Or Why I Am Writing `The Anatomy Of Hate’
By Revati Laul
I was 24. He was probably 28. This is a story I have never told anyone until now. I liked him. He was funny and bright. Very, very bright. We went for a walk in the rain one evening. We went out for a beer and I even sang with the band at the bar to surprise him. The only words I used to describe the slightly silly, giddy-headedness I was experiencing at the time was `a crush.’ And then one day, a friend came up to me. It was late evening and I was about to wind up work in the TV office I worked in. She tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Do you really like him or is it just a girl crush? Because I really do. He is the most intelligent person around and if you’re not seriously pursuing him, do you mind if I do?’ I was very moved that she asked and it didn’t take me long to say, `Yes absolutely. I was just fooling around.’ And maybe I was. But there is a conversation I had in my head that I am ‘fessing up to here, out loud. And it’s errrm…embarrassing, even 18 years later.
I pictured myself with this man. And then I pictured her. And I instinctively felt she was a much better fit than me. She and he both spoke Urdu, came from families of rich traditions is Urdu literature and poetry they could quote to each other verbatim. I was an Anglophile. They had a shared culture and identity. I didn’t. And here lies the rub. My mind said to me – ‘Maybe the fact that they’re both Muslim gives them much more to share culturally as well as a shared adversity about having to live under the ever-growing shadow of Hindu majoritarianism in a country where the pretense of secularism is fast peeling off.’ I thought this thought and then said `Yes, I’m only fooling around.’ And then I had to talk my heart into believing this thought, into re-shaping it as the right thing to do. That I don’t belong there. As much as they do, in that space.
Never in my life before or since, have I calculated cold love as I did that evening in my TV office. Were the vestiges of some sort of soft Hindu chauvanism rubbing off on me like this? Me, who was raised as an urban, liberal Delhi, in a partly-bohemian world. I was raised to believe that your identity is only based on merit. That religion and caste and to some extent, class should not and does not matter. And then, this?
I went back in my head to conversations I’d had with my mother where some of the bohemian-ness came unstuck. Over the question of `Muslims.’ ‘You know, I would worry a little if you married an M…they eat Halal meat…they’re okay with letting a goat bleed to death before eating it…and the blood spills into the street…’ I had tried to argue the politically correct position when she’d said this. I gnashed my teeth and stomped my feet as I put religion into context and talked about how Halal meat is actually more hygienic but the animal rights person in me was being silently suppressed and I just let that be a space I didn’t need to visit. And now what was I doing? Vacating a space of romance in deference to religion? Even though both the man in question and the prospective lover were atheists! As was I.
Despite the three of us looking at religion with true Marxist derision as `the opium of the masses,’ there it was, causing an invisible but palpable partition between us. Religion, I can now see, is most often, not about devotion to God or any higher identity in India. It is mostly pagan. So what I was responding to that day when I said `yes, go ahead, I am only fooling around,’ was the pagan traditions and ways of seeing and most of all the lived experiences of them and me…and observed that I was an outsider.
Some years later, 9/11 happened. And the year after, the genocide against Muslims in Gujarat. And I became more liberal than the liberals. I even fantasized about learning Arabic and infiltrating a training camp of terrorists to document them over a year. The fantasy was that I would understand why some amongst the `Ms’ had such a hard edge…and what it was that drove them there.
And then I embedded myself with the `Hs’ instead. The Hindu bigots in Gujarat. It made me see for once that I wanted to do something to erase the `other-ness’ about the Hs and Ms, I was going to need to work on the Hs. A lot. I was going to have to look at things up close, from the inside out at how hate is born and how it grows. Until it becomes such a strong collective force that when circumstances stack up a certain way, these fantasies play out literally. The `mob’ may be the unbelievably hard edge of a Hindu-ised, Hindutva seeking society. But once upon a time I saw how I am also part of the soft edge, the fancy latté version of a dark roasted bean. The book I am now writing allows me to exorcise my demons as I try and probe the minds of members of that genocidal mob.