There were general elections to be held next year then. There are general elections to be held next year now.
In the summer of 2013, on the day of one of my end semester graduation exams, I bumped into an auto rickshaw, agreeing to pay him almost double the amount that would have blinked on the meter, to rush me to my destination on time.
In that seven-to-ten-minute-long-route, the driver politely asked if he could talk to me for a minute while on the way.
Curious to know what possibly he could talk to me about, I nodded, ‘Sure. What is it about?’
‘It will just take a minute, madam. But before I begin, may I know your name?’
A series of thoughts gushed in another second. What would he do with my name?
Should I or should I not continue this conversation? Where are we heading to?
Am I going to get kidnapped? I won’t have to appear for today’s exam then. My parents will be worried.
After all, he is but a stranger. I know the route. If he takes another route, I’ll jump off the auto. There is enough space.
Will he grab my fist and not let me jump? But I am a strong woman. I will jump. This all is but a story.
He has just asked my name. Should I or should I not tell him my real name?
My name might get used for foul purposes. It is just a name. ‘Shruti’, I said.
‘What do you mean?’
‘There must be a surname. What is yours?’
‘I don’t have any.’
‘Are you trying to fool me, madam? Everyone has a surname.’
‘I don’t have any. Why don’t you directly come on the point?’
‘I can’t, until I know your surname. What is your father’s name?’
‘Why should I tell you that?’
‘Madam, just let me know if you are a Hindu or Muslim.’
‘A Hindu’, I said after a pause, intentionally avoiding to talk about my beliefs of belonging or not belonging to any of the two religions, which had come up as such obvious and convenient options to him.
A Hindu is what he hoped me to be. Since my (first and only) name or the way I had dressed weren’t as evident indicators as they should’ve been, the poor guy had to dig out father’s surname, in order to be assured of the piousness of the girl he was carrying on his auto.
I was, in this moment, not just another passenger riding in his auto. I was a ‘responsible youth, who need(ed) to do a lot for our beloved country’, as he remarked.
No wonder, he was carrying pamphlets with slogans to protect Hindu community from any and every other community, especially Muslims, who were ‘a personal and social threat to the country’.
I listened quietly to every statement he made, every report he claimed authentic, and every advice he gave with as much diligence as my surprise.
I felt as powerful as powerless; as strong as susceptible. I wanted to hear as much more as much as I wished to run away to the earliest.
Since my college wasn’t too far and there were no red signals stopping us, we reached the destination in almost no time.
However, that to me later seemed the longest route ever taken to the college.
We stopped at my college gate, I got down, paid the amount, paused and gestured a salaam.
‘Khuda Hafiz’, I said, and quickly ran away in order to escape any attack I felt myself vulnerable to, deciding to never look back.