I am 27.
I still look up at the vast expanses of blue and black whenever I hear the thunderous rumbling of an airplane. My fascination with the wings of steel had been there ever since I flayed my hands and ran on the playground with a squeaky sound instead of the booming blare that pierced the skies.
My father, mother, sister, brother-in-law, my grandmother and even my one-year-old niece had travelled in an airplane even before I stepped inside an airport.
It took me 21 years before I finally made my way into the intimidating confines of an airport. There were men and women with automatic guns all over the place.
Being used to buses and trains, I was only half an hour earlier than the scheduled time for departure. It was late in ‘Airport Standard Time’ and I was given precedence over everyone else standing in the queue for the various security clearances.
I was the last person to board the plane. I was nervous and I think I had sweat running over my eyebrows. I closed my eyes and stepped into the plane with my right leg extended forward.
I opened my eyes and the first thought that came into my mind was imminent death.
I wasn’t having a panic attack because of the height in which the plane would be travelling. I didn’t have the fear of a mechanical failure in the plane plummeting me into a ravine or an ocean.
I had a sense of fear because of my co-passengers.
A less-informed version of me, a few years back, assumed travelling in a plane filled with bearded people in a white dress and cap would lead to disastrous results.Though a sense of guilt and embarrassment then and in later days my search for knowledge and information did wash away that fear, I could never forget that incident.
That is why when Muslims in India are perceived in a certain way by people including the ‘educated’ ones, I feel a sense of sympathy towards the ones whose perception is fundamentally moulded to be flawed.
I never had friends in school who were Muslim and it took time for me to embrace the Muslim side of my friends in college. Though it may seem ideal that I saw my friends as a non-religious entity, the fact remains that I did not take time out to understand the religion that has been hijacked by quite a considerable section across the globe to give it such a negative image.
It doesn’t mean I know everything about Islam, but I know better than to paint terrorism with a single colour. The moment a building crumbles or a bomb blasts anywhere across the globe, I rest the blame squarely on the shoulders of people and not a religion.
This has very much got to do with the fact that I listened to them and asked them about their way of life. I remember my school having a Christmas play but never a telling of anything from the Quran. I remember reciting ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘Vishnu Sahasranamam’ but nothing that would enlighten me about the second most followed religion in my country.
I believe this basic non-understanding of the workings of a religion has made us oblivious to the trials and tribulations they undergo in the eyes of the world.
The dislike for Muslims in the minds of a few people in India and asking them to go to Pakistan is becoming an issue that cannot be ignored as a one-off rant by a person who is not aware of the religion and also our neighbouring country.
In my line of work, I have met quite a few people from Pakistan and only when talking to them can one realize the similarities we share with an average Pakistani with respect to food, movies, serials, sports and corruption in politics and bureaucracy. When I think of Pakistanis, I remember fondly the ‘shaayari’ sessions, the healthy discussions on cricket, our love for food, the trying times they face in their home, the pain of sending their loved ones to study in the United Kingdom fearing it getting disrupted because of the Taliban and many such incidents. These would make the average Indian feel bad if not for these stories carrying a tag of coming from across the border.
Our anger at the terrorists and their ‘sponsors’ for what they did in Mumbai, Delhi, Coimbatore, Gujarat, Varanasi, Assam, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Jaipur, Jammu and Kashmir, Pathankot, Pampore, Uri and Baramulla is completely justified, but our hatred towards Pakistanis in general can be avoided.
I recently saw a rant on Social Media asking ISIS to leave the people and children in Syria alone and instead bomb the living hell out of Pakistan. We are living in dangerous times and thoughts like this can destroy the very fabric of human existence.
It is completely normal if one cannot show compassion and love for a country that we perceive to be our enemy but at the same time we can do away with wanting them to be non-existent.
Any voices of dissent in the world’s largest democracy are met with hatred, trolling and the present fad of “Go to Pakistan…”
Let’s not fall in this rut of painting with broad strokes. India is known for its unity in diversity and the entire canvas of our country can be filled with small strokes and has space for every colour to shine in its natural self and add to this country’s beauty.
War is never an answer and in this present world ‘Peace and Love’ seems to be the wrong answer too.
So can’t we all ask a different question altogether???