You know that all characters appearing in this article are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
It’s dark and uncomfortable. You’re in the middle of this darkness wondering which way life will go, which way this world will go. You were certain that the future would be a better place, instead, you’re now here and it’s 2017 and it feels like you’re still fighting the same battles. You manage your finances, watch what you eat, wonder whether you’re being paid fairly, try to be a better version of yourself, be a better professional, travel across the city to make a living, return home to a warm dinner, and feel loved at the end of the day. Despite all of this, there is an ominous dread hovering above you. It’s invisible but you can feel it because it shifts, moves, contracts and expands every day. It’s dark and uncomfortable until there’s a small light from a screen. You’re feeling threatened but you won’t admit it. You don’t know who the enemy is, but you’re poised to fight. You straighten your back, you flex your fingers, you focus your vision, and you type.
They’ve made you believe that there is “the other”, this band of people who have suddenly sprung up but have always been the enemy. You can’t really tell if you’ve been under this imminent threat always. For a moment, you even think to yourself, It wasn’t so, what happened? but they’ve convinced you that you’ve always been in danger. It is just now that it is all coming to the fore. You take a deep breath. You look out the window but you can’t tell the weather correctly. You haven’t been outside. Outside is harsh. Outside is cold. Outside is not comfortable anymore. Outside is where they have told you the enemy is waiting to pounce upon you. You’re scared they will take away your freedom, your language, your religion, your right to love, your virginity, your cows, your right to dress, your self-respect. You know everything there is to know about “them”. They’re saffron. They’re green. They’re straight. They’re gay. They’re misogynist. They’re feminist. They’re casteist. They’re all these things that you never thought they would be. And Good Lord, they hate the movies and the movie stars you like! How could they? You take another deep breath and your words come out like a volley of coherence, backed by research, and supplemented by your newly polished, borrowed vocabulary. You put yourself out there. You make a point. You type.
How could they ever be your friends, your fellow countrymen even? They’re so different from you. They’re not you. Why haven’t you seen this before? Ah! The social media. Now you know their reality. You know they’re asked not to visit your house. You know they spit in their water before serving it to you. You know that they criticise your favourite movie star. You know they entered a debate about language and you’re now waiting for them to enter another before you cut them out of your life. You know how they killed someone who belonged to your religion. So, you justify when someone from yours kills one of theirs. It’s only fair, you say. They were never our people. They will never be.
Yes, they won’t because you will aid this cause.
You will stop talking to your childhood friend because she doesn’t share your religion. You will get into a furious argument over a movie you love, but your so-called friend did not like. You will yell at your colleague because you think they’re out to get your language. You will direct veiled contempt towards people by placing them inside your “funny” opinions. You will avoid everyone called Rahim. You will sidestep everyone named Ram. You will leave acerbic comments in the comments section of every Internet post. You will find yourself not wanting to communicate with a friend whose mother tongue is not the same as yours. You won’t wish them on Eid. You won’t wish them on Diwali. You won’t wish them on…Christmas? Does that count? What do you know about Christianity? What do they do? Have you seen them? Do they eat beef? Do they want us to change our ways? Are they a threat to us? Who is us?
We’re Hindu. We’re Muslim. We’re North Indian. We’re South Indian. We’re not Kashmiri.
We’re not Indian.
Who is an Indian? What does an Indian look like? Why don’t all Indians look alike? Look like us?
What is us? You don’t really know. But why does that have to stop you? You’re full of information and as you fill up with “facts” you drain of empathy, understanding and even appreciating differences. Differences? What are they anyway? In today’s age, just a way for you to know who to hate. You make a mental list of all the people who agree with you online. You share article after article, post after post, and meme after meme. You think you’re sharing it with everyone because they “need to know”. You’re becoming an icon of the world you want to live in. You’re standing up for something. You’re not your meaningless job anymore. You’re not your unhappy relationship anymore. You’re not your lack of action anymore. Your life is not without purpose. You’re greater than the sum of your parts. You’re a part of a herd motivated to change the world. You know those who disagree with you and you keep your distance. You judge them silently. You comb through their posts and comments and make a mental image of who they are. Yes, you’re right in hating them. You engage with them online and wound them with your words. You – 1; The Other – 0. You’re surrounded only by the people who agree with you, share your posts, and pat your back. You’ve never looked up “confirmation bias”, you’ve never needed to. You always knew you were invincible and chosen. You’re special. You’re strong. You’re your complete lack of surprise.
Days go by and the war that is waging over computer screens is slowly trickling out of them onto the streets, into your lives. This war is not impersonal anymore. You watch the screen day after day and shake your head at the world you live in, except you don’t. You just type SMH. That’s enough for today you think to yourself. You’ve had enough of this world, this hatred, this feeling of dread inside you that is replacing the blood in your veins. So, you take time off and head to the next exotic location. You convince yourself you’ve risen above all this petty behaviour they indulge in when you see the clouds from 30,000 ft above the ground. You take a picture of the clouds and post it on social media. After all, you must give social media some respite from the hatred and cross-fire. Isn’t it your job to contribute joy to the world? Of course, it is. You pose in front of the sunset. You pose with the locals of the exotic location. You pose in front of a waterfall with your arms outstretched. Your profile picture is a candid photo of you eating candy floss which is also stuck to your nose. It is bubble gum pink in colour and your face is shining with happiness. 435 people have liked your new profile picture. You have 435 people who like you, agree with you, are not out to get you. If only you could be this happy and free every day. You come back home and see 435 become 512 and you feel elated. You’re going to be free always, you’re going to be happy always. 512 people will back you as you wipe out the existence of “the other” so that your life can be bubblegum-perfect always.
You straighten your back, you flex your fingers, you focus your vision, and you type.