Your Lordships have turned upon a community in a daze. Altaf Hussain Hali’s verse comes to mind:

“Kisi bekus ko ai bedad gar mara to kya mara?
Jo khud hi mar raha ho usko gar mara to kya mara?”

(What valour is there in turning upon the meek?
Or those who are by themselves running out of life?)

Your mediation effort has provided oxygen to those who are now, quite justifiably, picking holes in what you have delivered as a judgement. This is more grist to the Mill of those in pursuit of the Hindu Rashtra by 2025, centenary of the RSS. By way of digression, let’s reflect on the following:

“Beautiful Aheliya, who had turned to stone because of a curse, came back to her gorgeous self when, you, O’Lord, touched the stone; you transformed one from the animal kingdom into your most trusted, Hanuman; you humanized a demon. When will you ever bestow your boon on me?” The one seeking a boon from Rama is Abdul Rahim Khan e-Khana (1556-1627), one of Moghul Emperor Akbar’s most powerful courtiers and contemporary of Tulsidas, author of Ramayana. What is more, this shloka by Rahim is in Sanskrit. The two were in correspondence on subjects of common interest, including a poetic metre, much favoured by Tulsi –– Barvai chhand.

How would Rahim, a remarkable poet in Awadhi and Sanskrit, have regarded what their Lordships dished out on Ayodhya? Indeed, what would have been the reaction of my mother, who accompanied me to Ayodhya in 1989 to watch the Shilanyas or brick laying ceremony ordered by Rajiv Gandhi? She found Ayodhya a temple-town where a mosque on the ground claimed by Hindus as the birth place of Rama was an “incongruity”.

According to her, a Muslim could spread out his prayer-mat in the direction of Mecca anywhere and say his “namaz”. A Hindu consecrates his “idol”, which then lives in the temple eternally. Muslims must withdraw from the “masjid e fitna”, or a mosque of conflict. Likewise, the Gyanvapi mosque in Kashi and Shahi Idgah in Mathura.

If any Muslim accompanied me to Varanasi, he would require minimal sensitivity to see that the Gyanvapi masjid insults the Hindu. It sits on the shoulder of one of Hinduism’s three most important shrines – Kashi Vishwanath Mandir.

The temple lights must have cast a spell on Urdu’s finest poet, Mirza Ghalib. He wrote his longest poem “Chiragh e dair”, “Mandir ka diya”, or the Lamp in the Temple. He wrote:

“Ibadat khana e naqoosian ast
Hama na kaabay e Hindostan ast”

(This is the place of worship for those who make music from conch shells
This, truly is the Kaaba of Hindustan)

No description of Kashi Viswanath would be complete without the strains of Bismillah Khan’s Shehnai. The first Independence Day celebrations in 1947 at the Red Fort would certainly have been incomplete without the strains of Kafi from the very same Shehnai.

Against the backdrop of so much cultural commerce and adoration for the land, its civilization one learnt to discard the warts of history. Yes, mosques in Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura would hurt Hindus in perpetuity, some of us have long believed. But it is extremely difficult for a community, sliding down a slope of status reversal to check its trajectory and scream: “We want to be generous; gift those three to the Hindus.” But they can be guided by deft messaging and an open minded leadership, not middlemen hawking religion.

At this stage, I hope I will be forgiven if I break a confidence. Sri Sri Ravishankar of the Art of Living, led the trio appointed by the Supreme Court to explore possible mediation between the parties to the Ayodhya dispute. He is someone I have known. I shared with him my sense of how Muslims feel.

First, the anti-Muslim slant on most channels pushes the community into their laagar, not the best corner from where to consider compromises. The post 9/11 Islamophobia provides a canopy under which regional anti Muslim bias finds oxygen.

Secondly, there is no uniform profile of an Indian Muslim – Mapilla in Kerala, Labbai in Tamil Nadu, Bengali Muslims would have a response on Ayodhya many shades different from the Muslims impaled in the cow belt. But, even so, if the self-appointed leaders of Muslims can somehow be circumvented, there may be traction for new ideas. Some well-meaning friends discussed an audacious idea: supposing a comprehensive opinion poll was undertaken to gauge what compromise formula would be acceptable to all sides, Muslims particularly.

Muslims have learnt the hard way that, by digging their heels in for the mosque, they have provided the exact foil for Hindutva to catapult itself into the stratosphere. Each time the known pro mosque enthusiasts raise their voices, the media finds just the decibel level to help harden the saffron that much more.

The trick of casting Muslims as the foil for saffronizing the atmosphere has advanced Hindutva to a stunning 353 seats in a Lok Sabha of 543. So successful has the strategy been in the context of Ayodhya that the BJP would have to be as inept as the Congress not to pitch its Hindutva even higher.

The march towards Hindu Rashtra has quickened but sensible folk have not given up. They are still talking of compromises. The ailing cleric, Saiyid Kalbe Sadiq has repeatedly said, “Muslims should gift the land for the temple even if they win the case.” This mood of generosity and compromise would have been encapsulated for the opinion poll on which my friend, pollster Ranjit Chib had already started working. Unavoidable constraints came in the way.

Your Lordships have frozen the spirit of generosity which was stirring in Muslim enclaves. You have commanded them to acquiesce not urged them to give. People were working towards a happier conclusion. What was so sacrosanct about the deadline for the judgement? Was it choreographed to coincide with the Kartarpur corridor event? A little more time would have gone a long way towards making the right kind of history.