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Chatting with two Muslim ladies in Jamia Nagar
[Interview and picture by by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Mrs Falak Khan is a young wife with two children. She lives in South Delhi at Gaffar Manzil, Jamia Nagar. The interview was done in Hindi.
Falak, what's the meaning of your name?
Aasmaan. Sky. It is an Arabic word.
You are an Indian Muslim woman. Do you feel victimized in this city, in this country?
Don't you think that there are occasions when you are discriminated because of your name ... because of your religion?
Never. My daughter, Aital, is in the IVth standard. She was earlier studying at Summerfield School. I wanted her admission at KR Mangalam World School which is one of Delhi's best. Aital was a topper. She was instantly admitted to Mangalam. I know this happened because she was very good in her studies. We didn't resort to any bribe or depended on any sifarish by any influential person. Aital is a Muslim and there was no trouble.
So, you feel Muslims are not discriminated?
Mayank, in India, if you are good, nobody can stop you. Isn't filmstar Shahrukh Khan a Muslim? What about (India's former cricket captain) Azharuddin? He too is a Muslim.
Then why are Muslims so backward and uneducated?
Because they don't study much. Schools are there but they don't send their children there. They are also very poor. They are tempted to put their children into work for extra income. Since parents are not educated themselves, they do not realize that a good education could change the lives of their children.
Falak, tell me about yourself. About your family, your husband, your childhood, your education.
(Smiles) ...From where to start? Ok. I'm from Kaimganj. It is a small town in North India. Papamian, my father, is a landlord there. Our great-grand father's grand father had come from Afghanistan and had settled there.
You are from Afghanistan? Exotic!
Excuse me, I'm from India. So I was saying that there are about two dozen Pathan families in Kaimganj. India's former President Zakir Hussain too hailed from Kaimganj. We are the two most renowned families there. We are distantly related, too.
I did my schooling in Kaimganj itself - in a girls' school there. Later, I did graduation in Political Science and Sociology from Aligarh Muslim University.
Being a young Muslim girl, do you think you had to face restrictions? How did your father let you live in Aligarh? Away from home?
There was no problem. Papamian wanted all of us four brothers and sisters to have good education. And then I lived in a girls' hostel in Aligarh. But now, when I remember, there indeed were restrictions for being a Muslim girl. There were pachaas advices of what-to-do and not-to-do. We weren't allowed to visit the homes of our girl friends there. Dupatta was very important. We just could not go out without a dupatta. Our lives revolved around it. However inside the hostel, we were relatively free. We could even wear jeans!
Your description sounds so normal. It could be the life of any Indian girl. The general impression among the non-Muslims is that the Muslim girls live behind black burqas and that their life is very tough. Perhaps you are an exception.
Well, I don't know. But yes, there are problems. Sometimes our religion comes in between. It restricts us. Sometimes there is confusion. We get scared if we could be doing anything wrong. That it might be at variance with our religion. My younger sister wanted to be a dancer. She even wanted to become an actress. But Papamian didn't allow it.
What about purdah?
It's a religious thing. But we aren't forced to wear it. My husband has no problems. I go to gym, exercise on treadmill at home, and go for evening walks. It's fine. But when we go to Kaimganj, there things are different. If we go out there, we have to wear a chaddor. However now customs are relaxing. You know what, Mayank: In Kaimganj, we do not feel comfortable outside without a chaddor...
Was yours an arranged marriage?
Yes, of course. (Laughs)
But were you consulted?
Yes, if I would not have liked Avsaar Mian, my parents would had dropped the idea and looked elsewhere. But I liked him. He is very nice. I can shout at him for ever and ever but he has never raised his voice at me. Inshaallah.
Your life is different, perhaps because you come from a wealthy family. But what about the general condition of Muslim women? Do you know, a few years ago, a magazine survey has revealed that only one in 101 Muslim women in India is a graduate?
Is it so? Very bad. But Islam doesn't stop women from doing all sorts of things. Take that famous bar dancer from Bombay - Tarannum. And then there is Tennis star Sania Mirza. And take me , a house wife. We all are Muslims. Look, it's not your religion alone that decides the life you chose for yourself.
What do you feel when you hear about terrorist attacks? It is alleged that the Delhi bomb blasts were carried by a Muslim fundamentalist group. In fact, there was a terrorist encounter right here in Jamia Nagar following the blasts.
I feel very bad. When I see all those dead bodies on TV ... Mayank, how can you distinguish a Muslim or a Hindu from those dead bodies? I feel terrible. That somebody somewhere must had been waiting for those dead people ... it is horrible.
I still remember Rupin Katyal. You know him? He was a honeymooner who was killed during the plane hijacking by Muslim terrorists. I cried when he was shot dead by the hijackers. I know if I would have been in that plane, I would have prayed, pleaded, and impressed those terrorists with my knowledge of Koranic verses and would have bought the plane back with all the passengers alive and safe. My heart still bleeds for that poor man, and his parents and widow.
When terrorist events take place, what is your first feeling? Do you think that "Oh now we Muslims will again be blamed", or something on those lines?
I just feel sick. Kasam Khuda ki. (I swear on Allah) My only plea to terrorists is to please stop all this. We are scared. I'm afraid even while going to PVR multiplex in Saket. What if something happens to my children? How could a bomb planted by Islamic terrorists know that my son is a Muslim?
[After a pause]
Everytime a blast happens, accusations are pointed towards Pakistan-based terrorists, and then it is the turn of us Muslims. Why are we accused for their actions? It's so insulting. I feel humiliated.
Hundreds of Muslims were killed in the Gujarat riots of 2002. Some people say that terror attacks were a reaction to it. Muslims were not getting justice. So they were humiliated and they took revenge by killing Hindus.
Mayank, tell me how could you imagine that I might get any satisfaction by watching the dead bodies of Hindus on my TV?
My son's best friend is a Hindu. His name is Ankush. He makes our life terrible by calling Arbaaz at all the odd hours and talking non-stop for hours and hours. Can I derive satisfaction if Ankush is killed in a bomb blast?
How could I be happy by the killing of Hindus? What sort of a question is this? My best friend till the Vth standard was a Hindu. Her name was Anita. I still remember her. We were very close friends. I even used to get her clothes stitched from our family tailor. How can I hate Hindus? How can I get pleasure by Anita's husband being killed by terrorists?
[Here we are joined by Khaleda Begum, Falak's mother, who is visiting from Kaimganj]
Falak: Mayank, here is Ammi (mother). You must talk to her. Her youth was very different.
In what way? Were you discriminated? Were the rules harsher in your time?
Falak: Mayank, she was very beautiful when young. A real diamond!
[Khaleda Begum laughs]
Khaleda Begum: Son, if my parents were not my own mother and father, I would have gone on cursing them till the end of my life. They did not let me study. All I wanted was education. But even to mention the word 'school' in front of our father was haraam.
Oh, tell me about your life. How were you raised?
Khaleda Begum: It was very bad. We were locked inside purdah. We could not go out. We had to stay home all the time. Even if we had to go to meet relatives, which was rare, we had to go in a tonga that had a purdah draped all around it. It was terrible. All we did was stay at home and talk about wedding proposals.
Did you see your husband before marriage?
Khaleda Begum: No. We were not allowed to.
Oh, that's sad.
Khaleda Begum: But he was a distant relative so I knew about him. It was not bad. I'm very lucky.
Tell me more. What did your parents think of Hindus? That Hindus are bad people? One must not sit with them? One must not mingle much with them? That they were Kafirs?
Khaleda Begum: Rubbish. Nothing like that. I never heard any bad thing being said about Hindus. My maika [mother's home] is in Lalpur. We used to live, and still live, surrounded by Hindus. We have some close relations with some of the Hindu families there.
And what is this about not sitting with Hindus, Mayank son. Aren't I sitting with you? My sister-in-law is a Hindu. Many years back I had certain silly notions about Hindus. But when (sister-in-law) Rekha came and when she started drinking water from my glass, I gave no second thoughts of using her used glass, too. Where's the difference?
Khaledaji and Falak, what do you think about the present environment? Hasn't it grown ugly? Isn't there a deep divide between Hindus and Muslims, now?
Khaleda Begum: It is all because of the politicians. They all are bad.
[After a pause]
Falak: Mayank, the problem with Hindus is they do not think deep. They think every bearded man with a skull cap is a terrorist. They do not understand that these are merely the symbols of our religion. Do you look upon every turbaned Sikh as Khalistani supporter?
Falak: Then why is it with our case? Hindus just do not know anything about us. Mayank, I know everything about Hindu rituals. I'm familiar with every little ceremony in their marriages. But I'm sure that if you query Hindu women about rituals in nikah (Muslim wedding), they would be tongue tied.
Khaleda Begum: I really like some of their festivals, like Raksha Bandhan. It has nothing to do with Hindus or Muslims. It is all about heart.
Falak: If only Hindus know more about us, they may change their opinions about us.
Khaleda Begum: But Mayank son, you must also write that I don't view people as Hindu or Muslim. If I'll see a Muslim bachha and a Hindu bachha falling off from a cliff, I will rush to save both of them. I won't go first only to the Muslim. I will save them together.
Why, every time I come to Delhi I take Arbaaz's and Aital's old clothes and give it to Bhurbhuriyas [Rajasthani gypsy tribes] living in our Kaimganj farm since 5 years. They all are Hindus. So what!
Now a sensitive question: do you cheer for Pakistan, or know anybody who does so in India-Pak cricket matches?
[Both burst into laughter]
Khaleda Begum: Save us from such questions.
But really, what do you think of Pakistan?
Khaleda Begum: We are better in all the respects than Pakistan. There are so many restrictions and control on women there. India is a much better place. Allah be grateful for making me born in India.
Falak: I think their women are too much into makeup and hair-dye. Too modern.
Khaleda Begum: Falak, the place where you took me yesterday evening! Tell that to Mayank.
Falak: We had taken Ammi to Barista coffee shop. She was so shocked to see the girls there.
Khaleda Begum: They were wearing almost nothing. No clothes. No looks. And no clue about education!
But the world is changing. Your grand daughter will roam around in micro minis when she grows up.
Falak: Mayank, in Islam they say: Aurat wohi bakshi jayegi jo sharamgaho ko chhupakar rakhegi. [Loosely translated: Only those women will be rescued who will carefully hide their assets from public gaze.] We believe that those Muslim women who expose their bodies will burn in hell.
In that case I'm nervous for the afterlife of your grand children, Falak.
[We all burst out laughing]
Khaleda Begum: We Muslims say that during the time of resurrection, buildings will be so tall that just looking up will make your topi fall down from your head...
Falak: And each boy will be surrounded by four girls...
Let me change the subject. I see you have a Honda City car parked in your yard. You seem to be very wealthy. Then why are you staying in this locality? Do not misunderstand me please, but when I was coming here I had to cover my nose. The drains are open. It is stinking outside. You can afford to live in a better place. Why here?
Falak: I understand your point. But after so many communal riots we are just too careful. We want to live amongst our co-religionists.
My husband is a builder. Many wealthy people returning from Dubai and Saudi Arabia come to him looking for houses. Their only condition is for a Muslim locality. They have money to buy apartments in posh areas but nobody feels safe any longer.
Falak, any last word you would like to say?
Mayank, I'm proud of being an Indian. I think Indian Muslims are the best Muslims in the world. We are the most forward. Our former president was a Muslim.
Please tell your readers for my sake that I do not have any soft corner for Pakistan. Neither have I any desire to go there. I love the freedom here. I love my India.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.