Currently, I am surrounded by women who have taken on too much and they need help. How do I know this? I am one of them. At the recent Eid Daawat in my home, my childhood friend and her husband helped with a lot of the hosting, serving food and drinks, and cleaning up afterwards. That evening I accepted help without question. I allowed myself to accept the assistance they provided and although I realised I wouldn’t have been able to do it alone, any way, I also need to accept help provided in the form I’m getting. I have to allow myself. This world is running on the unpaid labour of women in forms of home makers, sustaining gender roles, or even house help. It’s incredible how much work there is to be done and still live a whole life. To add to that all the mental load of decision-making is exhausting. I wonder why women have willingly passed on this kind of labour generation after generation and not questioned it more than it should have been.
Fascists don’t read about women’s issues, so let’s get real for a bit. Living as a Muslim in present day India is a life riddled with anxiety. I didn’t think to write about it until a regular reader from another country emailed me saying I hadn’t written about my life in a while. What was I going to say, I thought? That every few months my Muslim friends and I huddle together on non-WhatsApp chatrooms and wonder if we are doing the right thing by staying in this country? That every few weeks, we read news-upon-horrific-news about the violence against economically disadvantaged Muslims and read about their economic boycott, too. That most of our majority-faith acquaintances have no idea about the fear we harbour and they don’t relate to our persecution at all? That despite the constant hate against Muslims on social media and in public policy, millions of us get up every day and go to work in this country, go to school and college, and mingle in the social fabric of this nation worried about how we will be perceived?
Writing about this life is imperative, in my opinion. The documentation of what is happening to the Muslim minority of India is necessary for there will be a reckoning one day. I have not done it as much as I would have liked. Oh, and did I tell you we worry about the content we put on social media lest someone comes to our doorstep and takes us away? Yes, we do. Despite that, I write this blog post now and well, let us see.
I think the real walkofshame is the small diary my exercise instructor makes us fill out at the end of each class. On the first page, we have our name, measurements, and weight. Then, we have to write down the time, meal we had, and portion size. I had a teaspoon of cake today, and I didn’t exactly write that in. Let us not even go into the rest of the meals of the day, which were nutritious, but they weren’t 5 meals. I had a potato pancake wheat tortilla for breakfast because I saw that on an Instagram reel. Writing ‘potato pancake wheat tortilla‘ in a new notebook where I am supposed to start a ‘weight loss journey’ is a sign of things to come, maybe. I did eat potato wedges for lunch. I also forgot to add that in. Potato, still, is my religion.
The other walkofshame was when I took my bag at exactly 6:09 am and stealthily left my tent not disturbing my tent-mate who had finally fallen asleep after a whole night of both of us staying awake. I was ashamed that I had so grossly misjudged what kind of fun I wanted to have. I’m old enough to know myself better. To know that listening to loud music playing for 11 hours straight is not my idea of fun. I like to sleep. Hell, I love sleeping. I also love the sound of the rain and the gushing of the river, both of which I wasn’t able to hear above this music. Yet, this is who I have become — a person who is unaware of who she really is. Sometimes, we do things out of character. It is alright I suppose. I now know never to go near a campsite that also has a large JBL speaker the size of a toddler.
In the last 8+ weeks of staying alone, I have learnt many things. The foremost of which is that if you leave dishes unwashed, or kitchen floors unswept, a whole host of cockroaches will descend in your home and you do not want that kind of an infestation. Cockroaches are my current nemesis. Pigeon shit comes a close second. I spend sizeable amounts of every few days laying poison traps for cockroaches and cleaning pigeon shit from my window sill. 0/10 do not recommend.
The other thing that I’ve learnt is that I am more like my Nani than I am like my mother. (No, not all Muslims call their mother Ammi.) My Nani always did things in her own sweet time. Unfortunately, I take much longer to do house chores because I am also taking my own sweet time. I can make 25 PowerPoint slides faster than I can make a meal for the whole day. Hyperbole, yes, but you get the drift. However, the most important thing I have learnt is that people who tell you that Biryani is an easy dish are scamsters. Making this dish is a lot of mental and physical gymnastics and I recommend eating it only twice a year on a special occasion such as the falling of a fascist regime or on your birthday. Making Biryani is two whole days of work. Yes, I made the dish at the speed of my Nani, but boy oh boy, did it take the life out of me! You look away from the birista that has taken you 90 minutes to prepare, it gets burnt, and you can kiss the whole dish goodbye. 90 minutes of your life come down to that one single moment when you have to transfer the golden onions from the oil to the plate. Cooking Biryani is no song and dance. Cooking excellent Biryani is not for the faint of heart. This dish now has my absolute respect, no matter that I still don’t enjoy it as much as I should.
The anxiety we minorities carry is a function of our every day lives. Propaganda in India is straight out of a textbook, price rise of essentials is a common occurrence, and doing simple things is made hard every few months. While I don’t openly face a lot of ‘othering’ (because I left Facebook) I do see some acknowledgement in my own circles of what is happening. Some of my majority-faith friends are as worried for us as we are. They let us talk about our fears and they sympathise with us. We are able to conduct most daily activities until the fascists start bringing up issues to stir communal tension. When this happens, it scares us. We worry a lot, we gather in non-WhatsApp chatrooms and try to offer each other comfort, we follow Twitter and independent news outlets for updates, and then it all cools down for a bit. This cycle repeats. It has been repeating for 8 years. The mental trauma of it all. The media in this country is bik chuki hai. Just like ye gormint bik chuki hai. Trust nothing coming from major news channels. They’re all that half-eaten-plum-nibbled-on-by-sewer-rats.
I believe that I cannot have an opinion on anything well, if I don’t experience it. Of course, I can read about things in books, but how can I tell you that Chetan Bhagat is a crap writer if I haven’t read his novels? (I have read his books. He is crap.) So here’s my hot take – drinking alcohol is overrated. I am not even gonna go into the specifics of this, but I have got to leave you with some wisdom on this blog post, dear readers. It is overrated. Drink water. Water heals and cures and does not ruin your bank balance.
I may have not been active on this blog, but I have done a lot of writing in the past few months. In fact, I have done so much of it that it became a task sometimes. It’s just that I’ve not done the writing for me. I used to sporadically think about that scene in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara when Naseeruddin Shah asks Farhan Akhtar “Yeh to dusron ke liye hai, apne liye kya likhte ho?” I vaguely recall that Farhaan Akhtar’s character responds by saying, “Poetry. Poetry likhta hoon.” No, I have not even written poetry for myself. This is one of the reasons, I have been away from here and also why I don’t feel as guilty as I usually do. This writing that I speak of cannot be put on here, but I have immensely enjoyed doing it. It has helped me channel a lot of my ideas about climate change, technology, new-age social interactions, expectations from future workplaces, and even write plain-old purple prose. Writing for others has been great, but I realised that it was depleting me of the silence I usually crave. It was distancing me from my own inner thoughts and the way I want art and literature to be a part of my life. I have always wanted to grow old as the woman who writes for herself (and of course, for others) and I have been able to live a lot of that dream in the last few months.
I am stressed but blessed.
Lately, I have been thinking of Sayed Kashua’s collection of essays Native: Dispatches from an Israeli-Palestinian Life where he has written about his life as an Arab in apartheid Israel. (I know, I know, I am dropping uncoated truth on this blog post today). He has written about his children growing up, his job, his alcoholism (come on, Sayed, that amount of alcohol intake is a condition) and his parents and their home in Jerusalem. As a Palestinian living in Israel, he talks about his life with dark humour underscored with immense sadness. I think that I have somehow missed out on the last 8 years of living under this fascist regime and not written about it at all. Knowing myself, I wouldn’t be able to do it with humour and definitely not with alcohol. I just didn’t know how to do it. I wasn’t cut out to write with hope and clarity about the pandemic. I wasn’t able to journal my feelings, so I used to journal about facts. I still don’t know what writing under a fascist regime looks like. I can attest to it that living as a persecuted minority in a country is not easy. I can attest that the state should have no business wielding faith as a marker for governance. It’s all rubbish without a doubt.
But the question that begs answering is — am I brave enough? Probably not.
I haven’t been on a plane in over 2.5 years now. Even after Covid-19 became an endemic and everyone started to travel, I am yet to get on a plane. I have a lot of inertia for air travel. Not sure, why. But I would like to overcome that inertia at some point in time. Right now, I enjoy being close to home and living a local life. I cook my food, do my office work, clean the pigeon droppings, go to Pilates, spot one too many cockroaches in the kitchen and try to kill them. Ah! The regular, but good local life.
It’s been a while I have seen the world from up above. I don’t miss it too much, if I am being honest. Of course, I would love to go somewhere, see the sights, and yes, write about it.
P.S.: Watch Ms. Marvel. You’re welcome.