Monday, October 06, 2008

Capital Times - Uneasy Lies the Head

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I Me Myself

Donning a Muslim skullcap.

[Text by Mayank Austen Soofi; picture by Raj K Raj]

In a time when Mr Barack Hussein Obama is trying to play down his middle name, when Mr Saif Ali Khan is rejected from buying property in Mumbai's Hindu housing societies, or a group with a name like Indian Mujahedin claims to bomb Indian cities, I moved around in Delhi donning a skull cap.

Brought up in a Hindu family, I wanted to find out how it feels like to be percieved as a Muslim.

But, piddle-poo. Nothing dramatic happened. Neither was I denied admission in restaurants. Nor anyone whispered ISI agent on my back.

And yet, something was different – in the bus, in the bookstore. People looked at me. I could feel an invasion of several eyes gashing into my back. Was I imagining things?

I called a Muslim friend if what happened with me also happens with him when he goes out with his skullcap. "Yes, people look differently at you," he laughed. "They seem scared but I enjoy the attention."

I too started enjoying the attention. I would enter into a bookshop and all eyes would turn to me. I would climb a crowded bus and people would suddenly go silent. It felt masculine. One evening, a bunch of silver-haired walkers in Lodhi Garden were discussing "those bloody Muslims". Poor things! They were so embarrassed as I overtook them. An acquaintance, a self-proclaimed secularist, asked me, "Have you really converted to Islam?" I nodded and she leaned close to me, sniffed and said, "But you don't stink of maas."

She was one extreme. Some were from the other -- politically correct to a painful extent. The day after Delhi blasts, I was in a Khan Market café when a guy came to my table and intruded into my personal space. "I'm sorry your community is being targeted," he said. "I know Muslims are normal people."


The other day I found myself in a Defence Colony living room amid strangers. The topi was in the pocket. The conversation steered towards "Islamic terrorism". In the middle of a "There's surely a problem with Muslims" session, I took out my cap and revealed my 'identity'. A few looked embarrassed, while one 'secular' soul, drinking a Bloody Mary, assured that "I've many Muslim friends and I enjoy having sewaiyan and kebabs in their homes."

How nice.

However, a week later, I found that the cap was weighing too heavy on the skull. Was the public gaze different because I looked like a Muslim or because I had become a different person in my own mind. Was I becoming a phantom of other people's inner eyes? The skullcap drained out my individuality and no matter how much I flaunted my English or hip clothing; I felt I was only viewed as just another ghettoized Muslim. I became a punching bag of the mainstream conceptions of being a 'typical' Muslim.

Scared that people were refusing to 'see' me; that I was becoming an invisible man, I threw the cap away to become visible.


Kheldar said...

Hi Mayank,

Nice piece.


Fauzia Sultana said...

Whatever you faced while wearing a skull cap is nothing as compared to what we people, suffer in our day to day life. Despite living in India for several centuries, people still appear to be a little shocked on hearing a Muslim name. That doesn’t happen with a Sikh or a Christian. Whatever happens in the name of ISLAMIC TERRORISM is extremely unfortunate but do not we call it HINDU TERRORISM when Bajrang Dal, VHP, RSS, SHIV SENA indulges in more heinous crimes against Muslims. Why aren’t they called TERRORISTS? Why these organizations are not banned? Why these people are considered patriots and why people retaliating against their crimes--- TERRORISTS. Why can’t their leaders be arrested for inciting communal riots? Why the police fails to arrest the culprits when Muslims die? Why fake encounters are carried out on Muslims? Is it not possible that the bombs are planted by these so- called patriotic organizations in the name of Muslims? Why is it that people are forced to become terrorists –be it Muslims or Christians? Why we face discrimination whenever we apply for jobs? Why those Hindus with little education reach top jobs? Why competent Muslims have to be satisfied with odd jobs? Can you answer these Questions?

Kartikey said...

The feeling of masculinity. That defines and reveals religion vis-a-vis the human.

ABCD said...

But who told you it doesn't happen with Sikhs and Christians? Though, I agree not up to that extent. But then Muslims outnumber Sikhs or Christians in this country. I do not feel Muslims are particularly targeted. Sikhs have been targeted and Christian targeting is in the news as well.
It's not only because Hindus are the majority in the country. It is the law of the nature that, who ever got the strength, resists the other's dominance over it. You cannot clap with one hand. It happens from both sides.
I remember Khushwant Singh writing in one of his books that during partition, both sides killed, both murdered and in equal numbers, no one was less brutal. But then a Hindu brings up his child teaching him Muslims are more cruel and savage, they do not talk about the Gujarat Pogrom. Similarly, Muslims do not talk much about the brutality during the Mughal rule, they focus more about what positive things they brought, its magnificent architecture for example to the 'kafirs'. Who to blame now?

Neyaz A. Farooquee said...

buddy...whatever be the past, it has been lived and u cant change that. almost every community has/had his share of brutality in its own capacity. but whats the solution? not the blame game for sure. and not the politicians for more sure. they should be banned from using words hindu, muslim, sikh, christian. And religion.
we need a united India for the peace of all and onus lies on youngsters to combat the ill feelings. lets have more eids, diwalis.

Zaki h. said...

I read this piece in a sunday paper and must say you really worked to get into the skin of the the times when identities are target their is only narrow escape from the fact that the whole political sysstem is biased instigating hate.

Irfan said...

Your very interesting article, the unique perspective of how Muslims are viewed in India is an eyeopener for me. Living in Pakistan, we thank the Almighty that we got a separate homeland.

Chinmay said...

May be people reacted to your presence because you yourself weren't perfect at controlling your own queer behavior in new disguise.
What I am saying is, somewhat related to Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle - You cannot get the information without disturbing i.e. changing it.

On more non-nerdy note, I would really like to live a day like that. Under constant suspicion.

@Fauzia Sultana above -
Its known fact that history is written by the winners. I am sure history books and current media in Pakistan is using any nicer words for attrocities done by Hindu rioters while hiding the ones done by Muslims.

That brings us to very important question - how much role does media play in instigating such beliefs.

roopa said...

@Chinmaya, I agree with you on this completely as he did something that he was not used to doing always.
APpearances dont matter to tHose who choose to carry themselves in a particular attire, as they are well beyond the effects of suspicious, discriminatory glares . Every passing month or year, imperceptibly dulls the wounding edge of such glares or reactions.
WHat I think is that those who do not try to consciously mingle with the crowds have much more gut than those who do.Not only do they have conviction in their true identities , they are also proud of it and very very refreshingly, not bitter about such glances etc.
WHat the hell, is this the 21st century or the Dark Ages? If CHakkas can have a juloos in Delhi, Dowry victims of the eighties can come out and shout on the roads, rape victims cry foul in police stations,what the hell is a skull cap ?