In Old Delhi with a scared friend

I went to Chandni Chowk for some shopping the other day with a friend. And I thought I would show him the Meena Bazar and the Jama Masjid area. We were a couple of guys walking in a busy market.Women were shopping for sparkly things and men were buying metallic objects that fit in machines. Suddenly the friend lets me know that he is scared. He says let’s leave as he does not like the area. I ask him what’s wrong and he asks me to look around. I see a market busy with people. I do get the hint though. I am not stupid. It is an area with Muslim majority.

My friend is from Surat and he says in his city, these areas are considered dangerous. And his spidey sense is tingling. I ask him to relax. And for the first time, I look at the religion of the people. I see the green flags and motifs. I see the skull caps and the burning incense sticks. It is not that I wasn’t aware that this was a Muslim area but, I wasn’t communally-charged before I sensed the palpable fear in my friend’s voice.

A moment ago, the place felt safer because there were men in long beards there. Men in beards- maulanas, sardars are people who guard you. They exist as pillars of kindness. I was always taught to bow my head before these institutions. And now, I am looking at them wondering if the place is safe? This is the magic of fear.

I guess, there are societies that are propelled by fear. And in those societies, the system allows you to be afraid. Maybe in your city, maybe in your mohalla, you can fuel that fear but when I walk into that locale, I will do an adaab to all those who meet me, I will greet everyone with smiles. Because when they come to my home, I have never felt in my heart that they should be afraid of me or my people.

Who are ‘your’ and ‘my’ people anyway? I am not unaware of the enmity between Hindus and Muslims and I do read the news about Islamic extremism. But, I also know that terror is just that. A fuel to spread more terror. It is a self-renewing machinery. What if I walk in your mohalla and do not show any signs of fear or the fact that I do not belong there?

Because, when I walking behind a rickshaw in Dariban Kalan, on a packed road, and the woman in burkha with surma-laden eyes looks at me, I do not think I belong elsewhere. I do not feel I belong elsewhere when I take a seat in a restaurant and the waiter with a skull cap comes to ask me for my order. It is my Delhi too and I am not going anywhere, neither are you. No matter what others say.

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