The Woman’s Diary: Being A Muslim In Present India

'We are not that type of Muslim. We don’t eat beef.'

The Woman’s Diary: Being A Muslim In Present India

Being a Muslim in Present India

My best friend had sent me 43 messages in reply to my one message. My message was very benign but I forgot that we are living in a strange time when someone travelling on a train can lose her life for wearing a skull cap! So, in this dark time, one message can kill a friendship! I couldn’t write back to her. I shrunk into myself with the collage of memories. Gulping down my tears, I tried to move on. Moving on is also like moving back. How can one move on leaving behind the beautiful moments and hours that construct one’s childhood, one’s schooldays, one’s first break-up? Countless hours of love and warmth broke into 43 messages and left me wounded for one message of mine. I had requested my best friend not to believe in the news and not to make memes out of the hate narrative.

She accused me of being too much ‘Muslim’ in those 43 messages!

This birthday, when she didn’t call, my seven-year-old daughter asked me, “Why didn’t your best friend wish you on your birthday?” It’s a hard question. I couldn’t look into her eyes. How to tell her why friendship breaks in dark times? A twenty-year-long friendship can be as fragile as a twenty-second meme. Or does she already know why friendship breaks? Every day, I make her cram the same thing again and again like a holy verse:

“We are not that type of Muslim,

We don’t eat beef.”

Frustrated by my nagging, relentless persuasion to recite these lines, again and again, she once asked me what if she tells her friends that she is Muslim and eats beef. I told her that no one will talk to her and she will lose friends. Since that day, she has stopped arguing and started reciting those lines ceremonially. Everyone needs friends. She knows she has to drop her surname on the front pages of books or school bags.

At the age of 36, friendship doesn’t happen with a flow. It needs effort. On my birthday, I was thinking of the shared lunch tiffin box of my school days. Some days, forgetting becomes an act of more remembering. The absence of her call diluted my birthday. Losing friends means losing the emotionally secure space that becomes a single mother like mine’s resort in a thousand dark, unbearable nights.

Hope in Dark Times

If losing friendships is a reality, then dark times hold out hope too. I was returning by train after the incident where an RPF constable killed three Muslim men. Unlike other days, I was silent, talking very little. The horrid visuals in the video were bothering my conscious presence. I was reassuring myself that since I don’t practise purdah no one will know my religious identity unless they ask my name.

I saw a Sadhu in saffron clothes entering my compartment with a dotara. The colour of his clothes made me apprehensive.

Sitting on the seat next to mine he began to sing:


(When will such a human society be created Where Hindus, Muslims, Buddha and Christians won’t be different clans?)

The lyrics broke into my world of fear and apprehension. I felt ashamed of judging a man by his clothes. The lingering lyrics made me transcend the box of fear and I realised that the strings we are searching for to stitch together this broken republic are with the common people around me. Yes, going by Brecht, we must sing of the dark times, and also of these people who triumph over hatred through love. I feel assured for my daughter that if there is a missed birthday wish, then there is a saffron-clad man singing Lalon. I decided to write back to my friend:

I Am Not My Tiffin Box, My Friend

My friend
Please open it once again
the lunch box mine
It still has the semolina payesh.
You can touch it
And the smell of my mother’s kitchen
Will wrap your tongue.
Still, I’m not my tiffin box.
I’m a petty human

I’m not the skull cap
not the hijab
you hate
I’m your friend.

Hello, hello
Are you there?
I have just vegetables and rotis.

I’m not the food I eat
I’m your lost friend.

I love you
Do you still love me?

Please someone tell my friend that Baldwin says,
“How can you live if you can’t love?” 

(This appeared in the print as 'The Woman's Diary')

Moumita Alam is a poet based in West Bengal. She is the author of the poetry collection, The Musings of the Dark