It had always been a struggle. Sounds cliched. Yes. But true.
Going on the bus – to school, going silent at Sita’s kitchen. Hanging his
head in silence when asked – why didn’t he come to school (on Alwida Juma).
Going to Starbucks on Eid, saying Abdul instead of Rauf – making it easier.
Going on a train – wearing trousers and a shirt, his kurta packed deep in his
bag as he listens to bhajans on his neighbour’s Bluetooth speakers.
Sitting silently, responding to phone calls with a hello and not salaam.
Not talking to the kindly man on his right when asked where he’s from,
what’s he doing. Saying ‘Engineer from Noida’, and not ‘Urdu from Aligarh and Jamia’.
Going on Shatabdi, being asked for food – veg or non-veg? Seeing the eyes
of the three rows of benches around him focus on him as he whispers – bhaiyya,veg. Eating paneer with tears. Not swallowing because there’s a lump in his throat
so big it can be seen from under his scraggly beard. It moves when he picks up his ringing phone and replies with hello and not walekum as-salaam. Being crashed into on the National Highway. Getting off to see Hanuman glaring saffronly. Giving 5000 and a meek apology. Losing 20k in getting his car repaired.
On a bus from Lucknow to Gorakhpur. Seeing a man chew gutka, and piss off the edge of the Ayodhya by-pass flyover. Shikhars and spires in the setting sky. Feeling sick – there’s no minar.
Going to an eatery off the side of the road. Fried chicken everywhere.
Bismillah emblazoned on the wall in a blue tile. Asking for seekh kebabs. Getting chicken. White. Grotesque. Demanding meat. Being silenced with a motion to the man on the next table, tearing flesh off a chicken bone, grease and chutney congealing in his rakhi.
Going to a Dhaba. Eating daal and paneer ‘qorma’, blocks of paneer with a sauce of crushed paneer and tomato. Laughing at their inferiority complex. Paying the bill, the waiter reciting the list of purchases. Big burly belligerent man accosting the owner, asking why he serves fucking qorma. Feeling afraid.
He wakes up and puts on a sherwani. The topi sits heavily, constricting.
Going to a Starbucks, saying Rauf not Abdul. Going to Delhi on the national highway. Getting rear-ended by an Omni,
full of young men. Calling his mother, finishing with Walekum as salaam wa rahmatullah. Talking to the Omni driver. Asking him to apologize. Demanding money for repairs.
A crowd gathering. The story changing. He swerved. He didn’t look in the mirror. He braked deliberately. He. He. He. His fault. His name? Going to say, Rahul. Going to escape. Going to go home and shaving off his beard. Going to the sticker shop to buy Saffron Hanuman. Going to live – No. Going to be free. Going Home. ‘Abdur Rauf Siddiqui’ Going to die. Not killed. No one kills him, the report finds. He just… dies
(Views expressed are strictly personal of the author)