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Of identities and cities

June 20th, 2006



One day …

 It’s amazing how many Muslim women I notice
in Bangalore,
clad in the black veil called the burkha.
I notice them frequently, walking on the roads and in the BMTC buses.

 I wonder what it feels to be Muslim in Bangalore …

 The other day in the BMTC bus …

It was bus number 27. I sat on a seat meant
for two persons. At some point, a lady who I assume was Tamilian came over and sat
next to me. She appeared pleasant and social. She was praying the rosary. I
deducted she was Christian

(overt symbols, semiotic markings, making
sense of masses in the urban)

and most likely not Brahmin.

 At the fourth block bus station, the bus
started to get crowded. A tall, well-built woman came and stood by our seat. I
assumed that she was Tamilian because she was wearing the white ash spread over
three lines on her forehead. She was Hindu (perhaps Brahmin) and had a staunch
and stern look on her face. The Tamilian Christian woman started to say
something in Tamil. She then gestured to the well-built Tamilian Hindu lady to
sit next to her. She began to squeeze in a bit, moved, solpa, solpa, and
eventually, we were three women sitting on a seat meant for two. Our Tamilian
Christian lady, the one who made space, was evidently the most uncomfortable,
but she was happy that she had made space for the other lady to sit. She began
to chat with me in Tamil.

I don’t comprehend Tamil, but I do
comprehend emotions and gestures and hence, was making some sense of what she
was saying to me. She spoke to me of the Church, the priest in the church and
maybe the importance of completing the rosary daily. After a while, she asked
me where I was headed for. Shivajinagar, I said. Immediately she asked,
‘Muslim?’ I was a trifle shocked that she had ‘caught’ me as a Muslim. I shook
my head, saying no.

That evening, I wondered whether my looks
were a give-away or just stating that I was headed for Shivajinagar was the
give-away. I assume the latter to be true. Shivajinagar is a large market area,
filled with meat shops and wood furniture trade. It is a Muslim area. I find
that most of the women on bus numbers 27 and 27E who are headed for
Shivajinagar are Muslim women. But an equal number are not Muslim and are still
headed for Shivajinagar. Then what makes me marked as Muslim? What is it to be Muslim?


Then the other day …

It was raining heavily. The door downstairs
was locked. I had no way to reach to the house. I stood downstairs, looking
like a cat drenched in the rains. The shopkeeper on the other side gestured to
me to get inside the store room to protect myself. Then he gestured to switch
on the lights. I could not find the exact switch. One of the boys came in and
tried to find the switch. On discovering that there was no light in there after
all, he went away and joined the bunch of boys. In a few minutes, some of the boys
in the bunch asked me to get inside the opposite door neighbour’s house. I ran
across the street.

 (The house opposite is interesting. It has
been designed and created by its inhabitants. It consists of a row of one room
tenements on one side and some store space on the other side and perhaps a
toilet too. In between is a passageway which runs across the tenements. All of
this is covered by a tin roof which is partitioned such that it covers the
tenements’ portion on one side, is open in between through the passageway, and
then covers the other side. The rain keeps pouring in the house through the
open section of the roof.)

 I knocked on the door. The neighbour’s
daughter opened the door. The boys shouted out to her saying that they must let
me in till the rain stops or someone comes and opens the door downstairs,
whichever is first. The daughter let me in. She can converse in English, unlike
her mother who largely speaks Tamil and some amount of broken Hindi.

I call the mother Amma and the daughter

Sunee asked me where I am from. We chatted
a bit about my background. I asked her about some of hers. Eventually Sunee
asked me, which god do you pray to? I smiled. Muslim, I said. Oh, Sunee replied
back, if you stay here, you will be able to manage because there are lots of
Muslims here. I smiled again. Sunee communicated to Amma that I was Muslim.
Amma smiled and spoke rapidly. Sunee then translated back, Amma thought you
were Christian. I smiled. Sunee mentioned that her family is Christian. I told
her that I’d like to come to the church some day with them.

 Amma thought you were Christian.

if you stay here, you will be able to
manage because there are lots of Muslims here.

 Sunee’s words appeared schizophrenic to me
because I live in a schizophrenia of identity and to some extent, a paranoia
too. Sunee says I will be able to manage because there are lots of Muslims in
this neighbourhood. Then Sunee says that Amma thought I was Christian. And here
is precisely where my schizophrenia strikes. I dress differently as against
conventional Muslims. I barely behave like a Muslim. Among Muslims, I am an

 An outsider!



 I stand on borders I don’t know of.

 Precarity, on the edge.

 Identity, affiliation.

 Outsider I feel and perhaps remain. It
reminds me of my times when I walk through the lanes of Imambada where I see
myself clearly as an outsider, by custom, manners, demeanor. And maybe others
see me as an outsider too.


Tilaknagar is in Bangalore. Imambada and Dongri in Mumbai.
Both places are different. Being Muslim in Mumbai is a tactile experience,
perhaps emerging magnifies owing to the density and crowdedness in this city.
But as I walk through the now familiar lanes of Tilaknagar, I also conclude
that the experience of being Muslim in Dongri and Imambada and the texture and
tactility which comes along with it is embedded in memory. For me, these are
vivid memories of the 1992-1993 communal riots in (the then) Bombay. While I was not living in those areas
at the time of the riots, my childhood affiliation with the place and the
marked identity of being Muslim add to the sense of tactility and that texture
(which I guess is lined with inherent paranoia) which I experience as I
navigate through Dongri and Imambada.

 I don’t know Tilaknagar yet. But I do know
that it has a history and like Dongri and Imambada, it continues to be a marked
space – space for rumour, riot and mischief, linked with everyday life,
practices, the print media and people’s memory/ies.

 I don’t know what it is to be Muslim in Bangalore.



  1. June 20th, 2006 at 03:49 | #1

    it will be difficult 2 get loans, thats what my friends tell me

  2. June 20th, 2006 at 10:14 | #2

    Really! I think I have heard this before, but must confirm!

  3. August 31st, 2006 at 03:10 | #3

    Good post.
    “I dont know what it is to be muslim in Bangalore.” – Your July August experiences about it would make a good post. Keep writing.