Chapter 2: Ethnic Discord
Five years had passed since that fateful day when Hu met Uni. Hu was now fifteen years old, and a
different kind of monsoon was sweeping through the hills of Eastern India. Hu’s parents, ethnic
Bengalis from the region that eventually became Bangladesh, had migrated to India. They did this
after the separation of Pakistan from India in 1947 – when both countries gained independence after
centuries of British rule. Multiple waves of Bengalis escaped the ethnic cleansing of East Pakistan
prior to the founding of Bangladesh in 1972. The tribal areas where Hu now lived had borne the
strain of these waves, but now the locals were up in arms about the economic and professional clout
of the new-comers. Protesters were being bussed in from far flung villages and towns, even nearby
provinces, chanting the slogan – “Bangladesh Go Home.”
Having escaped religious atrocities in erstwhile Pakistan, Hu’s community now found itself exposed
to ethnic violence in their adopted land. Reports began to surface of Bengali men, young and old,
who were abducted and never heard from again. Laws had been enacted that made it illegal for land
or housing to be sold to this community. One of Hu’s relatives, an elderly gentleman of about sixty
years, had invested his life’s savings to build a house in Shillong – just before the new laws went into
effect. The house was on the route Hu took to school every day, and he dropped by occasionally to
visit the older gentleman.
Due to a quirk in the school system, Hu now had time on his hands. His grade ten finals were done
by December, and classes for grade eleven did not start till August. Much of Hu’s time was now
spent at the State Central Library, or in the forested hills that he so loved. Then the news came in
that the elderly gentleman who had just built his retirement home had been abducted, and was
missing for several weeks.
The desperation of the situation finally hit home to Hu. For a long time, he had nightmares of taking
the path by the elderly gentleman’s house, and being chased by ethnic gangs. The idea came to Hu
that his community needed to defend itself. Even knowing the futility of the thought, he started
carrying around a pocket knife with him at all times.
In spite of all the tension in the city, the reserved forests behind where Hu lived continued to be
relatively peaceful. It was probably the audacity of the idea that a threatened ethnic minority would
not venture out into the forests seeking solitude that kept these areas safe. Or maybe it was the
optimism that the natural beauty all around would soothe the soul of the savage beast. Even then, Hu
would go out of his way to avoid groups of locals should they be traveling the forest trails.
After one tense near-encounter, as Hu was emerging from the forest trail, he chanced upon Uni
again. Hu was out of breath and feeling a bit unsteady. At first he did not recognize Uni, but she
called out after him.
Uni: Hu, is that you?
Hu: Hi… well, yes…
Uni: Do you remember me – we met a few years ago?
It all came back to Hu now. The pushy brothers, the tumble down the wet hillside, and the enigmatic
message that he should get to know his inner self. Through the years, Hu had taken heed of this
message. He had learned to practice a variety of yoga exercises, to connect his body and mind, and
to meditate deeply. He had learned to love and appreciate knowledge, and had a healthy appetite for
books – especially those about science. But he still struggled. He struggled with the idea that some
people were out to get him, his family, and his community – just because of who they were. This
pang of fear and anger was quite near the surface, and came bursting out far too quickly.
Hu: Yes, yes I remember. Thank you for your help that day.
Uni: If you don’t mind my asking, you look like you have seen a ghost. Surely the brothers
are not bothering you again.
Hu: No, no, it is not them.
Uni: Who is it then?
Hu (sheepishly): I was trying to evade a group of locals who did not look very friendly.
Uni: Really, go on…
Hu: They did not see me, but it was close…
Uni: Good for you – you were right in avoiding them.
Hu: If only I had a gun!
Uni: What would you do with a gun?
Hu: Protect myself and my family! I cannot understand their logic of killing innocent people.
Maybe the only way out is to kill them first… I know it does not make sense, but what else
can we do?
Uni: How many people would you need to kill?
Hu: I don’t know – only the ones that are aiming to kill us, I guess. If it’s us or them, then I’d
rather it be them.
Uni: How would you know them?
Hu (thoughtfully): If they were armed and coming after me that’s one thing, but – otherwise
we would not know who is good and who is dangerous. Yet, they are coming after us, and
Historically the tribes in and around Shillong had been a very peaceful and welcoming people, and
most of them had converted to Christianity when the missionaries came. It was widely believed that
it was the politicians and the criminal elements that were exploiting the ethnic tension to their benefit.
Uni: Do you think the locals changed in the last five years from being a hard-working, satisfied
people to suddenly coveting the goods and homes of others?
Hu: Maybe it’s a passing phase, like a flash of anger or jealousy.
Uni: You cannot kill an emotion with a gun, you can only kill a person.
Hu: Yes, I know. I feel stupid now, you know, about the gun thing.
By now, Hu was feeling quite foolish about his outburst. Yet, he felt that at some level Uni
understood his frustrations. They were still at the edge of a forest, and there was a small stall nearby
selling tea and cupcakes. Uni asked Hu if he would like some cupcakes, and he gladly agreed.
Uni: You know, last time, we talked about finding your inner self, and I can see that you
have been working at it. There is also an ‘outer self’ that we all need to know about.
Hu: Please tell me more…
Uni: What do you think is the key measure of one’s identity?
Hu: Why, the DNA7 that is in each one of our cells, is it not? Except when we have identical
twins, that is…
Uni: Did you know that the DNA carried by any two humans differs by a fraction of 1 percent
of the total DNA?
Hu: Yes, so I have read.
Uni: Then why all the difference between human beings? What do you think?
Hu: I guess culture and upbringing. Their skin color and facial features - their religion…
Uni: So if by magic, your community and the tribals suddenly changed roles, the
resentment and violence could come from the other side?
Hu (thoughtfully): It is possible, but genetics does have some play when it comes to
susceptibility to anger and temperament. I’ve always known the locals to have a hard work
ethic and a balanced temperament. I guess they now feel that they have been
overshadowed by outsiders …
Uni: It is important to keep a dialog going. It is surprising how many common interests we
can find if we can only strike up a conversation. Care to guess what I mean by our “External
Hu (with a burst of insight): I’d say that our external self is when we find things in common
between us and those around us. At that point we can see more and more of ourselves in
Uni: Go on, you are on the right track.
Hu: So, the emotions and the reasoning capabilities that we have, we share with other
humans. It is almost like an image of ourselves in others, that we need to find and
Uni: You are right! This is how we find our external self. You know, it does not have to stop
with other humans. We may be able to relate to animals as well – especially if you have
Hu: Ultimately what…
Uni (with a wistful look on her eyes): We can extend our external self to the reality of the
entire Universe. But it takes a great deal of experience and wisdom to be able to do that…
Hu: But the Universe isn’t living…
Uni: If you look hard enough, you will find that she is.
Hu: Maybe you are right. I feel so elated when I find myself surrounded by Mother Nature.
Hu: I am in awe of nature. Is it not right to think of her as a mother, as a goddess?
Uni: I don’t know if I can explain, but you restrict yourself when you do that.
Hu: I think I understand. Conceptually, I think it fits better if I think of Nature and the
Universe as the culmination of my external self.
Uni (with a smile): I am with you on that one. When our two selves, the internal and the
external can come together, wonderful things can happen.
Hu: I agree. In the meanwhile, I’ll start thinking of the locals as part of my external self. I will
also try and deal with the issues at the root of the conflict rather than become angry at the
Uni: A simple concept, but so hard to come by in reality…
Hu: Yes. It is a shame that people allow their weaknesses to overcome their shared external
identity so easily. Even today, if somebody had thrust a gun into my hand, I might have
done something I’d regret the rest of my life…
Uni: Yes indeed. Be careful though, when passions are inflamed, it’s not the best time to
have a dialog – lest it should turn into a shouting match. When people are in a balanced
state of mind, it is easier for a fellow feeling to develop.
Hu: A stitch in time?
Uni: Saves nine! That, it does! The best time to address issues is before they start getting
By now the skies were darkening, the cupcakes had been consumed, and it was time to head home.
Hu thanked Uni for her generosity and started walking homeward. He was deep in thought about his
external self, and how far he might be able to expand out in his own lifetime. And what of the
possibility of rebirth – could he still keep expanding his external self in a new body? What would
happen if in some future time, he could relate to the entire Universe as his external self? Would that
be called Nirvana? Could he alone achieve that state of oneness with Nature, or would he need to
carry all of humanity with him? The possibilities were indeed mind-boggling…
Knowing our External Self:
Involves being able to see our ‘Image’ in others - And ultimately in the entire Universe.
Violence begets more violence, it does not address the core issues.
The best time to have a discussion on mutual benefit is before passions get inflamed.
Go to: Chapter 3