Nine minutes at 9 pm.
An innocuous enough number and time duration. Yet this evening, as the lights around us were switched off and cheers of ‘Jai Shree Ram’ and ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ went up, I could not help but fear the consequences of not choosing not to take part in this ‘event’.
Perhaps unlike most living around me, I’d forgotten about this collective action. I was in the middle of dinner when I realised, looking out of my open windows, that the entire world seemed to be dark outside.
Diyas were lit and phone flashlights came on. Within my house, our diya got prime position. Yet in those few minutes between dinner and switching off the lights, the open windows with the curtains apart felt unnerving and threatening in a manner like never before.
I have always been vocal about my opinions regarding the present government. I have attended protests and have spoken up on social media. My beliefs go strongly against systemised intolerance.
But tonight what I felt was not anger but a sudden fear.
I did not feel the connection between the diyas we lit tonight and the destructive pandemic we are facing. In those moments in the darkness, when there were only torchlights flashing and no faces behind these lights, Jai Shree Ram rang out amidst claps and cheers. And I felt like we would get some intercom call, telling us that ours was the only house with our lights on and that we needed to switch them off.
Perhaps that moment was an instance of paranoia. Perhaps this was a fear I shared alone, unrelated to the attack on dissent and truly just a show of solidarity. But even as I pray for the world to see the light at the end of this tunnel, I can not help but fear. I can not help fear for the future when we have been fully and successfully polarised as a nation – at a time of distress.
Eventually, those nine minutes passed and I turned my lights back on. Social media was abuzz with pictures of diyas and symbolism. In the light, everything resembled normalcy and my fear seemed unwarranted.
But the feeling of apprehension remains.
I hope the diyas and cheers served their purpose of spreading positivity. The COVID-19 pandemic is something we must overcome together. But I hope that we remember this light and togetherness in what follows, in taking actual action. I hope for all of us to have the strength to face our fears and stand up for this democracy and its people.
Hridya Rajesh is a student living in Mumbai.
Featured image credit: amit srivastava/Unsplash