Saturday, January 28, 2012

My salvation army

I was feeling helpless and alone. The way you do when you're slumming all alone in a new city and don't yet feel confident about yourself. Especially when you're from a religious minority and it kind of shows in how you look and the way you talk.

The call had come sometime in the first few months of the NDTV broadcast training programme in New Delhi. It was from a family friend I had known for a brief period in my childhood long ago in Muscat, Oman. She was now married and settled in Lucknow but was in Delhi for her mother's cancer treatment. She had been bringing her mother, whom I had known for a longer period of time in Muscat but had not met in years, to Delhi regularly for treatment. Every week from Lucknow, which was 6 hours away by train one-way.

Aunty needed blood. In the next few hours. Her daughter wanted me to get the word out somehow about her mother's blood type. My blood wasn't the correct type, and I didn't really know anyone in Delhi. Except the young kids who were in training with me, but I didn't know them well enough to ask for their blood. How does one approach someone for blood? I didn't know what to do. I felt helpless and alone.

I've heard stories of people, particularly in India, refusing to donate blood to people they know, friends or respected elders even, just because they were of a different religion or caste. When the time came, they would draw that line. These were often-repeated urban legends from the motherland that would make their way to the diaspora overseas, particularly during times of ethnic tensions. I heard these growing up outside of India.

I was the only Muslim in training at NDTV. I felt self-conscious about it anyway. It was one of the reasons why, after the phone call, I suddenly felt helpless and alone, and why Delhi felt extra empty and foreign.

I hung up the phone. Three of my closest friends at the NDTV media institute crowded up to me and asked me what the matter was. I told them. Turned out that two of them had blood of the very type that was needed. I didn't even get to ask them to donate, they volunteered the minute they found out which blood type it was. They were ready to leave for the hospital immediately. I would've only needed one person to come along, but both my friends with the required blood type decided to go with me. The third friend wanted to come along anyway.

All three of my friends were born and raised Hindus. Bengali, Gujarati, and Rajasthani. The cancer-stricken lady I knew for a while in a past life was a Muslim. They didn't know her, yet they offered her their blood without even being asked. They offered a part of their own personal bodies. They never even let me get to asking them.


Anonymous said...

THIS is exactly what I meant when I said before that you were too hung up about your muslim identity.

It is something I find very common with NRIs ... they are always more hung up about their religious and cultural identity than us regular Indians.

Please stop looking at everything through the prism of "minority" and "muslim" ... to an indian (regardless of his religion), it is unattractive.

Khadija Ejaz said...

Regular Indians?

Please stop following my blog if my posts offend you so. And please don't assume that NRIs should be like 'regular Indians' just because they have Indian passports. The world is a lot bigger than India. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Anonymous said...

Yes, "regular" indians - the ones who spent their childhood and teens here, and thus, are more attuned to indian culture.

As you yourself have pointed out, you often find yourself at a loss to relate with your parents idea of "indian culture". That's because you haven't experienced it, and secondly, indian culture has continued to evolve while they were abroad.

And of course, your post offended me, but not for the reasons you think.

I am a politician, in a city which has seen the worst of religious fundamentalism. (I wonder how to be Anonymous, if you have reveal stuff about yourself overtime? :)

Your projections of your beliefs, like "... Especially when you're from a religious minority ... I've heard stories of people, particularly in India, refusing to donate blood to people they know, friends or respected elders even, just because they were of a different religion or caste ... I was the only Muslim in training at NDTV. I felt self-conscious about it anyway ...", and your subsequent behaviour and actions, unknowing to you, actually undermine us Muslims.

Identity politics - whether based on caste, religion, language or geography - succeeds when it forces a person to subsume the other parts of his / her personal identity.

Take for example, you. Your personal identity consists of the values you inherited from the people you love and admire, your cultural values that you absorbed from the various places you have lived in, and of course, your language and religion.

Your fears and anxiety, due to the identity politics of religious fundamentalism, are subsuming other parts of your identity and making you obsess about only one singular part of it - your religion. And thus, you (and many others) choose to wear it like a badge, thinking erroneously that it is the right way to fight the forces causing your fears.

It's not just you - we have stupid fatwas like, "Don't say Khuda Hafiz, say Allah Hafiz". (Note: For non-muslims who are wondering what's funny about that, "Allah" is not the 'name' of our God. "Allah" in Arabic means "God").

Obsessing about your religion because of some fear, just enhances the fears and anxiety, and makes one even less likely to mingle with others (since you don't feel comfortable). And thus the vicious cycle of identity politics gains strength ...

And no, this isn't about secularism, substituting for your religion. It is just about accepting who you are, and being comfortable about it.

Hope that makes some sense ... ?

Khadija Ejaz said...

I just call it like I see it. I've not lived in India ever, only recently for work for about a year and a half. I did spend my 20s in America during the 9/11 decade, and that forced every casual Muslim even to suddenly feel that that's all they were - Muslim. Unwillingly. It's something we're all trying to make peace with, and believe it or not, I'm way ahead of the curve.

Anonymous said...

I totally understand. In fact I do relate with you completely, because I went through the very same thing.

Hence my unsolicited (and thus, unwelcome :) advice.

Mahathma Gandhi's ideas helped me a lot. For example, this statement of his is really profound when you 'get' it fully - "If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do."

I'd add more but I am not as comfortable as you sharing my personal life in this medium ...