Can Bengaluru Ever Be ‘Namma’ Now?

In 2016, I was a hijabi woman from Bihar studying at a Catholic University in Bengaluru who visited temples regularly.

I moved to Bengaluru in 2016 to pursue my bachelor’s degree at Christ University. It was a very natural move for me as my brother had done the same before me.

The hostel where I used to live was run by Catholic Sisters in a secluded part of Bannerghatta Road. It was a quiet place – so quiet that we were asked to maintain silence through the night and day. One time, as I was talking and laughing loudly with my friend in our room, I was admonished by a Sister who had recognised my voice.

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I used to feel homesick quite often. It used to start on my walk back from college. Dragging one foot behind another for 20 minutes, I would dread going back to the monotonous silence of my room. That’s when I got attracted to the Sri Meenakshi Sundareshwara Temple. It was right on the main road, on my way to and from college. It has beautiful architecture with sculptures and murals adorning its facade. The gate opens into a courtyard and I had always seen children running around and playing on its campus. The fragrance of fresh jasmine and roses would envelop the entire area. The temple always seemed lively, warm and welcoming.

On my way back from college, I started to stop at the Meenakshi temple for hours. I used to sit in the courtyard. I never talked to anybody there, but nobody ever objected to a Muslim woman just sitting on the temple grounds. I didn’t do much there. I would either read, write or simply watch the prayers. The temple is very different from the ones we have in North India, which made it all the more fascinating. But more than that, it gave me the chance to be a part of something alive. Even though everyone was a stranger to me, I never felt alien there. I was around people, families, priests and children – and that’s the only thing that mattered to me.

Now, when I think about my time in Bengaluru, it almost seems like a fantasy. I cannot imagine being a hijab-wearing Muslim woman who spends time at a temple in today’s Karnataka. Bengaluru was the first city I called my own because it made me feel so. I spent hours walking through the maze of its chaotic but beautiful layouts. I used to travel in share cabs, buses and autos. Whenever someone would speak to me in Kannada, the simple sentence, “Kannada gothilla (I don’t know Kannada)” was enough to break the ice and make them smile.

I found a family in the friends I made there. In fact, I was given the opportunity to do the aarti with my friend and her family during Saraswati Puja at her house. They even adorned me with their heirloom jewellery for the occasion!

I fell in love with Bangalore’s people, skylines, weather, parks, mini forests, lakes, malls and its local markets. Mosque Road during Ramzan was as much mine as it was for the people of other or no faiths. An area with a name like Shivajinagar is home to many Muslims.

Bangalore was an almost magical place for me.

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The Bengaluru I once called ‘Namma Bengaluru’ (our Bengaluru) was mine because it accepted people from all faiths and walks of life. I don’t think I can call it namma anymore. Suddenly I have a new relationship with the first city I called mine. Suddenly we are strangers. It breaks my heart to read story after story of communal discord emerging from Karnataka.

Bengaluru has given a lot to me: my closest friends, a good education, amazing professors, professional exposure and innumerable new experiences. Dysphoria was not a part of that list until now. I don’t know what to feel or how to react.

But I am not surprised. I have seen India change. I have read about it. I have written about it. I have also watched it from the front seats of this democracy for many years, but I am heartbroken nonetheless. Can this be overcome? I don’t know. I am scared. I am forced to curb my hopes in an environment like this.

Sameen is an incoming Ph.D. student at the University of Kansas’ Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

Featured image: Sanket Shah/Unsplash