At a time when Barack Hussein Obama is trying to play down his middle name, when Saif Ali Khan is rejected from buying property in Mumbai’s Hindu housing societies, or a group with a name like Indian Mujahidin claims to bomb our cities, I moved around in Delhi donning a skull cap. Brought up in a Hindu family, I wanted to find out what it feels like to be perceived as a Muslim.
But, piddle-poo. Nothing dramatic happened. Neither was I denied admission in restaurants. Nor did anyone whisper ‘ISI agent’.
And yet, something was different — in the bus, in the bookstore. People looked at me. I could feel the invasion of eyes gashing into my back. Was I imagining things? I called a Muslim friend if what happened with me also happens with him when he goes out with his skullcap. “Yes, people look differently at you,” he laughed. “They seem scared, but I enjoy the attention.”
I too started enjoying the attention. I would enter a bookshop and all eyes would turn to me. I would climb a crowded bus and people would suddenly go silent. It felt masculine. An acquaintance, a self-proclaimed secularist, asked me, “Have you really converted to Islam?” I nodded and she leaned close to me, sniffed and said, “But you don’t stink of maas.”
She was one extreme. Some were from the other — politically correct to a painful extent. The day after Delhi blasts, I was in a café when a guy came to my table and intruded into my personal space. “I’m sorry your community is being targetted,” he said. “I know Muslims are normal people.”
The other day I found myself in a living room amid strangers. (The topi was in the pocket). The conversation steered towards “Islamic terrorism”. In the middle of a “There’s surely a problem with Muslims” session, I took out my cap and revealed my ‘identity’. A few looked embarrassed, while one ‘secular’ soul, drinking a Bloody Mary, assured that “I’ve many Muslim friends and I enjoy having sewaiyan and kebabs in their homes.” How nice.
However, a week later, I found that the cap was weighing too heavy on the skull. The skullcap drained out my individuality — no matter how much I flaunted my English or hip clothing, I felt I was only being viewed as just another ghettoised Muslim. I became a punching bag of the mainstream conceptions of being a ‘typical’ Muslim. Scared that people were refusing to ‘see’ me; that I was becoming an invisible man, I threw the cap away to become visible.