Let me tell you about the events that became part of the house hunting. I was to meet the estate agent near a bank where I had some work. He showed up with a colleague. I probed him further about this communal angle. I admit I was aware of it, but surely this could not happen to me? His colleague, a Sindhi, confirmed it.
We drove to one site. The colleague had left and the agent and a relative of his were with me. The relative, who was driving, switched on the music. It was playing some naats (religious verses) followed by sermons in Arabic. He asked his cousin if it was ok. “No problem, she is Muslim.”
So there I was house-hunting with Arabic prayers droning on. But I did not like this whole thing. It was getting uncomfortable, as though suddenly a part of me was being expunged to make more room for another..
Would I have responded similarly if bhajans were playing? Was I getting too defensive, was I trying too hard in my own mind to be a cosmo woman? From all accounts, no. I was seriously ill at ease, mainly because of what I had been told. It seems that even if one went directly to the builders, the other residents usually objected to Muslims in their midst. Therefore, builders have pre-empted the problems.
I ask the agent if I could pose as a Hindu to start with. “You will be wasting time,” he said. “After the down payment, they can still return the money giving some reason or the other. We have seen this happen many times.”
“And no one has objected?”
“The problem now is that since Catholics are starting their own societies, the builders have a valid argument.”
(I got evidence of this directly from the office of a very popular builder just two days ago.)
Back to my adventure…I did not like the couple of places he showed. Then he took me to a resale apartment. It had been unoccupied in a fairly new building. The owner arrived. She was wearing a burqa, though her face was uncovered. Before she could say any salaams, I said, “Hello.” She extended her hand. I felt stupid. As we got talking, she said it was important to vibe with the person. Apparently she was vibing with me. I wondered why. I was wearing a pair of jeans (a deliberate move on my part that day). Was it my name, my religion?
Her house had large airy rooms, but her living room was a mess. There were large aluminium jars and steel tiffin boxes; in a corner on one of those boxes was a copy of the Quran. I found it strange.
Well, I did not like this house, though she was good at marketing the slum across as a “plot for a garden”.
I decided after a few more rounds that enough was enough. There was a feeling of queasiness, as though something was being wrenched from me.
Next day I took my mother on a tour of the area, which we have known for years and had friends from all communities living there. Barely had we entered this particular lane and she said, “Yeh kahaan par le ja rahee ho? Kitne Mussalman bhare padey hai, main yahaan nahin reh saktee, no way.” (Where have you brought me? Too many Muslims here, I don’t think I could live here.)
This is the problem. Those of us who want to and are more comfortable sharing our space with others are being held to ransom because of our 'identities'; and those who have strong identities are being forced to shed theirs. Both kinds of us are called jihadis and Islamists for different reasons - we: because we call the bluff of the Establishment; they: because they fit a stereotype in superficial ways.
Some of you might think an attitude such as ours is snotty. The fact is I cannot imagine such a place for myself. I do not judge those who choose such habitats and think they have a valid reason for doing so, but I don’t want to be pushed into a corner by others.
The piece that I reproduced here has got interesting responses and one gentleman from the US wrote to me,
Liked your article a lot. I do think however that getting into the mainstream is going to require some help. A policy such as Affirmative Action does not mean selecting a less qualified candidate for a job. But if two candidates are equally qualified, then the employer's commitment to affirmative action (i.e. a goal to have some minority employees), should come into play.
I also think Muslims should use their buying power to help the community. They should boycott the goods and services of businesses thatdo not have affirmative action policies and do not employ Muslims. This tactic was used effectively by Blacks in the Chicago area some years ago.
Honestly, I get irritated with this mainstream thing...just as much as thali food puts me off!
The problem with the affirmative action you talk about is that it requires effort. The Blacks are at least a cohesive whole; here we have different kinds of Muslims and affinities are forged along sectarian lines.
Besides, a part of me says these are such sad times when one cannot revel in cosmopolitanism. And, to be honest, I would not want a Muslim in a Chinese restaurant....kheema with hakka noodles???!!
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My response may seem facile, but I do believe that you cannot force a standardised mainstream down people’s throats BUT you cannot stop those who want to experience the vast oceans from doing so.