Scene: Family call.
Yasin (Male, 26, final year of some management course in unpronounceable city of Netherland, Pantheist)
Ahmed (Male, 21, final year engineering in RV college.. Islamic)
Manal (or manaltha) (Female, 30+, UAE, Product manager, agnostic)
Me/lulutha/itha (Female, 40, India, writer, atheist)
Mom/Umma (Female, 60, Islamic)
Naji (Male 38, Autistic/Islamic/Piano Player)
Cats – 3 adult, 2 babies.
Umma, Naji, Me, Ahmed are in the room. Yasin, Manal are on zoom window.
Yasin: How’s the scene after the bomb blasts there.?
Manal: What? Oh that…umm…nobody cares, mostly. Or nobody is thinking about it.
Yasin: Not hearing about it also, I guess. Heavy censoring UAE government is doing. But I’m hearing from my friends. Niju heard the missles fly over his apartment in Mufasa.
Ahmed: That does sound scary.
Manal: Must have been a car back-firing. It’s not a big deal.
Me: Well, it’s a big deal for us. You could be in danger.
Manal: Come on, every country has its dangerous news.
Umma (quite over- enthusiastically): I took Pliip for a walk today.
Manal (excited, but also eager for distraction from self): Seriously? That’s so awesome!
Me (show-of-my-mom mode): Imagine a dog walked by a parda-clad woman?
Manal (also proud): Especially now.
Yasin: Yeah…with all the trouble there.
Umma (clueless-news avoider): What trouble?
Yasin: The burqa ban, umma! Don’t tell me you guys are that clueless. And please don’t walk around with the dog and your black Pardah!
Manal: Hey, that’s not fair.
Umma (defensive): It’s your dog, Yasin. I thought you’d be happy I took it for a walk finally.
Ahmed (chuckling): And she still doesn’t touch the dog. That is haram.
Umma: I don’t need to. When we are in the lift, I just tell her to sit and she sits so sweetly, until the lift reaches our floor. So obedient, you know.
Me: Unlike her children, she means.
Yasin: Black Parda, guys. Focus! She is out in the streets with her black parda.
Manal: And a dog.
Me: Yasin dear. You do know Udupi is quite far away?
Ahmed (this one reads the news, damn it): Yes, but it’s a lot of Bangalore ministers that’s deciding on this ban. So there is a lot of agitation here as well.
Yasin: Exactly! And a serious possibility of backlash. What if someone attacks her? You guys need to take it seriously. India also censors news like UAE. So don’t just sit back and believe whatever you hear from the paper. I am not telling all this from the news or some whatsapp forward. I have friends in all these places. And they are giving me the inside scoop. And you guys don’t seem to care!
Manal: Someone has friends all over the world. So nobody else knows what’s happening in the world. Relax, nobody is going to attack a woman in her 60s. Maybe Itha, but not umma.
Me (irritated to be the target of an imaginary attack): Oh come on. If an aggravated someone wants to attack, they are not going to care if the target is a mother or a child.
Everyone nods in agreement.
Yasin: So you guys will take it more seriously?
Umma: Well, now I am definitely taking the dog out.
Yasin: Wait, what do you mean?
Umma: Maybe I will take Phlip for a run too. She’s a bit too energetic these days.
Yasin: What are you saying, umma. Are you listening to yourself? Why can’t you take the dog out, Ahmed?
Me: He is sleeping through the morning. And I have too many cats. Umma has to do it.
Yasin: Not in that black Parda!
Manal: What do you want her to do? Not wear the parda? Not take the dog?
Naji (routine-obsessed autistic): Umma, can we go and pray? Its 8:00.
Yasin: Umma do you remember what happened in Gujarat? Do you want things like that to happen to you?
Me: Come on…don’t scare her like that. It’s not even relevant here.
Yasin: You too, Itha? How can you be so oblivious? Just before COVID, there were riots at Gujarat-level around the country.
Me (also-clueless news avoider): There was?
Yasin: And do you really think the government will stop these things. It was only COVID that saved you. And now, with COVID being a here-to-stay business….they are going to restart things.
Me: The government?
Naji (disconnected, bored): Umma can we go and pray.
Yasin: No, not the government. But they aren’t going to help you, is all!
Umma: Ok, makkale, Naji and I are leaving. Else he will get agitated.
Yasin: Wait…you can’t leave now. Are you listening to me? (Umma and Naji leave) Ok., she’s gone (he throws his hands into the air)….and you heard what she just said. This is dangerous behavior. She is just taunting people and basically asking for trouble.
Me: Since when are you the pacifist? Weren’t you the one that habitually went around picking fights with the NDF guys in Chavakkad? Was your mom able to stop you?
Manal: I don’t understand why he wants us to sit and worry. I don’t have time to worry about the food I eat for lunch. So what should I do?
Yasin: For starters, try to get out of UAE. And India.
Manal: So now you want to board your mom and autistic brother in your hostel room? Is that what it is? Please be our guest. But don’t tell us to worry about the last things on our minds.
Yasin: So tell me this…do you have a separate time allotted just for revolutions? Seeing that you want our mother to go around starting a damn Hijab revolution.
Manal: Nobody is “causing” a Hijab revolution? Umma is not purposely going out walking the dog on the street because of what happened in Udupi.
Yasin: Then why can’t she walk without a black hijab. And why are you egging her on?
Manal: When was the last time you saw her going out without the hijab? We aren’t scaring her or telling her that she needs to stop taking Phlip out and cower inside the house. No one is egging her to do something she wasn’t already doing.
Yasin: Fine. Let’s send our mom out to create the news.
Me: Yasin, tell me what do you want us to do? Not wear a Hijab?
Yasin: A black hijab. I don’t want her to wear a Hijab. As a precautionary measure.
Manal (laughing): Are you serious. You really think changing the color will solve the problem or make a difference? Besides, hijab is the head scarf. A burqa is the dress she wears. And she already wears dark-green or dark-blue or dark-something.
Yasin: No, I don’t think it will solve the problem. But I would like a precaution.
Me: At the cost of her identity.
Yasin: That is the point. I am not asking her to sacrifice her identity. In fact, I believe that there is a very subtle revolution in just changing the color. It is reinforcing her identity…but safely…without egging anyone around….still making a statement.
Me: Any preferences then? Turquoise blue? Fluorescent yellow.
Yasin: Ok, I am leaving this meeting. If you guys wanna be defensive, and not hear what I have say, fine. And I can’t break through that kind of thinking. My point is people are agitated. And they want to do something. And I don’t want my mother to be the target. If you can’t see that, then leave it. I am out.
Manal: So now you think we are mocking you? What about your own tone? Your condescension. You’re ‘I have friends around the world…and I know what’s happening and you guys are clueless?’ How do you expect anyone to take you seriously if this is the kind of attacking tone you take. Of course, we will get defensive.
Me: Ok guys, I am not being defensive. I am really trying to understand your point, Yasin. And if I get your point right, its ….the government is bad….so let’s change our Burqa colour.
Yasin: And you are mocking me again.
Me: Oh. Let me try this again. Sanghis are bad. And they took a break during COVID. Now they will attack. So let’s change the Burqa colour?
Yasin (not very convinced): Sort of. It’s a dangerous time. And you can’t see it. There has to be a reason why Muslims live in tight-knit communities all over India. Almost slums. And you don’t see it. Cos you live inside the safety of a gated community. Step out of that compound and you will probably get a sense of the chaos outside.
Manal: They don’t live in a gated community. It’s one building with a gate, for heaven’s sakes.
Yasin: Whatever. It’s not safe outside.
Me: I think I understand now.
Yasin (applying management techniques on elder sister): What do you understand?
Me: Life is not safe.
Me: Only yesterday, my friend found a cockroach in his food.
Me: His cook put it in. I mean…by mistake. Cooked it with the food. Just narrowly missed eating it, poor guy. He should have been more aware.
Yasin: All right. That’s it. I am out.
Me: Come on. I am only joking. Why do you need to take everything so seriously?
Yasin: Because you are not taking it seriously. You are clueless!
Manal: Again, with this. We are not clueless!
Yasin: You don’t downplay things if you are aware.
Me: I am aware. I am just not panicking.
Yasin: I am not asking you to. I am asking you to take precautions. And you are joking around.
Me: I am taking precautions. Just that your idea of precautions may not be the same as mine. Everyone was eating turmeric to prevent COVID. I preferred a mask. So just cos im not eating turmeric, I am not taking precautions?
Yasin: Then why say the problem is in far-away Udupi? Why say, nobody gives a fuck about missiles that are falling over their heads?
Me: We are just joking, ya. And posturing, maybe. We just to say..fuck off sanghis, who cares about bombs…I’m watching Netflix. Come on…you put a Facebook status update saying how you narrowly missed dying by drowning. We all saw it. Even your mother!
Yasin: Alright. If what you say doesn’t matter, tell me what precaution are you are taking.
Me: Well, I want my brothers to work abroad and out of India. I want my mom and Naji in Palakkad and not BJP Karnataka. I hope I don’t go to a concentration camp. I hope my brothers don’t go mad and fight the sanghis.
Yasin (chuckling): We won’t fight the sanghis.
Me: I mean that’s all I can do. I guess that’s how I live with age. You spend your whole life worrying if your teenage brothers will drown or die in bike accidents. That your mother will fall sick during the pandemic. (That your sister will sleep with or date a pervert, I think). That your cats will run away. That your dog will poop on the apartment staircase. That your autistic brother will scare someone and get everyone thrown out of the apartment. I mean, how much bandwidth does the brain have.
Yasin: Then with such little bandwidth, shouldn’t you avoid trouble?
Me: Well, I can’t ask Umma to not wear the pardah. Just as I can’t ask you to not pick a fight. All I can do is maybe, not write a blog about it. Which, now that I think of it, is a wonderful topic for a blog.
Yasin exits. Meeting ends.