has many faces but each reflects only their self-interest, their penchant for pelf and power.
That is why children who should be scrambling up verdant slopes, or sailing paper boats in little streams, or struggling with arithmetic are instead staring at the terrorist’s bloodshot eyes, or dodging bullets, or cringing under the scream of the murderous missile. Or getting their names tattooed on their forearms so that they may be identified should they be victims of indiscriminate bombing.
Let us no longer pretend that all is well. Let us admit that the rot has set in deep in the human soul, that we have desecrated our world, betrayed our own children. That we, the smartest humans ever born, are the ultimate hollow men, blind and stuffed with straw. There is no Messiah whose coming can save us from ourselves. The Day of Judgement is already here, and the verdict is: Guilty.