Mother seems to have forgotten.
She tells me it was different back then,
only I couldn’t bring myself to believe
for my family to have felt belongingness, ever.
I live through the consequences of battles that have been long lost.
Battles mother had seen.
But she tells me about her neighbourhood
and the nights her family spent amidst people who seized to exist a while ago.
People who would not judge my grandfather for his name or for the skullcap he wore on
I wonder if she fights her memory for me.
What if acceptance is something she too hasn’t known?
She tells me, she hasn’t escaped the sounds, the chants that flew free into the empty air of her
For me, today, silence echoes the loudest.
Mother declares proudly that no one shares, or posts, or uploads hateful content on a Facebook
group she enjoys.
Perhaps, it makes her feel safe.
But would they save us mother, against the crimes that have been taking place in their names?
Mother tells me about temple bells, filling up a silence – so acoustic, so gentle.
I have never been to one, neither would I dare to–
ever ask the gods what makes them despise me to death?
The question haunts me, but I believe the answer would destroy so much more than what one
What if they are homesick too, obliged to submit,
unable to prove their innocence, just as I am?
She tells me, with all kinds of emotions, about her friends, and those of my uncles’
where her stories find home on nights when nothing else feels like one.
Aligarh has barred the inconvenience that comes with my identity, mostly.
It’s safer than what mother’s home has now become: an exhibit
of silken robes– saffron from head to toe, where no other colour exists; where tricolour
becomes our crime
and of names she hardly recognises.
Mother, if grandfather were to return, would he believe it’s the same place he once called home;
safe in whose peace he rests?
His smell still lingers in her neighbourhood, I believe.
Reminiscent of a tale no one else understands.
Mother, once the festival of our slaughter begins, will your city save you, just as you believe it
did 30 years ago?
If Lord Rama ever reclaims his wretched land, he’ll reclaim your memory too.
If the night of remunerations ever approaches,
memories such as yours will be the last survivors–
as my hope is long dead.
It is the hardest thing to ever fight, to erase – what your memory holds;
it will reincarnate in flowers, verses and pictures you hold close.
But mother, I know you too fear your fate.
Zunaira Habib Alvi is a 17-year-old student from Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh. She finds escape in writing, so she tries to write loud and clear about what bothers her.