[Reader-list] Watch that bun-maska!

Aman Sethi aman.am at gmail.com
Fri Apr 21 16:39:39 IST 2006

Dilip and Mahmood,

Based on my experience in aligarh last week - i had gone for a
followup story on the communal clashes on the 5th and 6th of april
this year- these are just a few semi-connected dots.

As dilip has suggested - the idea of "discomfort" or un-comfort must
be examined further.  A space can be unfamiliar in many different ways
- geographic unfamiliarity is only one such.

A space could also be unsettling when it is divorced from your routine
class-experience -  for example the first time u enter a slum , or the
first time u enter a five star hotel or luxury resort.  While you
might find the space unfamiliar, the space finds u unfamiliar as well
- U may think that u fit in - you may take precautions like dressing
conservatively or not (depending on the nature of the space) , but the
space sees you and percieves u as alien, and so it evovles strategies
to deal with your presence.  Thus, the man who asks u if u are from
the municipal corporation is trying to figure out why you - as an
unfamiliar entity- are approaching his space.

Once u establish ure credentials as a journalist, or corporation
officer - or in ure case - a tourist - the space accomodates u more
easily - and people decide how best to deal with you.

Another thing is that the english speaking elite often does not
warrant categorisation beyond a certain point.  When u enter a space
you walk in with the might of the state behind you.  You have
"connections", policemen listen to you, the courts rule in ure favour,
the media shouts blue murder when u are assualted.  So you are  a
"bada-admi" wether u like it or not.

Aligarh is a communally sensitive town - and coming in after the riots
my presence caused a great degree of suspicion ..  after establishing
my credentials as a journalist - i was party to the following
  "aman" i replied.  the man stood and thought and said "par voh toh
kisi ka bhi naam ho sakta hai, what is ure second name?" ,  "Sethi",
"ok, so ure hindu, how can i help you?" The man was muslim, and
proceeded to be extremely kind, candid and helpful - he introduced me
to a number of people, and through every introduction explained that i
was "OK" .. and they could talk to me ...once he had figured me out,
he was more at ease - but  i needed to establsh my reason for
inhabiting his space.

had i not been a "presswallah", i would probably have a qualitatively
different interaction ...
i am not trying to credit the nuclear physicist's assertion .. i am
merely saying that as middleclass elite - our means of accessing a
space is very different...

aommunally sensitive places also have their own means of dealing with
"outsiders" ... a hindu in a muslm space is an intersting specimen,
and creates his or her own particular niche - a well dressed woman in
a bus creates her own ...

i realise this is a rahter incoherent post .. but i would like to
return to this soon ...


On 4/21/06, Dilip D'Souza -- Sarai <dilip.sarai at gmail.com> wrote:
> Mahmood, I thought of that. But I have two responses.
> 1) I cannot believe "large majority", for this simple reason: that
> would mean that I, and most people around me, are from a tiny
> minority. (I realize you suggest perhaps we are exceptions, I'm just
> saying I find that unlikely). I've gone into some such areas with
> people I've met for the first time that day -- meaning people I don't
> know beforehand -- and I cannot believe that it's just my luck to keep
> finding people from that tiny minority who don't feel uneasy.
> 2) Even if some people do feel uncomfortable, I think the answer is to
> go into those areas and see for yourself. (I don't have any problem
> with people bearing prejudices. What gets to me is the guys who are
> unwilling to question those prejudices). I mean, look at the other
> such situations we might find ourselves in, and tell me whether the
> "unpredictable, irrational violence" line applies:
>  * you're a man alone in an auditorium full of women, and vice versa.
>  * you're a left-handed person in a school full of right-handed people.
>  * you're a non-Catholic in the Vatican, or in Matharpacady.
>  * you're an Indian in a largely white town in northern Scotland.
>  * you're a Tamil speaker surrounded by Hindi speakers.
>  * etc.
> Which of these situations are analogous to going into a Muslim area?
> Why? Which should induce some fear, and why?
> cheers,
> dilip d'souza.
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