Have you ever felt a terror that runs through your body like an earthquake, each detonating at different time zones? I felt that when, at the height of anti-Citizenship Amendment protests and in the aftermath of the Delhi riots, my teenage son wanted to go to Ambience Mall in Vasant Kunj. He had promised Preet, a new kid from Manipur, that he would show him around. It was the last day of Class 11, March 2020.
I looked at my son’s face, and I saw myself. I wanted to scream, but I stopped myself with incredible difficulty.
A scene flashed before my eyes. It was 1993. I had travelled by a local train from Aligarh to Delhi with Naveen, a friend’s brother. My friend Zohra remarked that he had been named Naveen because his parents thought it would make his life easier. I almost smirked a salaam to him as we waited for an auto-rickshaw at Paharganj railway station.
I was 18 then.
“Mama,” I saw my son and gritted out permission. I gave him guerrilla tips to survive a mob. Things that we do to feel in control. To take his best friend Saksham’s name and assume his identity if such a situation arose.
“Mama, it’s okay! I understand.”
What did he understand? Did he know that I smelt acrid acid fumes even when the milk boiled over? Did he know that I stopped reading the headlines from newspapers and first picked Delhi supplements?
My hands felt clammy. I lifted my thumb and flashed a go-ahead signal to him.
The months rolled by. The virus invaded our minds and souls. Close friends died. Our kids lost their grandparents within a spate of three months. Life was reduced to flickering lights on mobiles. On some days, it bought respite from the hateful forwards, but generally it felt like we had been caught in a vortex.
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It is now April 2022. The virus has receded, but the hate politics has not. A skull-cap wearing vegetable vendor had his cart overturned in the new normal because he dared to sell his wares near a temple. The watermelon crushed with the red juices felt like a knife had been knifed through India.
Yet, I cling to hope. I hold on to beautiful memories of my friend bringing fragrant ghee laden halwa puri on Ram Navami, that I break my fast with another friend’s plate of besan pakora. That my youngest child has a beautiful friendship with a Kashmiri Pandit, who talks of overcoming barriers. Who share tiffin and secrets. My foodie group on WhatsApp sends greetings for every occasion, be it Diwali or Eid.
Hope is a flower that blooms every day.
When my eldest child fell ill with dengue at the height of the pandemic, total strangers responded to my appeal for platelets. Twenty people turned up at the hospital. For them, his identity didn’t matter.
As I gave a glass of juice to my child, his words rang in my ears, “Mama, your fears cannot rule me. ”
It was time to reclaim my story.
Words from Chak De India ring in my ears,
“Mitti meri bhi tu hi
Wohi meri ghee aur choori
Wohi Raanjhe mere woh Heer
Wohi sevaiyaan wohi kheer
Tujhe se hi roothna re mujhe hi mananaana
Tera mera nata koi dooja na jaana
Tu hi tha maula tu hi aan
Maula mere Maula.
You‘re my Earth
you’re my ghee and sweets
you’re my Raanjha and my Heer
you’re my dessert and my sweet dish
with you, I get upset and I then makeup with you
no one else understands our bond
you’re my protector and my pride.
Farah Naaz is an advocate and a writer. She has always loved the written word and now uses them to voice her thoughts.