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The afghani cap

It was a wonderful piece of art, the aghani cap. Lovely patterns and colors. It took a while before it registered with me that it was not just a thing to be stared at but something that could be intimately mine. Mine to wear, mine to flaunt. It sat snugly on top of me. I would force my eye balls right up, as much they could roll and I could see nothing. That kinda sucked, but then there are mirrors you see. I caught myself beaming like a lunatic with that thing on my head. I was 18.

It was winter then, and hence no winter evening was to be wasted without the cap. But my gray/black/white T-shirts were so lacking in character that I had to dig a little deeper in my small wardrobe to find winter clothes to go with my afghani cap.Perhaps that is the only year in my life until now, when I was so particular about my clothes and made an effort to look sufficiently disheveled. But this exotic cap demanded me to give myself a little more respect. Thank god for mom, I had a decent sweater to pull on.

On the way out, a neighbor greeted me 'assalamu laykum' in jest. I smiled back and said 'alaykum assalam' and we shared a hearty laugh. So a cap transformed me from a bad Hindu to a good Muslim.


Happy with myself I was on my way on my bike to a friends place.The way to my friend's place was through a small slumm'ish area. The people there were predominantly Hindu and there had been some communal flareups in Nasik a while back. The narrow roads meant that one has to slow down - slow down enough to be stopped easily.

I was all of a sudden very anxious going through that narrow road. I was a Muslim crossing that Hindu slum then in the eyes of anyone who bothered. I became extremely alert all of a sudden. I feared any kid crossing road ahead of me would turn and throw stone at me. Or I would be forced to stop and beaten up. My body was taut and I was ready to flee.

But nothing happened in that small stretch and I arrived at my friend's place. Nobody had bothered to even look at me. I felt silly. That a cap should make me so worried. Was my imagination hyperactive? Was my bias playing out against myself? Was I being the typical ignorant middle-class me, couching fears in my heart? Was I afraid of my own communal intolerance? Did this mean that I was just as much a hypocrite as I would call others in social debates; why else would fear play out then if the Hindu in me feels aggressive at the sight of a skull cap? (causing the Muslim in me to become so anxious) My collective imagination of a Hindu people was so skewed due to what I had read about Malegaon and how Muslims were talked about in regular conversations, even though I did have a few Muslim friends.

I didn't go up to my friend's place after all. I put on the cap and went around town trying to feel what it is to be a Muslim. I went through the old city - the temple town, Dwarka- the predominantly Muslim area and College Road - the supposedly youth hub of Nasik. Three distinct areas with distinct characteristics. I was very aware at all times. I even switched to speaking Hindi trying to be as authentic a Muslim as was the image of it in my head; Alert to see the reactions.
There were none. People see people as people. Well, context matters but a person passing by largely is not someone you bother with.
This intense awareness cleansed me of unwarranted feelings and fears. An imaginary monster lay slayed. I still didn't have the understanding and empathy of a people, but at least I was now not closed to accept them as they were anymore. 

Comments

Anonymous said…
:-)
right on.
and I was right there with you. at least till the point you were "cleansed"...
either you posses a very sensitive mind/soul/generator of thoughts and feelings. something that you have complete knowledge of and control over. your "self".
or you couldn't resist the temptation to "round UP" the story with a anecdotal poetic justice...

-Anonymous for kicks
Ajinkya Pawar said…
I suspect the later too.
But wanted to bring in the facet when I felt a change in me.. its not a complete change but a readiness for change.
Ajinkya Pawar said…
I suspect the later too.
But wanted to bring in the facet when I felt a change in me.. its not a complete change but a readiness for change.
Anonymous said…
:-)
right on.
and I was right there with you. at least till the point you were "cleansed"...
either you posses a very sensitive mind/soul/generator of thoughts and feelings. something that you have complete knowledge of and control over. your "self".
or you couldn't resist the temptation to "round UP" the story with a anecdotal poetic justice...

-Anonymous for kicks

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Ctrl-tab
Ctrl-tab...
Scroll Scroll Scoll..
Alt-tab
Alt-tab...
Catch yourself slipping away.

Deep  breath. 

Close the browser. silence the mobile and turn it away.

Open an offline-real-paper diary. Stop your thighs from lolling impatiently. Stay still. 

Pick up a pen awkwardly. ahh, the fingers are stiff. It will take a  while for them to get used to holding a pen. Quick finger exercise - open the palm, stretch finger outwards, close into a fist, dig the fingers in. Repeat.
Ok now.. about to pick up the pen again, but eyes dart towards the screen. Tempted to check email.

Shut up. The last consequential email came two months ago. Nothing of consequence is online.

Pick up the pen. Don't fetishize the object now. Get on with it. Put it on paper, write a word and start it already. If I get to a sentence, perhaps I will get into a flow and won't have to look up from the paper at all. 

One sentence later.

Ahh. That was good. I am feeling good about myself. The sentence makes sense. …