Terrorism of a different kind

Written for The Tribune

HOURS after I heard the International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach pronounce proudly that “in this Olympic world we are all equal. In this Olympic world we see that values of our shared humanity are stronger than the forces which want to divide us”, I had my first experience of how dreaded racial terrorism could be.

It happened in Rio, the Olympic city. At the end of the day of the opening ceremony, I was travelling back to my temporary abode in Recreio. Sporting a turban and looking different from the rest of the passengers, it was but natural for me to be the ‘cynosure’ of all eyes.

Brazil does not have much of Sikh population. Only last month, they opened the first gurdwara at Sao Paulo. The Olympics has, however, attracted 50-odd turban-sporting Sikhs to Rio, of which the majority are part of the Indian contingent while some, including former Kenyan captain and Olympian Avtar Singh Sohal, are here to witness the games.

In fact, my host Guaraciara Remo had asked me to be extra careful while travelling late at night. I felt that since the army and security forces were deployed everywhere, public transport could be the safest bet for late night travel, especially from events like opening or closing ceremonies. Within the Olympic ring, one feels safe and secure with lots of volunteers around.

Though some of the volunteers were also travelling with me in the overcrowded bus, there were some youngsters, who, while looking at me, were making provocative gestures. Since they were speaking Portuguese and directing their tirade against me, I mistook their loud mutterings for appreciation.

Without knowing what was going on, I kept smiling until a sensible Brazilian got up from his seat and asked for a picture with me. He probably wanted me to feel comfortable and secure. After the picture, actions of one of the hostile boys became threatening as he started folding his hands as if seeking my forgiveness.

“They think you are carrying a bomb,” whispered the guy who had taken the photo with me. “But do not worry, your station has come,” he tried to console me. Another Brazilian couple, who had to get down at the same station, also signalled me to get down as the bus halted outside the regular bus stop. I was confused.

I, however, decided to take a chance and jumped off the bus. The boy who was acting provocateur too got off. Naturally, I was terrified. But before anything could happen, a middle-aged Brazilian, who also alighted from the bus, walked up to me and offered to escort me. Though his home was two blocks away, he walked me to my apartment.

This incident apart, the vast majority of Brazilians were warm, friendly and helpful. I have lost count of requests for photographs with me in the first four days of my sojourn in Rio.

Hatred has no place in Olympics.