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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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