Train journeys, my father taught me to believe, have an old-world charm to them.
However, one such journey from my hometown to my college was as distressful as it could get.
The Jan Shatabdi Express was my preferred locomotive. This common-man’s train has, so far, not attained the notoriety of being freakishly late to its destinations. Boarding the train from Thrissur at 10:40 am and sitting through the scorching summer heat till 1:25, when it reaches Kozhikode, was a detestable pursuit.
So far, my severely protective parents had found it absolutely safe to let their daughter board this train. Thanks to the newspapers and their coverage of testosterone-charged maniacs their only fear had been of sexual predators.
After spending the weekend in Thrissur, I boarded the train. I was told to be always on the look-out for Govinda Chamis – the man who pushed a girl out of a train and then raped her.
The vast number of murder mysteries that I had ticked off my bucket list this year, made me uncomfortably observant and suspicious. I saw a potential psycho-assassin in everyone around.
After the Pulwama incident, however, a new fear crept into my psyche. With a vast number of articles about terrorism and militancy in the Valley, with justifications I found completely lucid, I now had a newfound monster in my closet – terrorists.
Being in Kerala, I automatically assumed, protected us from such attacks. But with right-wing forces gaining momentum in the state, even Kerala wouldn’t be spared, I began thinking.
In spite of professing about how the accusations levelled against Indian-Muslims as a whole in the wake of the attack were gross over-generalisations and misplaced, I have shamelessly joined the ranks of those I debated against.
During all these discussions, all I could think of were my Muslim friends – all of them gems. And yet I have unabashedly fallen prey to media-manufactured propaganda. Much like a considerable proportion of the so-called politically neutral population, I have started being prejudiced towards overtly devout Muslims.
Long beards and pants (just reaching their ankles), deep grey eyes, with or without skull caps scared me beyond mention.
On one such train journey back to college, I was terrified – almost crying – after a man fitting the media-manufactured description of a Jihadi (as mentioned above), stood right next to me.
His handsome Kashmiri looks totally gave him away. “Probably a militant,” I thought to myself.
The article about Adil Ahmad Dar, I had read the day before, kept popping up in my head. The resemblance was uncanny. I thought to myself: “definitely a suicide bomber.”
In his hand he held a backpack, with a time bomb, I assumed. Planting a bomb in Kerala made sense, I was convinced.
The man, out of decency, I later realised, had desisted from sitting on the seat beside me. But to my corrupted mind then, he had just craftily placed his weapon.
I imagined my body blown to smithereens. I imagined the pain and my parents roaring in agony.
I made quick decisions, I didn’t want to be the most mutilated carcass in the compartment. I moved from my place, seated myself at the farthest seat in an almost empty compartment.
I cried. I messaged my parents and waited for death to come.
The train reached Kozhikode at 1:15.
I got out safe and never saw the man again. Pangs of regret and shame started enveloping my being.
Anjana Kesav is a third-year chemical engineering student at NIT Calicut with a passion for journalism
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty