How are you doing? Wait! Don't tell me. I'll guess.
First, I'm sure you're surprised at the use of just the word Muslim. More specifically, at the absence of the word “Indian” before it. I know. We reserve that only for you: “Indian Muslim.”
We don't say “Indian Gujarati” or “Indian Christian” or “Indian Parsi.” We have absolutely no need of saying “Indian Patel,” for what else can they be—even if they be actually from New Jersey—but Indian?
Some, actually many, will say: “Well, we say it because it's how THEY describe themselves.” No, they don't. I never heard anyone introduce themselves as “Indian Muslim.” They might say “Muslim” or “Memon” or something like that. But when was the last time any of you (i.e. other readers) came across someone at a party who said: “Hello there! I'm Indian Muslim?” You never have. So let's accept that it is the rest of us forcing this on them. And let's cut it out. If the rest of us are Indian by default, so are they.
Anyway, so, Muslim: how ARE you doing? It is a rhetorical question. Of course you're doing poorly, and one would have to be monumentally stupid or blind or bigoted to not see that your country is treating you like rubbish.
Do you fear us all? I would, if I were you. Look at the pure nastiness we have around us, generating hate against you. Do you watch news on television? Which channels? What do you make of their stories and discussions which more days than not are attacking you? It has become impossible to watch without running into the loonies. I should say the rabid, because they're all foaming at the mouth.
I have stopped this ritual: coming home in the evening and holding up the remote to scan what's on. I suppose you stopped doing it much earlier. You must have tracked the deterioration in real time. What was it like, to know that your country was turning against you?
Or has it always been like this and is it that we are only just finding out?
I suspect it might be like my trying to put myself in a woman's shoes. The other day, as I was cycling out of the office gate, I waved goodbye to a colleague who was putting some stuff in the boot of her car. She turned to wave back at me, and in doing so faced the road. Some young men coming from the other direction immediately began hooting at her. She pretended to not have noticed, but I began to think of what it must be like to live with that constantly. It must be awful to be a woman in India.
Is it like that with you? Or have you become inured to the insults and the prejudice? I don't think so. You live with it, of course. It is a frightening thought.
Even though it seems like there's not many of us around, I should say that not all of us loathe you. You of course know more about that than me and the (non-Muslim) reader. You would have been eager to pick out those who mean well. You have sought them out often, of this I am quite sure. One wants to believe humans are essentially good, even if the evidence is contrary or patchy.
But what I am not sure about is what you feel about our institutions. Do you feel protected when the Supreme Court fondles love jihad? Or when the high court belts out Vande Mataram? These things make me uneasy; do you feel something stronger, because they are aimed at you? Did you squirm with discomfort because you picked up the contempt even more forcefully than the rest of us did? Or did your eyes just glaze over? Darwin cruelly followed his toddlers with a notebook, recording their behaviour and classifying it. I wonder what the alert and sensitive observer would have noted in recording your behaviour these last three years, and the years that went before.
What's it like to hear casual bigotry (references to “mossies,” “terrorists”) in the office, at the parties, and to overhear such things in public places? Did you once feel like punching people in the mouth (I would have) and have you stopped feeling it now? How?
When our great leader separates Muslims from other Indians because of their faith (as he did so brutally the gentle Hamid Ansari), do you feel less Indian? Actually, wrong question. What I am searching for is more likely this: do you feel pushed away from all of us, and your country, or just the man who said those words? I hope it's the latter.
Not for your sake, but mine. It has become unbearable, the thought of what we are doing to you. What must it be like to actually be you?
This article was originally published in The Times of India blog on September 3, 2017.