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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."
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.