​What Happens to a Revolution Deferred?

With safe spaces for dissent shrinking, a very public revolution was brewing—only to be upended by a pandemic that forced us back into our homes.

Last year, at the end of a friend’s wedding (when it was still possible to hang out with a few hundred strangers), with a belly full of food and my legs a little shaky from all the dancing, I went up to congratulate her parents. We were a group of friends, and after confirming that we had indeed sampled all the deserts, and no, we couldn’t eat another gulab jamun, the conversation petered off. Her father caught my eye and asked, “Oh aren’t you Mubaraka—isn’t that a … erm ... tum Parsi ho [are you Parsi]?” I knew this was just a polite way to ask me if I’m Muslim, and I quickly went through a list of pre-planned responses I’d filed away in my brain for a moment such as this one. You see, this was not the first time I had been asked this question—people have asked me on trains, in meetings, when I was looking to rent a flat, or ordered takeaway. Usually, I can sense it coming, honed by years of practice being a member of a minority community in India. I often break it gently to my audience that I’m Muslim and, based on the context, throw in a personal anecdote or explanation so they can relate to me, to alleviate the discomfort that the conversation would have caused us both. But these were unusual times, protests against the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) were brewing, and the Supreme Court verdict on Ayodhya was still fresh, and I wasn’t in the mood to cosset his prejudice. I steeled myself and said, “No, uncle, main Musalman hoon [I’m Muslim].” I just let the words hang in the air for a second and after an awkward pause, he patted my hand and said, “Chalo, koi baat nahi [Oh, that’s okay].”

I gave my friends the side-eye, and they mercifully took over the conversation. I slunk away feeling queasy. “It’s all the gulab jamuns,” I told myself. But on the ride home, I couldn’t shake the feeling off. I turned to my friends, looking for signs that the conversation had been egregious, but except for a few sympathetic murmurs, I got nothing. That’s when it hit me like a ton of bricks. I had hollered at my echo chamber, my closest friends—whom I had known for the last 10 years—and this time they hadn’t hollered back. My echo chamber was shrinking, and it was mirroring every other space I occupy as a Muslim in India.

To read the full text Login

Get instant access

New 3 Month Subscription
to Digital Archives at

₹826for India

$50for overseas users

Updated On : 18th Aug, 2020

Comments

(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Having lost a dear friend, the author reflects on the nature of friendship, and its relationship with memory.

As mounting performance pressure on students lays the ground for increasing malpractice, what can academic administrators do differently?

At the root of sexual harassment in the arts is an unquestioning culture of subservience.

Could the lived experiences of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, shared with millions of Americans, be their ticket to the White House?

As the concert stage is left empty, what can music and musicians do differently for the art form?

Amitav Ghosh’s novel goads us to seriously rethink our world, and finds new relevance under current circumstances.

S P Balasubrahmanyam’s influence on the Telugu people extends beyond singing and cinema.

Back to Top