Born to an army officer, and living the 71 war at Udhampur as a 4 year old, very close to the action - means one cut one's teeth on patriotism. I always thought I could kill for my country. I still think I can. I would rather not kill however.
Life was simple for me till 1993 - till I was caught in the Bombay riots. I had seen them in Allahabad before. But not so close up. I had a gun go off a couple of feet near me. Saw enough blood. And burning vehicles. And suddenly I was a second class citizen. I will never forget a day after the riots had simmered down.
At this stage I have no faith in the state. Zilch. Not even the judiciary. Just people.
The bus conductor shouted at a man in a skull cap and short-changed him. His wife tugged at his sleeves and he let it go. There were expletives to follow when the couple got off. I had to now fear for being a Muslim. Ask any Muslim who lived through that period. And I did not even know how to be one. Never did. The primal fear matured and became chronic over the years. The housing refused. The slights. All very base and crude. All very common.
Today I stand at a pass. Intensely patriotic and intensely bitter. The fear has disappeared to be replaced by an anger.
Bal Thakeray was given a state funeral. An MP attended Akhlaque's murderer's funeral. The litany of things to get angry at is endless.
I might be a rationalist, a humanist, an atheist, but I am a Muslim. They are my people. I am considered one of them. That is my identity. I am an Indian Muslim. I might believe I am a world citizen but that hardly matters.
And I am angry for the Indian Muslims. I have sometimes wondered how easy it would be to convert people into terrorists. I can rationalise my anger. Not all can. Indoctrination does not take place in any madarsa or some hole in the wall. It takes place on the streets. It takes place in offices. In courtrooms. It takes place in plain view. And not by any Muslims.
At this stage I have no faith in the state. Zilch. Not even the judiciary. Just people. They are what is left of my country for me. The seculars. And I know they are in a minority. They are also prosecuted and hounded. But then I know how to belong to a minority. I have lived and prospered so far amongst these friends. For I know not one communal amongst them. And they have too. You can live life as a Muslim in India. Just have a lot of friends. Secular friends. May their tribe grow.
Here is to my friends. My India. The one I love.
PS. Do not ask me how I feel for our children. For them to be considered prey. To be objects of hate the moment they are born. We can leave that heartbreak out. I wish they were not born to us. For their sakes.