Occasional Exercise of Proving Loyalty During an India-Pak Cricket Match is Now a Perpetual Reality
No matter how much you love your “Muslim Friends”, if you fail to speak up now, history won’t be kind to you.
Our Solar System is a remarkably heterogeneous sea of space. Some planets are rocky and terrestrial, some are as cold as the heart of a dead beloved, while some are dark, dense and mysterious like Greek thoughts. This cosmic cradle of civilisations — Sapiens or otherwise— is a celestial symposium of thousand colours, shapes and forms: a tapestry of space and time.
Despite such stark differences, distinct chemical, geological and physiological properties, these planets, pestered with comets and other rocks of the cosmos, share a common thread — the locus of their identities. It lies a million miles away, on a tiny little blue dot, which we call Earth, the only planet whose name in English is not derived from Greco-Roman mythology. The passage of time on Mars, gravity on Jupiter and a year on Saturn, all of them are a function of their Earth equivalents.
Misplaced identity crisis
This dysfunctional arrangement of our cosmic backyard and the identity crisis which it manifests reminds me of my own fractured locus of identity. It lies far away from the place of my origins, somewhere on a piece of land called Pakistan. What used to be an occasional exercise of proving your loyalty during an India-Pakistan cricket match, is now a perpetual state of reality. It feels like an absurdly long India-Pakistan cricket match hysteria, which is being shoved into your throats. Pakistan, as a barometer of patriotism and SI unit of Indianness, is one of the most ill-conceived ideas in the history of the metric system, even if seen purely from the optics of units and Measurements.
The good old jingoistic chant of teleporting people to Pakistan carries multilayered and paradoxical bigotry, which seeks to dismantle the very idea of our constitution which it claims to uphold. I fail to comprehend a social order, where being labelled as Pakistani amounts to an insult. I ask myself, why am I being held responsible for the persecution of minorities in Pakistan? What explains the indifference towards the plight of our own people?
The answers, sadly, continue to elude me.
The Friendly Ignorance
Then we have well-meaning, eloquent and otherwise liberal friends, people whom we admire, we love and we work with. That nice guy from the gym, the one friend you made while commuting from work and taking the same metro. Our colleagues and peers who enable this hate in a slightly affluent manner. While they reject the open bigotry and the calls for violence, they enable this hate with their ignorance, by denying our experiences of targeted hate.
The cringe-worthy ‘But, I have a lot of Muslim friends” notion not only robs the right of a victim to be heard, but it also highlights how bigotry can be normalised just by ignoring ‘bad apples’ of the farm. A very close friend, whom I have always admired, once told me how “many Muslims are loved and respected including myself” and that I was making sweeping statements without logic when I pointed out that Muslims are being targeted for a simple fact— they are Muslims.
We may turn a blind eye towards things which we want to ignore, partly because of our euphoric ideas and partly, because of our ignorance. But, the Moon, as Einstein once said, doesn’t cease to exist, just because you are not looking at it.
The idea of being reduced to yet another statistics and a hashtag on Twitter has always terrified me. Death, as Ghalib tells us, is destined for one day, but it’s not the greatest loss of our lives. The greatest loss is what dies inside, while we are still alive.
When I narrated to a friend the horror of how I escaped an angry mob which mistook me as a Kashmiri in the aftermath of Pulwama attack, his response shattered me. “It’s just an aberration, see, they didn’t kill you!” he exclaimed and went on to say that “gehun ke sath ghun to pisegaa hi”. Now, this was not some faceless troll on the internet, rather, a friend I grew up with for more than 16 years. The visuals of that mob still send chills down my spine and my dear friend likes to believe that it was just an aberration.
Of course, I survived, thanks to those two gentlemen who stepped in and rescued me, but a part of me died that day.
Perhaps, it’s much easier to deal with online faceless trolls. I didn’t know how to face a dear friend who holds such views and insensitivities. Friends, we don’t expect over-the-top symbolic gestures, for they might irk some people on Twitter. At least, listen to us and don’t reject our experiences of targeted hate as some petty crime.
There’s a reason why the term “hate crime” exists, for it’s both an act of hate and crime. Hate is the principal component of it. The everyday casual hate and the ignorance which enables it is traumatic on so many levels; it’s like living in one of Manto’s short stories — living the pain of partition again and every day. A pain of its own kind, which radiates from your heart and pierces into your soul. It keeps me awake all night, and sometimes, in those dark sleepless nights, amidst the perpetual grief, the great Persian poet Hafez Shirazi appears out of nowhere and whisper this Rubaayi in my ears:
O breeze, my story quietly share,
My heart’s secrets, to whoever you care.
Tell not to upset or bring sorrow,
Share them with a heart that’s aware.
Shirazi is long dead, I know, but I like to believe in this poetic illusion, for it’s an balm to my wounded soul. Speaking of death and wounds, allow me to take you to the second half of the twentieth century, for a familiar sensation of déjà vu.
In the aftermath of World War II, scholars studying the Holocaust have traditionally divided the population into four categories: perpetrators, victims, bystanders and most importantly, ‘friends of Jews’ — people who defied the führer, those who risked their own lives and took a stand for their Jewish friends. It’s now incumbent upon us, as a society to reject this hate, not by ignoring or denying it, rather by acknowledging it.
Hear them out, call them over a cup of coffee and hug them. Grief, as with love, is a paramount human emotion and a personal experience, don’t rob that experience by rejecting it. Today, if you fail to speak out when your neighbours, friends, classmates, and colleagues are isolated and targeted — socially, emotionally and then physically, no matter how well-meaning and caring you are, no matter how much you love your “Muslim friends”, history, my friend, isn’t going to be as kind as you think.
When you hit your bed tonight, after a long exhausting day at work, when the darkness engulfs the light through the spaces, when the stars and planets play a cosmic merry-go-round; slowly and silently, in that moment, think of Sarveshwar Dayal Saxena and ask yourself, if a room in your house was filled with rotting corpses, could you just pray in some other room?
If your answer is yes, then I have nothing to say to you.