From foreign national to sickular anti-national – a very personal journey

A few days back, I had penned my anguish about the Dadri Lynching. Following this, I happened to receive a few endearments from some of those who had been kind enough to read it — presstitute, sickular, libtard, commie were some of those. This led me to introspect deeply and ask myself some existentialist questions — like ‘Who am I?’ ‘Where am I from?’ and most importantly, ‘Where was I when…?’

Well, it all goes back a long way. Perhaps to the time when somebody first threw the seemingly innocuous question my way:  ‘Where are you from?’ Now, this bouncer can be trickier to handle than you imagine.

I think the conversation went somewhat like this:

Excuse me, hope you don’t mind me asking, but where are you from?

– I’m from West Bengal.

Ah! A Bengali 🙂

-Quite, but not quite. I’m very Bengali but only because I’ve lived in Bengal for most of my life.

I see. So where are you originally from?

-You could say I’m from Assam, though I haven’t really lived there.

Ah! An Assamese, of course! I knew it from your features! Lots of similarities between the Assamese and the Bengalis, no?

-You are so right again, but I’m not exactly an Assamese, I’m a Bodo.

Silence…..

-It is one of the many tribes of Assam. (Me, trying to help).

Yes, I know I know. The Bodo militants. Fighting for statehood and all.

-Er…not all of us are militants, fighting for statehood. Most of us are quite peace loving and content with the current state of things, as long as we get our glass of ‘jou’ (rice beer) after a hard day’s work.

Interesting. Most interesting…..

The good thing in all this, was of course the fact that that others were absolutely certain of my identity even when I wasn’t.

Like the time in Kolkata, when a lady exclaimed, overhearing my Bengali, ‘Wow! These Nepalese have started speaking such good Bangla these days!” — never for a moment doubting that I was a Nepali.

Or the time, when I visited the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary in Rajasthan, with my husband, and the ticket seller demanded Rs. 450 — 50 bucks for his ticket and 400 for mine. When my stunned husband wanted to know why there was such discrimination, he was told, ‘Madam toh Korea se hain. Foreigner ke liye alag rate hai.’ Needless to say, this was nothing short of a revelation! While I’d been under the assumption that I was an Indian, turned out that all this time, I’d actually been a Korean all along! Good to know, and better late than never, I thought. At least the question of my nationality was now resolved.

But then, on the first day of my job as ‘Announcer’ at All India Radio, Delhi, I was asked by one of the Duty Officers, ‘China mein toh aap log sab kuch kha jate ho, nai?’  My new found Korean nationality seemed to be already threatened. Was I from China in reality, after all?

New Delhi is of course the US of India — the world begins and ends with it and there are no geographies beyond. So it came as no suprise that Delhiites confidently gave me whatever identities they liked – Thai, Burmese, Naga, anything that would suit their fancy. If I tried to explain that the North East actually consisted of several different states, with their different cultures, I would be promptly dismissed with a  ‘Haan, haan, sab ek hi baat hai.’ I was glad to know there was no need of specifics. So then I could just say, ‘I am from the North East’ and be done with it.

This seemed to be working well, until recently, when it was revealed to me that I was not from the North East – my address was actually Left of Centre. Sickular, leftist, presstitute, aaptard, communist were some of the identities I was given, leaving me with the even more confusing question, ‘Who, really, was I?

From belonging to an endangered tribe myself, somewhere along the line, I had turned into a dangerous species, a lying, scheming traitor, capable of great harm to the country! In short, my transformation into an ‘anti-national’ was now complete!

Before I could wrap my head around such an evolution or mutation, depending on how you look at it, another googly began to be frequently thrown my way — the dreaded, ‘Where were you when.. ?”

For example :

-“Where were you when Kashmiri Pandits were being driven out of their homeland?”

-“Where were you when Mohd. Ghori invaded India?”

-“Where were you when the milk was boiling over?”

-“Where were you when…

I don’t mind these questions in the least bit — if not from the North East, I am happy to be from the Left of Centre (isn’t that where the heart is supposedly located, after all?).

But then, I might just be offending some people by refusing to take offence. These days, I’m told, you are not a true nationalist unless you are easily offended.

I see that I am testing your patience and can already sense the next question coming: What are you doing here?

Indeed, as pointed out by the honorable minister of state for parliamentary affairs, Shri Mukhtar Abbas Naqviji, honorable member of Parliament Shri Giriraj Singhji, respectable Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattarji and others, I and the entire beef-eating North East better be packed off to Pakistan without delay.

But will they accept us, pork-eaters, as their own? Perhaps not… and so my quest for nationality continues.

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Will Pakistan accept a beef-eating Indian who also eats pork?

My article @ Rediff

From belonging to an endangered tribe, somewhere along the line I had turned into a dangerous species myself: A lying, scheming, traitor, who had let the country down, says Durba Dhyani.

lllustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

A few days back, I had penned my anguish over the Dadri Lynching. Following this, I happened to receive a few endearments from some of those who had been kind enough to read it — ‘presstitute, sickular, libtard, commie’ were some of those. This led me to introspect deeply and ask myself some existentialist questions — like ‘Who am I?’ ‘Where am I from?’ and most importantly, ‘Where was I when…?’

It all goes a long way back, perhaps to the time when somebody first threw the seemingly innocuous question my way: ‘Where are you from?’ Now, this bouncer can be trickier to handle than you imagine.

I think the conversation went somewhat like this:

Excuse me, hope you don’t mind me asking, but where are you from?

I’m from West Bengal.

O achcha, Bangali!

Quite, but not quite. I’m very Bengali, but only because I’ve lived in Bengal for most of my life.

I see. So where are you originally from?

You could say I’m from Assam, though I haven’t really lived there.

An Assamese, of course! I knew it from your features! Lots of similarities between the Assamese and Bengalis, no?

You are so right again, but I’m not exactly an Assamese, I’m a Bodo.

Silence…

It is one of the many tribes of Assam. (me, trying to help).

Yes, I know I know. The Bodo militants. Fighting for statehood and all.

Er… not all of us are fighting for statehood. Most of us are quite peace-loving and content with the current state of things, as long as we get our glass of jou (rice beer) after a hard day’s work.

Interesting. Most interesting.

This exchange, with small variations, was oft repeated in the course of time. The good thing in all this was, of course, the fact that others were often absolutely certain of my identity even when I wasn’t.

Like the time in Kolkata, when a lady exclaimed, ‘Wow! These Nepalis have started speaking such good Bangla these days!,’ never for a moment doubting that I was a Nepali.

Or the time I visited the Bharatpur bird sanctuary in Rajasthan with my husband, and the ticket seller demanded Rs 450 — 50 bucks for his ticket and 400 for mine. When my stunned husband wanted to know why there was such discrimination, he was told, ‘Madam toh Korease hain. Foreigner ke liye alag rate hai.’

Needless to say, this was nothing short of a revelation! While I’d been under the assumption all this time that I was an Indian, turned out I’d actually been a Korean all along!

Good to know, and better late than never, I thought. At least the question of my nationality was now resolved.

But, then, on the first day of my job as an ‘announcer’ at All India Radio, Delhi, I was asked by one of the duty officers, ‘China mein toh aap log sab kuch kha jate ho, nai?’ My newfound Korean nationality seemed to be already threatened. Was I from China in reality, after all?

New Delhi is, of course, the United States of India — the world begins and ends with it and there are no geographies beyond. So it came as no surprise when Delhi-ites confidently gave me whatever identities they liked — Thai, Burmese, Naga, anything that would suit their fancy.

If I tried to explain that the North East actually consisted of several different states, with their different cultures, I would be promptly dismissed with ‘Chill yaar, ki fark painda.’ I was glad to know there was no need of specifics. So then I could just say, ‘I am from the North East’ and be done with it.

This seemed to be working well, until my recent reluctance to Modi-fy some of my views caused some of my dear friends to conclude that I am not from the North East at all — my address was actually Left of Centre. ‘Sickular, leftist, presstitute, aaptard, communist’ were some of the new identities I was given, leaving yours truly to ask herself the intriguing question: ‘Who am I?

From belonging to an endangered tribe, somewhere along the line, I had turned into a dangerous species myself: A lying, scheming, traitor, who had let the country down. Before I could wrap my head around such an evolution or mutation, depending on how you look at it, another googly began to be frequently thrown my way — the dreaded, ‘Where were you when…?’

For example:

‘Where were you when Kashmiri Pandits were being driven out of their homeland?’

‘Where were you when Mohammed Ghori invaded India?’

‘Where were you when the milk was boiling over?’

‘Where were you when…?’

Now I don’t mind these questions in the least. Also, if not from the North East, I am happy to be from the Left of Centre (isn’t that where the heart is supposedly located?).

But, then, I might just be offending some people by refusing to take offence. These days, I’m told, you are not a true nationalist unless you are easily offended.

I see that I am testing your patience and can already sense the next question coming: What are you doing here?

Indeed, as pointed out by the honorable minister of state for parliamentary affairs, Shri Mukhtar Abbas Naqviji, honorable member of Parliament Shri Giriraj Singhji, respectable Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattarji and others, I and the entire beef-eating North East better be packed off to Pakistan without delay.

But will they accept us, pork-eaters, as their own though? Perhaps not… and so my quest for nationality continues.

Post-Dadri, is darkness upon us?

My blog post as it appeared on Rediff:

Post-Dadri, is darkness upon us?

October 09, 2015 09:23 IST

Image: The family members of Mohammad Akhlaq, who was lynched in Dadri, with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav in Lucknow. Photograph: PTI

‘Today, the target of this rage are the weaker sections of society — Muslims, Dalits, liberal thinkers/writers who challenge its ideology. But tomorrow, it could be anyone stepping out of a pub; reading a book or watching a movie by an artist considered an anti-Hindu/anti-national,’ says Durba Dhyani.

What exactly was it that transformed peaceful neighbours into a ferocious, blood-thirsty mob within minutes?

Try as we might, it is difficult to fathom just how a rumour of cow slaughter could have turned an otherwise peaceable people into killers.

Is it really all about the cow? Or is that animal symbolic of a deeper malaise that has gripped the country?

Was there something else, already simmering beneath the surface of just another ordinary Indian village? Yes, it was politically orchestrated and the venom of religious hatred had been injected. But what was it that provided the breeding ground for a communally charged atmosphere?

Mohammed Akhlaq, a village blacksmith, was doing well for himself. He had managed to educate and send a son to the Indian Air Force, no mean achievement. Perhaps the village should have been proud that one of its sons had ‘made it,’ so to say. But joy at another’s success does not come easy when you have nothing yourself. Rather, a sense of injustice begins to creep in, for having been denied the same.

A few months back, two Dalit boys made news by cracking the IIT examinations, ranking among the top 500. Instead of bouquets, they received brickbats back home. Literally. Their home was pelted with stones by their neighbours, requiring police intervention. Was that deep-rooted casteism, or again, something else that reared its ugly head?

Maybe the same thing that devoured the New Delhi gang-rape victim? Let us remember that she came from the same socio-economic background as her rapists. But she dared to wear jeans, to watch an English movie, to study, to dream of becoming a physiotherapist. Worst of all she dared to look into the eyes of her attackers and answer back, when they wanted to know what was she doing, roaming around with a boy at night? You don’t insert rods into people and pull out their intestines out of lust. That sort of demonic rage can only come from a deep loathing of yourself and your failings.

In a broader sense, it is the entire nation’s failure — to provide jobs to our youth, to secure the livelihood of our farmers, to reduce the socio-economic schism that is wider than ever today.

While a few are set to conquer Silicon Valley, a majority are languishing with no opportunities. While some can afford to blow up money at discotheques, most wonder where the next meal will come from. While some whizz past in flashy cars with trendy girlfriends, others remain sexually repressed and frustrated.

Hunger, of any sort, can lead to blinding rage. The kind of rage that the Hardik Patels of this country can intensify and exploit; a rage into which politicians can inject the poison of communalism, creating a lethal concoction that can be used to manufacture riots and win elections.

A rage that, if not deflected and provided an outlet for, will turn upon the elected leaders. Rather than dwelling on our failings, it is easier to deny them or find someone convenient to blame. We do the former by focusing on either the future (dream of a military, economic superpower, a Digital India) — or the past — (hark back to the imagined glory days, of Hindutva).

In a very Bollywood like manner, we twist reality to fit our dreams. It is when this image is disturbed by present reality — the spectre of farmer suicides, unemployment, power cuts, water shortages, the stench of open defecation — that we become angry and look for a Mohammad Akhlaq to beat up.

Today, the target of this rage are the weaker sections of society — the minority Muslims, the Dalits, the liberal thinkers/writers who challenge its ideology. But tomorrow, it could be anyone stepping out of a pub; reading a book or watching a movie by an artist considered an anti-Hindu/anti-national; enjoying a meal of parota and chilly beef, holding their partners’ hand while walking down the street.

Anything that does not conform to the ‘pure’ Brahminical conception of how society should be, will come under attack. Jealousy, anger, fear and all forms of darkness often find a convenient garb –that of religious righteousness.

It is the same darkness that gave birth to Islamic State and the Taliban. Could this darkness devour India too?

IMAGE: The family members of Mohammad Akhlaq, who was lynched in Dadri, with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav in Lucknow. Photograph: PTI

Durba Dhyani is a Bengaluru-based corporate trainer.

Darkness is upon us – my thoughts on Dadri

The country’s conscience has recently been jolted by the horrific lynching of an innocent man in Dadri.

What exactly was it that transformed peaceful neighbours into a ferocious, bloodthirsty mob within minutes? Try as we might, it is difficult to fathom how just a rumor of cow slaughter could have turned an otherwise peaceable people into killers? Is it really all about the holy cow? Or is that animal symbolic of a deeper malaise that has gripped the country? Was there something else, already simmering beneath the surface of just another ordinary Indian village? Yes it was politically orchestrated and the venom of religious hatred had been injected. But what was it that provided the breeding ground for a communally charged atmosphere?

Akhlaq Ahmed, a village blacksmith, was doing well for himself. He had managed to educate and send a son to the Indian Air Force, no mean achievement that. Perhaps the village should have been proud that one of its sons had ‘made it’ so to say? But joy at another’s success does not come easy when you have nothing yourself. Rather, a sense of injustice begins to creep in, for having been denied the same.
A few months back, 2 Dalit boys made news by cracking the IIT examinations, ranking among the top 500. Instead of bouquets, they received brickbats back home. Literally. Their home was pelted with stones by their neighbours, requiring police intervention. Was that deep rooted casteism, or again, something else that reared its ugly head?

May be the same thing that devoured Nirbhaya? Let us remember that she came from the same socio-economic background as her rapists. But she dared to wear jeans, to watch an English movie, to study, to dream of becoming a physiotherapist. Worst of all she dared to look into the eyes of her attackers and answer back, when they wanted to know – ‘what was she doing, roaming around with a boy at night?’ You don’t insert rods into people and pull out their intestines, out of lust. That sort of demonic rage can only come from a deep loathing of yourself and your failings.

In a broader sense, it is the entire nation’s failure – to provide jobs to our youth, to secure the livelihood of our farmers, to reduce the socio-economic schism that is wider than ever today. While a few are set to conquer Silicon Valley, a majority are languishing with no opportunities. While some can afford to blow up money at discotheques, most wonder where the next meal will come from. While some whizz past in flashy cars with trendy girlfriends, others remain sexually repressed and frustrated.

Hunger, of any sort, can lead to blinding rage. The kind of rage that the Hardik Patels of this country can intensify and exploit; a rage into which politicians can inject the poison of communalism, creating a lethal concoction that can be used to manufacture riots and win elections. A rage, that if not deflected and provided an outlet for, will turn upon the elected leaders. Rather than dwelling on our failings, it is easier to deny them or find someone convenient to blame. We do the former by focusing on either the future (dream of a military, economic superpower, a Digital India)  – or the past – (hark back to the imagined glory days, of Hindutva). In a very Bollywood like manner, we twist reality to fit our dreams. It is when this image is disturbed  by the present – the spectre of farmer suicides, the sordid reality of unemployment, power cuts, water shortages, the stench of open defecation – that we become angry and look for an Akhlaq Ahmed to beat up.

Today, the target of this rage are the weaker sections of society – the minority Muslims, the Dalits, the liberal thinkers /writers who challenge its ideology. But tomorrow, it could be anyone stepping out of a pub; reading a book or watching a movie by an artist considered an anti-Hindu/anti-national; enjoying a meal of parota and chilly beef, holding their partners’ hand while walking down the street. Anything that does not conform to the ‘pure’ Brahminical conception of how society should be, will come under attack. Jealousy, anger, fear and all forms of darkness often find a convenient garb – that of religious righteousness. It is the same darkness that gave birth to the ISIS and the Taliban. Could this darkness devour India too?