Osama state of mind


“Finally, we meet.” I told Osama as we shook hands. This Osama is not that Osama. He is young, clean-shaven and lives in Delhi. I chanced upon him because he was a friend’s neighbour. The poor Osama of Mehrauli tried to be polite about people making a subtle joke or two at the expanse of his name but… Osama, blame your parents for giving you such a name.
Delhi is still in an Osama state of mind. An Osama joke industry has built up overnight. Sample this joke (I hope you have at least some knowledge of Hindu mythology): “Only Lord Ram could have killed Ravan, only Lord Krishna could have killed Kansa and only Lord Obama could have killed Osama.” An auto driver had told me this joke. Usually Delhi’s auto drivers are cold people but we broke the ice, thanks to Osama. The buses, cars and autos (auto rickshaws) were whizzing by but this man was deep into Osama bin Laden. “This is America’s cunning,” said Mritunjay Kumar Tiwari, the 34-year-old driver. “Obama wants to pull back his troops from Afghanistan, hoping that Taliban and Pakistan will fight each other to their mutual destruction.”
I was listening to Tiwari in Ring Road, near Moolchnad flyover. He had parked his auto on the pavement and was reading Navbharat Times, a Hindi daily. “I’m actually a Nai Duniya reader, which is priced at Rs 3. The other dailies cost 50 paisa more,” he said. “Today I couldn’t find Nai Duniya.” Tiwari, a resident of Mehrauli, south Delhi, is on the road from 7 am to 5 pm every day. He gets the newspaper from random hawkers, depending on where he is driving in the morning.
Returning to Osama, Tiwari predicted, “Obama will be re-elected as the US President.” The auto driver explained his point in a series of I-never-thought-that-way arguments that builds up a conclusion difficult to dispute. Listening to his impromptu political analysis was like reading Thomas Friedman’s column in The New York Times. “Pakistan says it wasn’t aware of Osama living so close to their military academy and America says that it did not tell Pakistan about its plans of killing Osama. But Kayani had recently returned from Washington and he must have been informed by the Americans.”
I was astonished that how the killing of a man has turned so many people like Tiwari into South Asia strategic affairs experts. Apart from Delhi and his home province Bihar, Tiwari hasn’t seen the world, except in newspapers. “Whenever I get time during the day, I stop my auto and read the newspaper.” At this point a sari-clad commuter approached Tiwari, asking him to take her to Connaught Place. The driver rolled up his newspaper, tucked it behind the rearview mirror and started his auto. While leaving, he raised his voice to drown out the engine’s noise, and said, “Our toleration is running low and that’s our big crisis, bigger than bin Laden, bigger than the corruption.”
But for now, Osama remains in our mind. In fact, this coming Friday Osama will be having his book launch in Delhi’s India Habitat Center. I mean the Osama bin Laden of the lit word. I mean Arundhati Roy, the author of The God of Small Things, who will launch her new collection of essays, Broken Republic (The country in question is India, not Pakistan).
Long before the world knew that Osama was hiding so near to Isloo, I sighted Delhi’s literary Osama walking in the medieval by-lanes of Nizamuddin Basti. Dressed in salwar kurta, she was carrying magic secrets in her eyes. She was speaking to no one. A tiny diamond gleamed in her left nostril. Her arms were folded and there was a bright red bag slung on her right shoulder. Although her curly hair was covered in a red dupatta, there was something restless and untamed about her. Her demeanor suggested the recklessness of a suicide bomber. Everyone around looked a bit wary of her. She was like the Osama bin Laden of Words, just beyond our grasp. It was best to just Let Her Be – a literary terrorist.
And then, while deep within herself, Roy suddenly smiled. Her luminous nut-brown skin shone as though it has been polished with a high-wax polish. Soon, the smile faded and Roy kept walking straight. After what seemed to be a lifetime, she came very close. Then Roy looked at me, looked away and walked past. Like a jazz tune. This Friday, I’ll try to get her autograph during her book launch. On Saturday, I’m going to watch a play, which is on Osama. But my dear Pakistani friends, I tell you a fact: Your country could hold Osama bin Laden for years without being ripped apart. This guarantee does not exist with the other Osama of Small Things.

Mayank Austen Soofi lives in a library. He has one website (The Delhi Walla) and four blogs. The website address: thedelhiwalla.com. The blogs: Pakistan Paindabad, Ruined By Reading, Reading Arundhati Roy and Mayank Austen Soofi Photos.