In the raucous din over the forthcoming elections, the T20 cricket World Cup has been relegated to second place with a dramatically reduced number of tweets and articles. Our minds engulfed in NaMo, RaGa, JaDu, LoTa (the last two are not real people!) that many of us may have missed an advertisement for this World Cup.
The advertisement takes the audience through the last over of a nail-biting match between India and Pakistan. Created in a fast-paced snappy style, we relive every ball, as the balance of the game keeps shifting until India wins with a six off the last delivery. Though most Indian fans are shown without any overt religious identities, we cannot but notice the Sikh, a woman with a bindi in the background and one possible Hindu actually praying. Of course, Kapil Dev’s presence as spectator is not to be missed. All these establish a clear religious baseline for the Indian audience.
Almost every Pakistan fan is equally unmistakable: a devout Muslim, a young man with beautifully drawn kajal in the rim of his eyes, sporting the Muslim cap, elderly Muslim cleric look-alikes, many men with the classic Islamic beard and cap, a Muslim home where the camera focuses on Islamic writing and a woman clad in a green sari covering her head whose husband is a Pakistan cricket fan.
What does this imagery — along with the Pakistani flag and the reactions of the characters to the happenings on the TV screen — establish? That every Muslim in the frame supports Pakistan. On the other side, there is not one identifiable Muslim among the Indian supporters and not one religious Muslim cheers for India. It is as if India is a non-Muslim nation or that the Indian Muslim is, by definition, a Pakistani sympathiser, if not a Pakistani.
As much as the ad forces us, absurdly, to identify the Pakistani Muslim with Pakistan cricket fan-hood, it ignores, most objectionably, the Indian Muslim. Was its intent to portray India as secular and Pakistan as Islamic? Even if it was, the intent did not quite work, for the Indian fans shown did not include India’s largest religious minority. Moreover, isn’t our secularism a .celebration of all identities and not a negation?
The fact is, the ad left me wondering: What has gone wrong with our sense of India? And I found myself thinking about my idea of the Muslim Indian.
There are localities in my city where Muslims have lived for centuries. They belong as much to this land as I do; they are part of my culture, my own sense of the city. Yet when they are in the majority, even if it is just a by-lane, suddenly I feel that my space has been invaded. I am intimidated and insecure. Irrational and utterly trite as this might seem, my ‘majority’ eyes search for a Hindu. Because, the appearance of the people in that locality seems different from mine, and their language, somehow, sounds different and disorients me. The celebration of a Muslim festival is not a national celebration; it is a minority event. I even find myself saying in private that this area is a mini-Pakistan. I am constantly observing their actions, wondering if they support Pakistan during a cricket match.
You will notice that I have inadvertently used the reference ‘their’, and separated myself from ‘them’. But who is this ‘I’? This is the ugly ‘I’ hidden within many of us with secular credentials. The one who believes that he has first rights over this land. The ‘I’ who dances with the communal forces, but only in disguise and in silence, not to be caught by himself, let alone others. We need to recognise this ugly creature within and swiftly lay him to rest.
I recently watched a video where a speaker said that Muslims are guests in this country; that “they” must realise that “we” are the hosts and hence must submit to our (read Hindu) way of life. I am quite tired to hearing this cliché; that Hinduism is ‘a way of life’, unlike other religions. Every belief system, religious or otherwise, is a way of life. It is this same ‘way of life’ that has made us intolerant and created the religious bigot. Every religion can be read in multiple ways and hence can be a source of inspiration or manipulation.
Reading this piece, some will quickly begin the ‘tu tu mein mein’ rhetoric. I refuse to point fingers at Tughlak, Babur, Aurangazeb, the British, Congress or BJP. I am disgusted with myself, my wilful segregation, my human degeneration and the surrender of my mind at the altar of religion. I am not a Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Parsi, agnostic or atheist; I am just tired, angry and hurt.
Rama, Rahim, Eshu, whoever you are, if at all you are, I seek your forgiveness.